By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF HOWARD — It’s a problem that Howard Town Board members say they have been learning about as they go.
When companies prospect for frac sand, they drill boreholes to determine the location and depth of the sand deposits.
But while state law requires those drillholes to be properly abandoned to prevent contaminants from reaching the groundwater or to keep unsuspecting living creatures (such as pets, wildlife, farm animals, and human beings) from falling into the holes, the job often is left undone or is not done properly.
Susan Haake, clerk for the Town of Howard, reported at the Howard Town Board’s May 5 meeting that Northern Sands is intending to apply for a nonmetallic mine exploration license from the township and then intends to properly abandon 26 boreholes associated with the proposed 1,300-acre Albertville Sand Mine.
The Howard Town Board approved the borehole ordinance last October, and the ordinance applies to the drilling of one of more boreholes to a depth of ten feet or more.
The Town of Howard has received reports from area residents that frac sand prospectors have opened boreholes and have left them open.
The Town of Howard also has received reports that prospectors have drilled boreholes on property where they did not have permission from the landowner to look for frac sand.
The application for an exploration license in the Town of Howard is required to include the name, address, telephone number and e-mail address of the operator of the mine exploration operation, and the name, address, telephone number and e-mail address of all owners or lessors of the land on which the exploration will occur.
In addition, the application must include written proof that the landowner has consented to the exploration and has consented to inspections by the Town of Howard.
The application must also include a certified survey map and parcel identification numbers, dates when the exploration will start and when it will conclude, the number of boreholes that will be drilled and the fee established by the Town of Howard to cover the township’s administrative costs.
Last October, the Howard Town Board established a borehole licensing fee of $250 and inspection fee of $15 per drillhole.
Prospectors who drill a borehole with no license will face a fine of $1,500 per hole.
The fees established by the Howard Town Board include $500 per hole if the prospector fails to properly abandon the boreholes.
Northern Sands has currently identified the location of 23 of the boreholes and is working on identifying the exact location of the remaining three boreholes, Haake reported at the May 5 meeting.
According to information provided to the Howard Town Board, the following property owners have boreholes on their land: James and Rebecca Kiesow (1); James and Lee Jensen (4); Jensen Lands LLC (4); Lee and Jean Jensen (1); Alan and Judith Grossmeier (1); Eugene and Sharon Buck (1); Olav and Gail Svee (2); Donald and Colleen Schwartz (2); Robert and Lana Christoffel (1); Ronald Anderson et al (2); Dan Rothbauer DR Acres (2); Robert and Karla Rasmussen Trust (3); John and Nan Bethmann (2).
Howard Town Board members have gone on record at past meetings saying they are confused about who will actually own the Albertville Valley Sand Mine and who will operate the mine.
Paul Van Eijl, land acquisitions manager for Northern Sands, has been obtaining leases from landowners, and town board members said they had understood Van Eijl had sold his interest in the Albertville Valley Mine to the Red Flint Group.
The Howard Town Board had been expecting Red Flint Group to be the applicant for the reclamation permit from Chippewa County and were surprised when Van Eijl’s named showed up as the applicant.
At the May 5 board meeting, Ron Koshoshek, the Town of Howard’s mining consultant and the lead negotiator for the mining agreement with EOG Resources, said he and Vernon Schindler, town chair, had met with Van Eijl and a representative of the Red Flint Group and that Northern Sands had been restructured with a new president and new vice-president.
Northern Sands will be applying for the mining permit from the Town of Howard, he said.
Koshoshek said it was his understanding that Northern Sands was no longer a Van Eijl company.
Van Eijl is now an employee of Northern Sands in land acquisitions, Koshoshek said
The application for a mine reclamation permit is currently under review by Chippewa County land conservation.
Prospecting for sand is continuing in all of the townships in this part of the state with sand suitable for hydraulic fracturing, said Koshoshek, who has worked with many townships on sand mining issues.
The prospecting activities are continuing to the east in the Town of Howard, he said.
“They are going to try to tie up all the land with mineable material around here,” Koshoshek said.
In the past, the Wonewoc formation was desired for hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas, but now, Tunnel City sand, which used to be considered overburden, is now usable for fracking, Koshoshek said.
“The future of Howard as an agricultural town is not very bright,” he said, adding that the future of agriculture is not very bright in any of the towns in this part of the state because of the potential for frac sand mines.
Lisa Bragg-Hurlburt, a Town of Colfax resident and a member of the Town of Colfax Plan Commission, asked how the Howard Town Board felt about the proposed Albertville Valley Sand Mine.
The Town of Howard has no zoning, so the town board cannot turn down an application for a frac sand mine if it complies with the township’s mine licensing ordinance, said Dennis Dvoracek, Supervisor 2 on the Howard Town Board.
The sand mine will be good for the landowners, Schindler said.
But the sand mine perhaps will not be so good for the neighbors, Schindler added.
Town zoning would give the Town of Howard a greater ability to direct development in the township.
Electors in the Town of Howard approved town zoning at their annual meeting in April of 2011, but then did an about-face and rescinded town zoning at a special town meeting the next month.
At the time of the special town meeting in May of 2011, those who were in favor of town zoning said that zoning ordinances would protect the property rights of all township residents and often mentioned the rapid development of sand mines in Chippewa County as an example of activity over which Town of Howard residents might want to exert some control.
After more than an hour of discussion during the special meeting in 2011, Town of Howard residents voted 93 “yes” to rescind town zoning to 53 “no” to not rescind zoning.
At that time, the Town of Howard had 447 registered voters, and those who voted at the special town meeting represented about one-third of the registered voters.