Geologist recommends well guarantee for Vista Sand agreement

By LeAnn R. Ralph

GLENWOOD CITY — A geologist with Cedar Corporation says that he would not recommend approving the pre-annexation agreement with Vista Sand without a water well guarantee.

Scott McCurdy, director of the environmental group and the building design group with Cedar Corporation, spoke to the Glenwood City Council at a meeting Monday night.

McCurdy said he had received a copy of the proposed pre-annexation agreement with Vista Sand on Friday and that the agreement seems comprehensive.

Water for the sand mine and water quality and quantity in nearby wells are concerns associated with the proposed sand mine that would be located south of Glenwood City.

McCurdy said he has not received technical documents relating to Vista’s proposed water usage for the sand mine but the pre-annexation agreement is attempting to address the concerns about water with a well guarantee.

Reviewing the technical documents that the engineering firm of Short, Elliott, Hendrickson have prepared for Vista would give him a better idea of whether the sand mine’s high capacity well would have a steep or a flat cone, he said.

If the high cap well has a flat, shallow cone, there will be a greater opportunity for a reduction in water quantity in nearby wells or surface waters, he said.

Some residences on the west side of Downing have been identified for well guarantees, and establishing a baseline for the wells before mining starts for water quantity and quality, along with on-going evaluation, would be beneficial, he said.

“Downing’s wells are a concern to the council,” said Glenwood City Mayor John Larson.

“We are looking for some type of well guarantee, (but) we are a ways apart with what Vista is willing to do and what (the city council) thinks we should have,” he said.

High cap well

Vista Sand will need to apply for a high capacity well permit with the state Department of Natural Resources, McCurdy noted.

Vista has not yet applied for the high capacity well permit but has had five monitoring wells at the proposed sand mine site for the past 18 months, said an attorney representing Vista Sand.

Aquifers with a narrow cone produce water quickly, but every high capacity well is different, McCurdy said.

Before approving a high capacity well permit, the DNR will want information from test wells and pumping data about the high capacity well, he said.

Another question revolves around how much water Vista will use, McCurdy said.

Vista has proposed a closed-loop system that does not add much fresh water to the process, but instead, recycles the water and uses it again, he said.

During the processing of the sand, some water will be used, some will evaporate and some will soak through the sand pile and back into the ground, McCurdy said.

The question will be — how much “make up” water will Vista require?

The Wisconsin Industrial Sand mine on the east side of Menomonie uses 100 gallons per minute year round, McCurdy noted.

At first, the Menomonie sand mine used two high cap wells that pumped 500 gallons per minute but then the company developed a closed loop system, he said, noting that the company also uses storm water and recovered wash water.

If Vista Sand produces three-quarters of a million tons of sand per year, that would be comparable to Wisconsin Industrial Sand, McCurdy said.

In the City of Menomonie, Well No. 6 is 600 feet deep, and 2,000 gallons per minute were pumped for 72 hours. No draw down occurred at a monitoring well 400 feet away, he said.

On the other hand, McCurdy said, he would not enter into an agreement with Vista Sand with no well guarantee.

Surface water

If the high capacity well is near a trout stream or the headwater to another stream, the DNR will ask that the creek be monitored for base flow, McCurdy said.

The average person uses about 75 gallons of water per day, so Glenwood City might pump around a million gallons per month, he said.

A quick calculation reveals that at 100 gallons per minute, Vista would use about four million gallons of water per month.

The Wisconsin Rural Water Association recently published an article about the Central Sands region of Wisconsin indicating that last summer, high capacity wells pumped 98 billion gallons out of the aquifer, McCurdy said.

According to news reports, lakes, rivers and streams are drying up in the Central Sands region because of the high capacity wells, and where there were once lakes, there are now trees and grass growing.

“Until we do the pump tests, we will not know the area that a high capacity well (for Vista) will affect,” McCurdy said.

Air monitors

The pre-annexation agreement also calls for two air monitors, one located between the Glenwood City Schools and the sand mine and one between the Village of Downing and the mine.

Glenwood City Council member Scott Schone wondered about the placement of the air monitors.

The DNR says that, ideally, the monitors will be between the sand source and the affected population, and that one monitor will be up-wind and one monitor will be down-wind, McCurdy said.

Unfortunately, because wind changes direction frequently, and surface features can affect wind direction, it is difficult to determine which direction represents the most prevailing wind in the area, McCurdy said.

The monitors that would be installed would cost $40,000 to $50,000 each, he noted.

The air monitors must be extremely sophisticated to detect something in the four-micron size, McCurdy said.

Monitors have been installed in Minnesota to monitor sand mine activity to see if there is an emission of particulate matter and silica dust, he said.

Pre-annex agreement

The proposed pre-annexation agreement is a thorough document, said Terry Dunst, the attorney representing the Glenwood City Council.

“It is a pretty solid agreement. From a legal standpoint, the agreement is fine,” Dunst said.

The question of a well guarantee, property value guarantees and other aspects of the agreement that the city council negotiates with Vista will come down to a matter of policy for the city council, he said.

Representatives for Vista Sand do not want the property to be annexed and then be told that there will be no sand mine, Dunst said.

The pre-annexation agreement is an attempt to assure Vista that if the city council annexes the property, then the sand mine can go forward, he said.

According to the law, however, city council members cannot promise that they will vote for the annexation beforehand, Dunst said.

The Glenwood City Council must wait to see the actual annexation petition and then vote on the merits of the annexation, he said.

The pre-annexation agreement is saying that if the city annexes the property and makes changes to the zoning ordinance to allow the sand mine, then Vista will fulfill the requirements of the agreement, Dunst said.

If the city council does not approve the annexation, then “the agreement is dead,” he said.

The pre-annexation agreement and the annexation are two separate issues, Dunst said.

Approval of the pre-annexation agreement does not mean that the city council will automatically approve the annexation, he said.

The city’s zoning ordinances might not allow a sand mine, and the city council would have to change the zoning ordinances to allow a sand mine, Dunst said.

The Glenwood City Council would need to straighten out the zoning ordinances before annexing the property for the sand mine, he said.

Closed session

Following the discussion in open session, the Glenwood City Council went into closed session to discuss the pre-annexation agreement.

The representative for Vista Sand was not asked to be part of the discussion.

Dunst noted that the Glenwood City Council could not, by law, make any decisions about the pre-annexation agreement because the agenda for the meeting did not include any action items.

During a telephone conversation Tuesday morning, Mayor Larson said there was nothing he could report from the closed session.

The Glenwood City Council came out of closed session at 9:15 and immediately adjourned, he said.

The Glenwood City Council is expected to negotiate with representatives for Vista Sand at the next meeting on February 24 at the Glenwood City Community Center at 6:30 p.m.