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Northern Sands receives extension for environmental studies at Albertville Valley sand mine

By LeAnn R. Ralph

TOWN OF HOWARD  —  Northern Sands LLC, the company proposing to develop a 1,300 acre frac sand mine southeast of Colfax, has received an extension on the deadline for submitting reports about environmental studies.

In the nonmetallic mine reclamation permit issued by the Chippewa County Department of Land Conservation and Forest Management last November, Northern Sands was required to complete an assessment of the biological resources at the mine site along with an inventory of the seeps, springs, wetlands and surface waters located within the mine boundary and the adjacent properties.

The deadline for submitting the reports was July 31, 2016.

The deadline for the reports has now been extended to December 31, 2017, along with the requirement that the work be started on the assessments and inventories by October 15.

“There’s still research that needs to be done,” said Ron Koshoshek, the Town of Howard’s mining consultant, at the October 4 meeting of the Howard Town Board.

According to a Town of Howard ordinance, before work can start on mining frac sand from the Albertville Valley sand mine, the town board must issue a nonmetallic mine license.

Northern Sands/Red Flint Group must have all of the permits needed from Chippewa County and the state Department of Natural Resources and must collect the information needed on the environmental assessments before the Howard Town Board will discuss a nonmetallic mining license or a developer’s agreement.

With the December 31, 2017, deadline in place, Vernon Schindler, chair of the Town of Howard, said he would not expect Northern Sands/Red Flint Group to submit an application for a mine license before 2018.

October 15

According to the mine reclamation permit amendment, Northern Sands was required to have retained a consultant to conduct the studies by September 15, and the deadline for study designs to be submitted to Chippewa County Land Conservation is October 15.

During a telephone conversation October 5 with Christien Huppert, a project engineer with Chippewa County Land Conservation, Huppert said he had talked with Dan Masterpole, Chippewa County conservationist, who had met with representatives for Red Flint Group out of Eau Claire the previous week concerning the studies, assessments and inventories for the Albertville Valley sand mine.

Huppert said he had only been on the job in Chippewa County for several months and that Masterpole was handling the paperwork for Northern Sands.

Seth Ebel, the previous project engineer who worked with the sand mines, left the position earlier this year.

According to his conversation with Masterpole, Red Flint has hired a consultant, and it is Red Flint’s intention to submit the plans and start the field work by the October 15 deadline, Huppert said.

According to the amendment to the reclamation permit, the biological assessment, baseline hydrologic inventory and site specific hydrologic assessment, along with field work for the hydrologic assessment, must be competed by December 31, 2017.

In addition, a continuous riparian corridor and a vegetative buffer must be established to prevent environmental pollution and to meet standards for surface water and wetland protection as established in NR 137.07.

The buffer is required to be established 100 feet from the boundary of wetlands and the centerline of watercourses with defined bed and banks. No mining or mine-related activities are permitted inside of the buffer. Pre-existing agricultural pastures are still allowed within the buffer. The wetland buffer must be monumented with markers for the life of the mine.

A map of the riparian corridor and vegetative buffers will be prepared to prevent environmental pollution during the life of the mine, according to the permit amendment.

Field work to establish the riparian corridors and buffer must start by October 15, and maps and a report must be completed and submitted to Chippewa County by December 31, 2017.

The permit amendment also stipulates that all wetland delineations shall be completed and a written report submitted to Chippewa County Land Conservation prior to beginning mining activities in any phase. The report must include a map that shows the delineated boundary of the wetlands. The wetland delineation field work for Phase I must begin by October 15, and the written report submitted to Chippewa County Land Conservation by December 31, 2017.

The field work for developing the site reclamation plan and post-mining land use must also start by October 15, and the written plan must be submitted to Chippewa County Land Conservation by December 31, 2017.

For any agricultural fields remaining in production while the Albertville Valley sand mine is in production, the agricultural producer and Red Flint must develop a nutrient management plan that meets the specifications of WI NRCS Technical Guide Standard 590. Field work on the nutrient management plans must start by October 15, and the completed nutrient management plan must be submitted to Chippewa County before April 1, 2017.

Boreholes

A petition was presented to the Howard Town Board at the October 4 meeting with 186 signatures from the Town of Howard asking the town board not to approve a mining license for Northern Sands, Paul VanEijl, president of Northern Sands, or any other representative of Northern Sands, because of a “pattern of deception.”

Susan Haake, town clerk, noted that the Town of Howard has 500 registered voters.

The deception revolved around VanEijl assuring the town board that exploratory boreholes had been properly abandoned according to the procedure required by state law, when in fact, the boreholes had not been properly abandoned.

Judge Rhonda L. Lanford in Dane County Circuit Court ordered a judgement against Northern Sands LLC and Ahlgrimm Explosives Company in June of this year in response to a complaint filed by the State of Wisconsin.

Northern Sands was fined $17,000, and Ahlgrimm was fined $9,000.

All together, 25 boreholes were drilled into a bedrock formation, ranging in depth from 20 feet to 90 feet, that were not properly abandoned.

The concern about boreholes not being abandoned properly is that they can act as a conduit to introduce contaminants into the groundwater.

The Howard Town Board also had been assured that Red Flint Group would be the mine operator, although VanEijl had signed the nonmetallic mine reclamation permit.

Members of the Howard Town Board have expressed hesitancy in the past about issuing a nonmetallic mining license for the Albertville Valley sand mine if VanEijl is involved in any part of the operation.

The reclamation plan permit amendment was signed by John Behling, an attorney representing Northern Sands.

Behling’s signature was included under a paragraph that reads, “I acknowledge that I have been assigned the authority as provided by Northern Sands, LLC (the “Operator”) to act on behalf of the Operator. I further acknowledge that as the authorized agent of the Operator, that I have read, understand and agree that the operator be bound by the above permit amendment.”

Since an application for a mine license has not yet been submitted to the Town of Howard, Haake said she would keep the petition on file for future reference.

The proposed 1,300-acre mine site stretches north and south along the Chippewa County and Dunn County line directly east of the intersection of county Highway N and county Highway A.

The mine site is expected to include a wet processing plant, a dry processing plant, rail car storage area and a rail loading facility.

The site is located along the Canadian National rail line which runs through Colfax.