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Albertville Valley sand mine boreholes finally filled

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF HOWARD  —  Although it has taken nearly two years for some of them, the boreholes drilled for the Albertville Valley sand mine southeast of Colfax have finally been filled.

Bridget Kelly, a geologist and land asset manager with Red Flint Group, reported on the boreholes at the Howard Town Board’s August 4 meeting.

The holes were drilled by Northern Sands to prospect for frac sand in the Town of Howard in November and December of 2013 and in June of 2014, Kelly said.

In the fall of 2014, Northern Sands hired Red Flint to work on closing the boreholes as per the standards set by state Department of Natural Resources, she said.

Initially it was thought that 26 boreholes existed, but one turned out to not actually be a borehole.

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 drill holes 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 sometimes is left undone or is not done properly.

The Howard Town Board approved a non-metallic mine exploration ordinance in October of 2014, and the ordinance applies to the drilling of one of more boreholes to a depth of ten feet or more.

Application 

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 Howard Town Board has received reports from landowners of boreholes being drilled on property where no one had permission to prospect for frac sand.

The exploration 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.

The Howard Town Board established a borehole licensing fee of $250 and an 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.

License

Northern Sands/Red Flint Group applied for an exploration license in May as part of the process to formally close the boreholes drilled by Northern Sands.

Red Flint called a meeting with the DNR to work under the agency’s guidance to make sure the boreholes were closed properly, Kelly told the Howard Town Board at the August 4 meeting.

The search for the boreholes began in March, she said.

Wet weather this spring and summer made accessibility to the boreholes difficult at times, Kelly said.

While the drilling was being completed to make sure the holes had been properly identified, DNR staff were on site, and the township’s borehole inspector, Eric Suvada, was on site, she said.

A company called American Engineering Testing filled the holes with bentonite as required by the DNR’s code for borehole abandonment, Kelly said.

AET filled out the required paperwork, and Red Flint is now working on finalizing the reports, she said.

The paperwork will be submitted to the DNR, and when the DNR determines that the boreholes have been properly abandoned, Red Flint will send the report to the Town of Howard, Kelly said.

One of the holes was mistakenly identified as a borehole but turned out not to be actual borehole for mining exploration, she said.

All together, there were 25 separate drill holes from the Northern Sands exploration for frac sand, Kelly said.

At the Howard Town Board’s May 5 meeting, 23 boreholes had been identified, and the following property owners were reported to 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).

Reimbursement

Paul Ayres, owner of Red Flint Group, also attended the August 4 meeting.

Ayres noted that the Town of Howard had not signed and returned a reimbursement agreement.

A check for $20,000 also had been included with the agreement, he said.

The Howard Town Board did not want to sign the reimbursement agreement until it was clear what involvement Paul Van Eijl had with the Albertville Valley sand mine, said Susan Haake, town clerk.

Van Eijl’s name needs to be removed and a new agreement issued, she said.

Paul Van Eijl was the land acquisitions manager with Northern Sands.

Ayres said Van Eijl had been “removed from the project” and “will not be back.”

Because of the delay in obtaining a signed agreement with the township, the check has been cancelled, Ayres said.

Craig Johnson, an attorney for Northern Sands, will be the signer for the agreement, he said.

Reclamation

Following a public hearing July 29 held by Chippewa County Land Conservation and Forest Management on the application for a reclamation permit for the Albertville Valley sand mine, Red Flint will consider the comments from the hearing and change the reclamation plan if necessary, Ayres said.

Red Flint will do “a play by play” of the comments and respond to them as needed, he said.

Ayres said he planned to report back to the Howard Town Board about the reclamation plan when “there is something new to report.”

The Howard Town Board hired a company called SCS Engineers out of Madison to review the proposed reclamation plan, and SCS made a number recommendations.

Red Flint will plan to hold public informational sessions on the Albertville Valley sand mine, Ayres said.

Mike Schwarzmann of Milwaukee is the new owner of Northern Sands, he said.