The Town of Penhold must get on top of controlling excessive, disruptive and dangerous truck traffic.
That was the one mutually-agreed-upon point made by both opponents and supporters of a proposed sand storage plant expansion at a local municipal planning commission meeting on Wednesday night.
“We need some truck route signs. Trucks go every which way and don’t know where the route is,” said Penhold resident Jean Orchison, who lives on the same street as Custom Bulk Services, which has applied to MPC for the contentious expansion.
Orchison spoke of regularly witnessing truck drivers parking illegally and making dangerous moves.
She predicted “sooner or later, somebody will get killed” if the town doesn’t start ticketing and enforcing existing traffic bylaws.
She demanded signs for designated truck routes and a staging area for trucks that are waiting to get into industrial yards so they don’t idle or park on the street.
Members of the commission heard that the truck congestion on Fleming Ave. is also due to neighbouring industries, not just Custom Bulk Services, a company that stores and sells sand that’s brought in by trains to oilfield companies that truck it to sites across the province.
But the sand plant started in 1997 by owner Myles Monea has applied to add eight more storage bins and a conveyor at 920 Fleming Ave., plus build another facility with two storage bins and related equipment at nearby 950 Fleming Ave.
Area residents expressed worries these plans will increase unmanaged truck traffic, as well as noise, dust and air quality issues, and cause a safety hazard.
Patti Bye, one of nearly 50 people attending a hearing at the Penhold multiplex, said children attending the elementary school just down the road from the plant deserve a safe environment. Among them is her daughter, who has asthma and shouldn’t be exposed to more dust, she added.
“I’m happy with commercial and industrial development, but not at the cost of our kids — ever.”
Other neighbours complained about noise at all hours from the plant and from trains.
Phil Townsend said he’s been woken by railcars being shunted at 6 a.m. “You can’t sleep through that.”
Monea said he’s been working to resolve complaints.
The company recently installed an advanced dust suppression system and previously bought equipment to reduce noise.
Air quality tests done during a busy period early in 2013 showed no air quality issues and did not prompt any concerns from Alberta Environment, he added.
As for trucks, Monea agreed that the town should do a better job of controlling and ticketing problem drivers. “I’ve tried, but I can’t police that . . . I’ve asked the town to work with me on that. If someone disobeys a law, they should get ticketed.”
Monea’s lawyer, Gayle Langford, noted that the proposed expansions are acceptable land uses under the existing I-2 industrial zoning for land Custom Bulk Services occupies.
Only one variance was requested for a shorter setback between one of the proposed new bins and the railway tracks.
However, the town’s planning and development officer, Tricia Wells, did not object, since she said CP Rail is not concerned about it.
Referring to residents’ concerns about heavy industry, Langford said “the horse left the barn 17 years ago” when Custom Bulk Services was allowed to start up at that location.
Mayor Dennis Cooper said, like many small towns, Penhold is feeling a push-pull between residents who are in close proximity to industry.
This is hard to resolve, he added, since the development happened historically, as homes, businesses and industries all sprang up near rail tracks.
But Cooper believes town council can help by resolving the truck congestion issue.
“Trucks are becoming a real challenge for the community,” he said, adding council will discuss this at the next meeting.