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By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF HOWARD — The Howard Town Board will be holding a public hearing November 29 on the proposed developer’s agreement with Northern Sands Wisconsin to operate a frac sand mine not far from Colfax.
The developer’s agreement is available on the Town of Howard’s website under the ordinances section.
Northern Sands Wisconsin is proposing to develop a 1,300-acre frac sand mine southeast of Colfax 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 proposed mine is known locally as the Albertville Valley sand mine.
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.
The Howard Town Hall was filled to standing room only with people who wanted to hear more about the Albertville Valley sand mine at a public hearing October 8.
The next step after the public hearing on the proposed sand mine was to work on a developer’s agreement with Northern Sands Wisconsin, and when a draft of the developer’s agreement was ready, to hold another public hearing.
According to the first page of the preliminary draft of the developer’s agreement, the Howard Town Board has reviewed the plans for a sand mine proposed by Northern Sands Wisconsin included in the reclamation plan and the reclamation permit approved by Chippewa County Land Conservation and in the license application submitted to the Town of Howard.
“The Town finds that the application requirements of the Mine Ordinance under Sections 17.05, 17.06, and 17.14(3) are satisfied by the License Application,” according to the first page of the proposed developer’s agreement.
Section 17.05 of the Town of Howard’s mine ordinance deals with procedures for applying for a license to mine. Section 17.06 references the license application and what is required for the application, such as information about land ownership, site information and maps, operation plan and any special exceptions. Section 17.14(3) addresses the application for a mining agreement.
Under the proposed developer’s agreement, Northern Sands Wisconsin would be allowed to expand the sand mine to additional property contiguous to the mine site as long as the expanded operation follows the terms of initial agreement and does not pose any additional concerns.
The developer’s agreement states that Northern Sands Wisconsin will agree to pay the Town of Howard’s costs during the term of the agreement for reasonable staff time, retained experts and legal services associated with the sand mine.
The proposed developer’s agreement allows the Howard Town Board to revoke the mine license if mining operations have been abandoned.
Section 17.09(5) of the mine ordinance states that the operation is considered abandoned if no significant mining operation has occurred for more than 60 consecutive work days in a two-year period.
After the town clerk has mailed the intent of the town board to revoke the mining license, the operator must provide a written request for a hearing within 30 days that includes an explanation of the cessation of the mining operation and a plan and a date for restarting the mining operation.
If the town board has determined the mine has been abandoned, the Town of Howard will notify Chippewa County Land Conservation and request that Chippewa County order reclamation to begin.
Hours of operation
According to the proposed developer’s agreement, Northern Sands Wisconsin will be allowed, without limit on hours of operation, to conduct processing in Phase I of the operation.
The developer’s agreement states Northern Sands Wisconsin must use “reasonable efforts” to conduct transloading operations, including loading, connecting and moving rail cars, only during daylight hours.
Transload operations maybe conducted outside of daylight hours “if the reasons for such operations are reasonably outside the control of Northern Sands Wisconsin.”
Howard’s mine ordinance states normal operations are limited to 12 hours per day Monday through Friday during daylight hours and no later than 6 p.m. to minimize off-site impacts to residents.
The developer’s agreement addresses processing of the sand, transloading of the sand onto rail cars, and maintenance and repair of mining equipment, which can also be conducted at any time, but does not specifically address the hours when the actual mining of the frac sand could occur.
The proposed developer’s agreement allows Northern Sands Wisconsin to use trucks weighing up to 48,000 pounds on town roads.
The proposed agreement also requires the company to upgrade to the “Class A” standard Frazier Road/13th Street from the intersection with county Highway N south and southeast to the primary and secondary access points on the mine site for transporting equipment and construction materials to the processing site. No weight limits or vehicle weight permits will be required for this activity.
The agreement also includes Scenic Road/20th Street for the upgrade to the point where material will be conveyed over or under the highway from the proposed excavation area in Phase 1 to the processing facility and from the proposed excavation area in Phase 3 to Phase 2 to locate conveyance systems and to cross the highways at these locations.
Prior to building any conveyance systems over or under the roads, Northern Sands Wisconsin must provide details about the conveyors and plans for construction, repair and maintenance.
Construction cannot begin on the conveyance systems until the Howard Town Board has approved the details and plans.
If the Howard Town Board concludes the company has not done the road maintenance for which it is responsible, the town board will arrange for the work and charge the costs to Northern Sands Wisconsin. If the company does not pay for the maintenance, the Town of Howard can recover the costs under the financial assurance provision or may terminate approval of the developer’s agreement.
The proposed developer’s agreement allows Northern Sands Wisconsin to perform mining activities closer than 800 feet from a residence if the company receives the approval of the owner.
Northern Sands Wisconsin can mine up to 400 feet from a residence if a payment is made to the owner for each year there is mining activity, including reclamation, equal to the average full annual property tax bill for residential properties in the Town of Howard for that year, including all county, school district, technical college district and town taxes.
The payments must be delivered within 90 days of starting any mine activities in the reduced setback area.
All mining activities, including backfilling, regrading, initial stabilization and the establishing of vegetation required for reclamation, must be completed within two years after mining activities start within a reduced setback area.
The proposed developer’s agreement requires Northern Sands Wisconsin to provide a property value guarantee to any owner of a parcel located at least in part within a quarter of a mile of the sand mine property or within a quarter of a mile of any parcels added to the sand mine.
Property owners will be eligible for the property value guarantee six months after the Howard Town Board issues the nonmetallic mining license.
In any year, Northern Sands Wisconsin will not be required to pay more than $750,000 in property value guarantees. The payments will be made on a “first in” basis, but owners who do not receive payment in the year in which the right to payment is established, the right to payment carries over into the following year in the same order as the right to payment accrues.
Northern Sands Wisconsin is free to allocate more than $750,000 per year for property payments.
Owners seeking a property value guarantee payment must provide an “intent to sell” notice to Northern Sands Wisconsin. The property owner and the company must then agree on a Wisconsin licensed real estate appraiser,
The appraiser will provide an appraisal of the property based on the fair market value for the property as if the Northern Sands Wisconsin development did not exist. Northern Sands Wisconsin will pay the appraisal fee.
The owner will then list the property with a licensed real estate broker. The listing contract will exclude Northern Sands Wisconsin as a potential buyer so if the company purchases the property, no commissions will be paid to the broker.
The property must be listed for at least 180 days, unless a buyer is located before that. The sale period must begin within 90 days of the appraisal.
Any offers on the property must be submitted to Northern Sands Wisconsin, and the company will have the option to require the owner to accept the offer. If the sale does not close, in spite of reasonable efforts by the owner, within 120 days of the end of the sale period, Northern Sands Wisconsin must purchase the property for fair market value plus $15,000.
If Northern Sands Wisconsin directs the owner to accept an offer during the sale period, and the property sells for less than fair market value plus $15,000, Northern Sands Wisconsin must pay the owner the difference between the selling price and fair market value plus $15,000.
If the owner takes the property off the real estate market during the sale period, the owner’s eligibility for a property value guarantee payment ends, and the owner cannot submit another “Notice of Intent to Sell” for three years.
The property value guarantee will apply once for each parcel and will only apply to the owner of record on the effective date but this only applies if Northern Sands Wisconsin records information with the Register of Deeds in Chippewa County or Dunn County stating the property is no longer eligible for the property value guarantee.
If the owner accepts an offer that meets or exceeds the fair market value plus $15,000, or if the property is transferred without the owner availing himself of herself of the property value guarantee, the property will not be considered to have been transferred pursuant to the property value guarantee.
Property already for sale on the effective date will not be eligible for the property value guarantee. The property can only become eligible for a property value guarantee if an Intent to Sell Notice is provided to Northern Sands Wisconsin no less than three years after the effective date of the guarantee.
According to the proposed developer’s agreement, owners of a parcel containing a residence located at least in part within a half mile of the processing facility, which includes properties in the Town of Howard and in the Town of Colfax, must be paid an annual “processing payment” equal to the average full annual property tax bill for residential properties.
The payments are due January 1 following the year in which the first product is shipped from the mine site and must be made on or before January 1 for which any processing or transloading activities which occurred in the previous year.
The property tax payments do not apply to property owned or leased by Northern Sands Wisconsin and do not apply to someone not the owner of record on the effective date of the developer’s agreement.
Before nonmetallic mining operations begin, Northern Sands Wisconsin must sample all private wells within a half mile of the mine site.
The wells must be sampled for lead, arsenic, iron, iron bacteria, nitrates and other contaminants associated with activity that continue to be conducted on the property or adjacent to the mining operations.
Future testing of sentinel and private wells must be conducted according to provisions in the Town of Howard’s mining ordinance, which includes quarterly testing of the sentinel wells and testing of wells down-gradient of the groundwater flow within a quarter mile every three years, or if none are located within a quarter of a mile, wells within a half mile down-gradient of the sentinel well.
According to the proposed developer’s agreement, before extraction of sand can begin in any phase of the mining operation, or before the processing of the frac sand begins, Northern Sands Wisconsin must provide to the Town of Howard plans related to the design and installation of surface water management systems; the design of process flow and sand conveyor systems; the design of berms to screen the operations; and a dust control plan and contingency plan.
Northern Sands Wisconsin must also submit plans prepared under the supervision of a professional geologist and hydrogeologist for groundwater monitoring and well installation that include methods to determine the depth to groundwater; direction of the groundwater flow; methods for determining groundwater quality; and procedures to determine the position of the groundwater.
For each phase of the mine operation, Northern Sands Wisconsin must provide a report containing a variety of information, such as documentation for all wells installed by Northern Sands Wisconsin; the placement of existing monitoring wells used to determine the evaluation of ground water impacts; maps showing the groundwater contour, elevations of springs, seepage areas, streams and intermittent streams; surface topography; the location of areas to be excavated; areas where processing will occur; and private wells.
The public hearing on November 29 will begin at 6 p.m.
The Howard Town Hall is located on Chippewa County Highway B just off state Highway 40 about seven miles east of Colfax.