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Homeowner says sand mine blasting has damaged house, maybe contaminated well

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF HOWARD — The first time blasting occurred at the S&S sand mine across the road from Edward Dachel’s house, canning jars and a canner fell off shelves in the basement and broke.

Dachel lives on county Highway B in the Town of Howard, across the road from the sand mine on property owned by Jeff Sikora and Robert Schindler, both of Colfax.

The S&S mine is operated by EOG Resources.

“We always put the canners on the top shelf. They sat there for 25 or 26 years, and they never fell off. It blew them off and (broke) one of the canners. Broke a couple of jars of beans and a couple of jars of tomato juice,” Dachel said.

In January of 2011, Dachel received a letter from EOG Resources before the company actively started to mine frac sand.

According to the letter, “EOG does not expect that any blasting which may be necessary will cause any structural damage. However, the purpose of the precondition survey is to document the condition of your home or property so that if you believe there are any changes caused by the blasting, we both have a record to confirm conditions prior to blasting.”

The Town of Howard’s blasting ordinance stipulates that a third party must conduct the pre-blasting survey and document the condition of property.

Ayres Associates completed the pre-condition survey for Dachel’s property.

The ordinance also says that the property owner should receive a copy of the pre-condition report within 48 hours of the property owner’s request.

“I have nothing to confirm anything. I was told three times I would get pictures and a copy of the video. They will not release them,” Dachel said.

In the beginning, mine representatives “told me (blasting) would be a couple times a month. Well, one day, they blasted five times in one day. It’s ten times more (than what they said initially). It says right in the letter, they ‘may’ occasionally have to blast,” he said.

The pre-condition survey was completed just before the mining company started blasting, but the survey, Dachel said, should have been completed before the company brought in heavy equipment and started building the berms in the fall of 2010.

Because there is a shelf of rock that runs through the area, even the heavy equipment caused considerable rattling, Dachel said.

“It sounded like a train was coming through the house … We had pictures (on the wall). The wife took them down. We couldn’t keep them straight,” he said.

A metal decorative piece that was hung on the wall rattled continually, too, Dachel added.

During the worst of the sand mine blasting, “the big door on the garage will rattle for about a minute after they blast,” he said.

Dachel says the mine supervisor told him that they would have someone in his house every time they blasted.

“They blasted 30 times after that, and no one was here,” he said.

Lists

Dachel documents every crack in his house walls, basement walls and garage floors every time blasting occurs at the sand mine.

Since January first of this year, he has accumulated eight pages of what he alleges are damages from the sand mine blasting.

Dachel and his wife, Kim, have lived in the house since 1986. The house was built by Dachel’s great-uncle in 1976.

In the years that they have lived there, the Dachels have made many improvements to the place, including purchasing additional land; doing landscaping; building garages, a smokehouse and a pig house; planting a pine plantation; cleaning out the apple orchard and clearing out the woods.

The house is insured for a replacement value of $168,000, Dachel said.

The S&S mine operates during the winter, and mining operations for the season finished at the end of April.

At this point, Dachel says he is not particularly interested in leaving the home where he has lived for nearly 30 years.

Furnace repairs

Dachel says that the sand mine blasting also has shattered ceramic tubes inside his furnace that work with the igniter.

The ceramic pieces are about as big around as a pencil and four or five inches long.

“The vibration comes up through the (basement) floor and goes into the furnace,” he said.

The ceramic tubes have been replaced twice since blasting started at the mine. The first time they broke in January of 2012, the tubes were shattered. When the tubes were broken again this year, they ended up with chunks missing from them.

“When they break, the igniter shorts, and you’ve got to get someone out to fix your furnace. (The furnace repair man) said they never carry them in the truck, because they never break. He had to go and get the parts. I said I would get the shop vac so he wasn’t picking up the pieces with his fingers … the first set was in there since the furnace was (installed) in 1988,” Dachel said.

So far, replacing the ceramic tubes has cost Dachel $250.

Under normal circumstances, the only way the ceramic tubes will break is if the furnace backfires. But the man who came out to repair the furnace took off the back panel, and it was clean, indicating that the furnace had not backfired, Dachel said.

“The first ones broke so bad, there was no way it was going to ignite. This time they weren’t broken so much that they would ignite once in awhile. So I kept pushing reset. (The furnace repair person) told me not to do that. It was 20 below out when they broke. I had to have heat. He said if you push it seven or eight times and it arcs and ignites, your head is gone. It will blow that furnace to pieces. It will take your head right off,” Dachel said.

Vibration coming up through the basement floor from blasting also damaged the water heater and broke the weld on the pipe on top, he said.

Fixing the water heater cost $118, according to the receipt.

“The vibration comes up through the floor and into your legs, and there’s so much vibration, you are froze. You can’t walk,” Dachel said.

Bacteria

In addition to the broken canning jars and the broken canner, and the furnace and the water heater, and the cracks in the floors and the walls, Dachel’s well has become contaminated with coliform bacteria.

EOG Resources has tested Dachel’s well three times — in 2010, 2011 and 2013.

Although the tests were supposed to include bacteria all three times, he said, only the 2011 sample was tested for bacteria contamination.

And the sample came back positive for coliform bacteria, according to the test results from Commercial Testing in Colfax.

“I called down there (to the mine office) and asked them what they were going to do about it. And they told me it was my problem, not theirs,” Dachel said.

When Dachel asked the lab technician if it was safe to bathe in the water, “she didn’t tell me not to. But she said, ‘I wouldn’t,’” he said.

For two years now, the Dachels have been using bottled water.

Dachel said that he and his wife spend $6 or $7 a week on bottled water.

Over a two-year period, that would amount to about $600 for bottled water.

When Dachel worked for Bloomer Co-op feeds, he would take soil and forage and water samples for farmers. He occasionally took a sample of water at his house, too.

Dachel left the feed company in 2001. Since he’d never had a problem with his water, he has not tested it since then — not until the testing done by the sand mine.

Dachel says their water now has a distinctive odor that is noticeable, such as when it is used in the humidifier.

Dachel wonders if a manure pit across the road is the source of the bacteria in his water.

“My big problem is between here and the mine, there’s a million dollar manure pit sitting. I know for a fact that last spring it ran over. I was outside building my pig house. And they were talking over there. ‘The pit is running over, and we’ve got to get someone in here to pump it.’ It was three days before the trucks started running,” Dachel said.

But even before that, in 2011, Dachel’s well tested at unsafe levels of coliform bacteria, leading him to wonder if the manure pit liner is cracked.

Coliform bacteria are rod shaped bacteria normally found in the colons of humans and animals that become a serious contaminant when found in the food or water supply.

Dachel says he is worried that if there is bacteria in his well water, the bacteria will get into the aquifer and will contaminate the well water for everyone in the area.

“I was surprised when they ran the test and it came back with bacteria, and I asked (mine representatives) what they were going to do about it, and they said it was my problem. Why are they testing the water in the first place, then, if it is my problem?” Dachel wondered.

The manure pit, Dachel says, is 50 yards away from where the mining operations have almost reached the groundwater.

Town board

“S&S mine property damage from blasting” was one of the agenda items for the Howard Town Board meeting on May 6.

Dachel said he did not ask for the item to be put on the agenda but that he planned to attend to meeting.