A proposed expansion by one of Penhold’s biggest industrial operations should generate increased taxes and other economic spin-offs for the town. However, some residents near Custom Bulk Services Inc. fear the development will also result in more truck traffic and potentially dangerous dust.
Located at 920 Fleming Ave., Custom Bulk Services off-loads materials like fracking sand and fertilizer from trains. The products are stored on site until they can be trucked away by customers.
Operating since 1997, the business underwent a major expansion in 2012. It’s now seeking to add eight more storage bins and a conveyor, plus build another facility with two storage bins and related equipment at nearby 950 Fleming Ave.
Notices about the two projects have been sent by the town to nearby property owners, which has prompted objections from some.
Kevin Small said problems related to the 2012 expansion remain, including trucks that block streets, idle in front of houses and use prohibited routes. But his bigger concern is dust from the fracking sand, which contains crystalline silica.
“This stuff is nasty when it’s airborne,” he said, citing a number of studies into the adverse health effects of crystalline silica dust.
The fact that the plant is near Penhold School heightens Small’s concerns.
“It’s within 150 metres of the elementary school and within 25 metres of where the kids walk home from school.”
Cullen Wood is another Fleming Avenue resident who’s worried about Custom Bulk Services’ operations. In a letter to the Town of Penhold, he asks for assurances that crystalline silica dust will not exceed safe levels.
Wood said concentrations allowed by Alberta Occupational Health and Safety are well above those allowed in some American states.
Myles Monea, president of Custom Bulk Services, said he’s taken steps to minimize dust emissions — including installing an advanced dust suppression system. Severe winter weather delayed the completion of that work, he said, but the system has now been operating for a month or more.
“It was quite an intensive program,” said Monea.
Penhold Mayor Dennis Cooper vouches for the effectiveness of the equipment.
“I went and watched him unload a car, and load four or five trucks. There’s hardly any dust.”
Cooper said he’s also satisfied himself that any dust escaping the facility doesn’t pose a health threat.
“I sat down and read nine reports this weekend. I think I went through about 400 pages on silica.”
Monea said he contracted an engineering company to check the dust levels outside his plant a year and a half ago. It measured these at about one-fifth to one-sixth the acceptable limit, he said, and the new dust suppression system has reduced concentrations even further.
Linden Lonsberry, safety manager with Chinook’s Edge School Division, said he’s aware of concerns related to dust from Custom Bulk Services and plans to investigate.
“Any safety complaint we get within the division, whether it’s one or whether it’s 50 people, every complaint is investigated on its own merit.
“If there are any hazards at all, we have meetings and they install safety procedures.”
Because off-loading involves a somewhat enclosed system, Lonsberry said he doesn’t anticipate problems with Custom Bulk Services’ operations.
As for traffic issues, Monea said these should be dealt with by bylaw enforcement officers.
“I actually phone them and tell them when I’m going to be really busy,” he said.
Cooper agreed that stricter enforcement, and other measures, should solve the traffic issues.
Ultimately, he said, the problems stem from having industrial land next to residential.
“I think we have to balance the concerns of the citizens with the concerns of the developer, and try to have the best for our town.
“That million dollar expansion is going to employ people who live in this town, plus he’s going to pay more taxes and all that other stuff — it’s going to definitely be an impact on every resident in the town.”
Monea said he’s sympathetic to the concerns of his neighbours, but pointed out that Custom Bulk Services predates many of them.
The town has set a deadline of May 9 for anyone wishing to submit written comments about Custom Bulk Services’ development applications. Thereafter, they will be dealt with at an upcoming meeting of Penhold’s municipal planning commission.
Monea said if his applications are approved, he would like to have his expanded facilities operational by September.