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No permits yet for proposed 2,000 acre Howard sand mine

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF HOWARD  — Although there has been plenty of speculation among area residents about the status of the proposed 2,000 acre frac sand mine in the Town of Howard east of Colfax, no permits have been issued yet.

Tom Zwiefelhofer, town board supervisor, reported at the Howard Town Board’s December 2 meeting that he had received a telephone call from Paul Van Eijl of Northern Sands and had learned that Red Flint Sand and Gravel (formerly known as American Materials) wanted to go into business with Van Eijl on the frac sand mine in the Town of Howard.

Van Eijl and representatives for Red Flint have requested a private meeting with the Howard Town Board, Zwiefelhofer said.

Zwiefelhofer said he had concerns that a private meeting with the town board would violate the state’s open meetings law.

Under the state’s open meetings law, a meeting with the three-member town board would have to be posted in advance as an open meeting with date, time and location specified that could be attended by any interested members of the public.

But in addition to being a violation of the state’s open meetings law, any kind of a meeting now about the proposed sand mine would violate the Town of Howard’s mining ordinance, said Ron Koshoshek, who has been named by the Howard Town Board as the township’s mining consultant.

Koshoshek was the Town of Howard’s lead negotiator on the mining agreement with EOG Resources.

Negotiations with EOG Resources took more than a year to complete.

Howard’s mining ordinance stipulates that any companies interested in developing frac sand mines in the Town of Howard must have all their permits approved before meeting with the town board about the proposal, Koshoshek said.

The necessary permits would include a mine reclamation permit from Chippewa County as well as any air, water, or stormwater permits from the state Department of Natural Resources.

Permit applications for a reclamation permit from the county and for DNR permits require detailed maps of the proposed mine site as well as detailed plans for reclaiming the site over the life of the mine and detailed plans for handling air emissions, pumping water if high capacity wells will be used, and for dealing with stormwater run-off from the mine site.

“There is nothing to discuss with the town (board) now,” Koshoshek said.

In order to negotiate a developer’s agreement for the proposed sand mine with the town board, the company must obtain all of the necessary permits first and must follow Howard’s ordinance, he said.

“The burden of proof is on the company,” Koshoshek said.

“You can  have no less protection in the agreement than there is in the ordinance. That rules the day. (And just because a company applies,) an agreement is not guaranteed,” he said.

Even by asking to meet with the town board in a properly posted open meeting, “they are putting the cart before the horse,” said Dennis Dvoracek, town board supervisor.

“Yes,” Koshoshek said.

But under no circumstances can the company meet with the town board in private, and the company also cannot meet with the town board in a properly noticed closed session at this point, because there is nothing to negotiate without all of the proper permits in place, he said.

Zwiefelhofer noted that Van Eijl and representatives for Red Flint could be put on the town board’s agenda for the January meeting, but the only purpose for putting them on the agenda would be so that the town board could answer any questions about the township’s mining ordinance.

Koshoshek agreed.

“But no proposals. The town board can answer questions (about the ordinance), but you cannot discuss the (proposed) mine,” he said.

The Howard Town Board meets next on January 6.

A 2,000 acre sand mine in the Town of Howard would significantly increase train traffic through Colfax and has raised concerns among some Town of Colfax residents about the Colfax Fire Department and the Colfax Rescue Squad being able to respond to calls if trains are blocking the crossings.

Other business

In other business, the Howard Town Board:

• Approved the 2015 budget in the amount of $315,526 that includes an additional $7,308, which is the Town of Howard’s portion for new equipment for the fire district, and $16,182, which is the township’s loan payment for a new town truck.

• Learned that EOG Resources had sent a letter indicating that not including the Dale and Sandy Sikora property in the property value guarantee was an oversight and that the company is willing to work with the Howard Town Board to include the Sikora property in the guarantee. The Sikora property is adjacent to the mine boundary, and the property value guarantee included in the mining agreement with the Town of Howard includes properties adjacent to the mine boundary.

During a special town meeting of the electors of the Town of Howard, town residents:

• Approved a tax levy for 2014 that will be paid in 2015 of $182,738. The tax levy corresponds to a mill rate of $2.87 per $1,000 of property value. The equalized value of property in the Town of Howard is $63.58 million. The mill rate in 2013 was $2.48 per $1,000 of property value.

• Approved highway expenses for 2015 of $192,969.