By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF HOWARD — The Howard Town Board could find out more details at the May meeting about the development of the proposed 1,300-acre Albertville Valley sand mine southeast of Colfax.
Members of the Howard Town Board reported on the progress of the sand mine at the March 7 meeting.
Town board members have met individually with several people associated with the proposed frac sand mine, said Dennis Dvoracek, town supervisor.
Northern Sands and Red Flint Group are proposing to develop a 1,300-acre sand mine that would stretch 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.
Chippewa County Land Conservation and Forest Management held a public hearing on the reclamation plan for the Albertville Valley sand mine in July of 2015 and approved the reclamation plan in November of 2015.
Dvorcek said he expects “a ton of activity” with the Albertville Valley sand mine this year.
People associated with the proposed sand mine would like to buy houses in the Town of Howard, said Vernon Schindler, town chair.
The proposed mine has four investors. Two are from Milwaukee, one is from Eau Claire and one is a cement company, he said.
The Albertville Valley mine owners want to buy property so they are taxpayers in the Town of Howard, Dvoracek said.
The owners of the mine should meet with the town board as a whole so there is no doubt as to what was discussed, said Todd Wannish, town supervisor.
The mine owners do not have enough concrete information yet to meet with the town board, but that could change at the May meeting, Dvoracek said.
The mine will not be actively mining frac sand this year, and Paul Van Eijl, who has been associated with Northern Sands, will no longer be working with the proposed mine as of April, Schindler said.
Members of the Howard Town Board have said in the past that the town board would not issue a nonmetallic mining license for the Albertville Valley sand mine if Van Eijl was involved in any part of the operation.
The Town of Howard is an unzoned township but does have a mine licensing ordinance.
In November of 2015, Van Eijl signed the Chippewa County mine reclamation permit as the president of Northern Sands for the Albertville Valley sand mine.
Out of concern for future litigation, members of the Howard Town Board have refused to say exactly why they are leery of Van Eijl’s involvement with the proposed sand mine.
Some residents who live in the area of the Albertville Valley sand mine say they are leery of Van Eijl’s involvement as well.
When Van Eijl began obtaining leases for the Albertville Valley sand mine, more than 20 boreholes were drilled to prospect for frac sand, but the boreholes were not properly filled until Red Flint Group became associated with the project.
Last summer, Northern Sands LLC and Ahlgrimm Explosives Company, Inc. were fined a total of $26,000 for failing to properly abandon 25 frac sand boreholes in the Town of Howard.
Judge Rhonda L. Lanford in Dane County Circuit Court ordered the judgement against Northern Sands and Ahlgrimm in June in response to a complaint filed by the State of Wisconsin.
Northern Sands, a nonmetallic mining company out of Winona, Minnesota, and Ahlgrimm Explosives, a drilling and explosives company out of Appleton, drilled the boreholes as part of the process of locating frac sand in the Town of Howard.
About 15 people attended the Howard Town Board’s March 7 meeting, and one woman in the audience wanted to know whether new owners for the proposed Albertville Valley mine would mean they would have to submit a new application for mine reclamation.
The map has changed as to what will be included in the area to be mined for frac sand, so the reclamation plan will have to be changed, she said.
Dvoracek noted that the Howard Town Board has no control over the reclamation permit and said he did not know what Chippewa County would require regarding a new application.
It was not clear from the discussion whether Red Flint Group would still be involved with the sand mine.
Kathy Stahl, a Town of Colfax resident who lives near the proposed mine site, asked about the studies Chippewa County had required as part of the reclamation permit.
In the nonmetallic mine reclamation permit issued by the Chippewa County Department of Land Conservation and Forest Management, 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 original deadline for submitting the reports was July 31, 2016, but the deadline was extended to December 31, 2017, along with the requirement that the assessments and inventories be started by October 15, 2016.
All together, 13 sand mines covering a little more than 3,700 acres have received approval in Chippewa County, and the Town of Howard has two of the 13 sand mines: the Schindler-Sikora mine (185 acres) and the Northern Sands Albertville Valley sand mine (1,310 acres).
The Albertville Valley sand mine would need a non-metallic mining permit from the Town of Howard before sand mining could start.
All of the studies would have to be completed before the mine operators could apply for a mine license for the Albertville Valley mine, Schindler told Stahl at the March 7 meeting.
One complicating factor for the Albertville Valley sand mine is that the location involves two different watersheds, one for Elk Creek, which drains to the Chippewa River, and one for Eighteen Mile Creek, which drains to the Red Cedar River.
According to Dan Masterpole of Chippewa County land conservation, Northern Sands has started work on the necessary assessments in the Town of Howard.
In September of 2016, Masterpole said he had received notification that a Long Island engineering company had been hired as as the prime consultant for the Red Flint Group.
The “plan of work” for the assessments was received at Chippewa County Land Conservation and Forest Management on October 14, 2016, Masterpole said.
According to the reclamation permit, post-mining land use would include the loading facility being used as a commercial or agricultural materials hub to potentially include grain storage and transfer.
Post-mining land use also would include wildlife habitat managed as native prairie and as woodland.
According to the reclamation permit, the mine operator must develop a site restoration and vegetative management plan for each plant community.
The plan also must include the methods that will be used to manage areas disturbed by mining and the methods that will be used to establish and maintain native prairie and woodland plantings as well as the methods that will be used to control weeds and invasive species.
The mine operator must also manage and maintain each reclamation planting for ten years to show that the intended reclamation is viable and to provide a basis for evaluation.
Chippewa County land conservation will determine if the reclamation is complete, and if it is not complete, the performance period will be extended.
If a lease is cancelled on a parcel of land that has not been certified to be reclaimed, and the mine operator has not purchased that parcel of land, the mine operator must immediately reclaim the parcel, according to the permit.
If the operator does not reclaim the parcel on which the lease has been cancelled, Chippewa County will claim the financial assurance and use that money to reclaim the mine site.
The 13-page reclamation permit includes a number of other conditions as well.