A proposed $2.3 million grain elevator expansion project in Hallock, Minn., has been stalled and ultimately might be dumped over a controversy involving dust, noise, traffic -- and a tiny park.
To expand at its downtown location, Hallock Co-op Elevator, a century-old grain business located along the BNSF Railway tracks, needs the use of Dipple Park, located just to the north of its property.
To get it, the city of Hallock, which has leased the property from the railroad since 1929, would have to vote to terminate its lease. That would allow the cooperative to negotiate a lease with the railroad.
When it meets at 7 p.m. today, Hallock City Council may set a date for a vote on the lease issue. But that vote likely will not take place until later this month or in February.
Elevator officials have been planning an expansion for the past three years.
The project would add a grain dryer and nearly double the facility's total capacity to 400,000 bushels, said Zach Beaudry, elevator manager.
The cooperative also has spent more than $1 million in improvements in its Hallock facilities in the past two years.
"We want to build the expansion next to the elevator," said Bill Moore elevator board president. "The city is concerned with the noise and the dust. "
Dust and noise
Grain dust has been a growing issue in communities throughout the region as elevators built decades ago expand.
"We're trying to work as much with the city council as we can," Moore said. "We're trying to do it in a friendly manner, rather than building it and having people upset afterwards."
A public hearing, held during an early December snowstorm, attracted more than 60 people.
"Basically, we got a lot of input from community members prior to the public hearing," Mayor Paul Clay said. "We've been working with the board. And at that hearing, I said the public would be informed in advance of any vote."
The delay already has cost the elevator. Its board of directors initially started planning the expansion in 2011, with the goal of having it ready by 2014 harvest.
That no longer is realistic, according to Moore.
Dipple Park, more than anything, is a green space, adorned with a flagpole, a couple of benches, a few young evergreen trees and a few flower planters that add a splash of color -- volunteers tend to it in the summer months -- to the local landscape.
The tiny park, named for former Mayor M.C. Dipple, is kitty-corner from the old white-block building that once housed Dipple's Standard Oil gas station and bulk fuel business. Dipple served as mayor for a total of 17 years between the 1950s and 1975, when he died.
If the property is transferred, city officials have said the park likely would be relocated.
"The park's not the issue. The park is a reason," said Ryan Evenson, city clerk-administrator. A lot of people feel close to the park. But the real reason is dust and making a mess."
"I think it's good for the community, but I think there are better locations," said Tim Gustafson, owner of Gullander Hardware Hank, located across the street from Dipple Park.
"As a businessman uptown, I have my feelings about it," said Rock Bakken, a third generation Hallock businessman who runs Bakken's Boots, a footwear and outdoor gear.
An artist, he also has a gallery of his own drawings and paintings in a separate room of his building, also located across the street from the park.
"It's pretty obvious it's going to be noisier, dirtier and more congested, but I understand the reasons for wanting to build it in town," he said.
Besides its elevator complex in Hallock, the cooperative also rents 250,000 bushels of storage in Argyle, Minn., about 30 miles to the south.
Trucking grain between Argyle and Hallock has cost the elevator nearly $800,000 since 2011.
The current elevator complex handles wheat and soybeans. The expansion would allow the cooperative to handle corn, which has grown in acreage over the past few years, according to Beaudry. Even though corn prices have dropped considerably over past several months, elevator officials say there's still a need for the expansion.