June 14, 2008

Lines Drawn in Sand Mine Debate

By Chris Vetter, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.

Jun. 14--CHIPPEWA FALLS -- Kasey Schindler barely has slept the past week after learning that Canadian Sand and Proppant is planning to mine sand from a farm in the town of Howard. The site is across the road from Schindler's home.

Schindler and her husband have lived in their home for 10 years, and they have a 3-year-old son.

"Can you imagine the trucks coming out and my son getting off and on the bus?" she said. "We just don't believe the benefits outweigh the risks."

Canadian Sand and Proppant announced May 29 it purchased a 93-acre processing site in the northeastern corner of Chippewa Falls.

The company plans to extract a specific type of sand common in Chippewa and Barron counties, process and ship it out by rail to Canada, western Texas oil fields and Wyoming.

The company is hoping to mine an 80-acre site on farms at the intersection of 55th Street and Highway B in the town of Howard and truck the sand to Chippewa Falls.

Schindler said her group will be petitioning the Plan Commission to deny the permit. She doesn't want to move and isn't sure if that would be an option if mining is allowed.

"Who is going to buy my house?" Schindler asked. "My property value ... it's probably going to be unsellable."

Allan Schlaugat, a Chippewa County board member, serves on the five-person Howard Plan Commission. Schlaugat said his board will review an application Monday that would allow the mining. If approved, the company could put 60 to 90 trucks a day on the road from the mine to Chippewa Falls.

"We'll review the permit and make a recommendation to the town board, either thumbs up or thumbs down," Schlaugat said. "There have been a lot of people calling me and the town chairman. It's been crazy to say the least. There are already concerns about truck traffic, and we'll hear about that Monday."

Schindler also is concerned about air and water quality and noise. "We don't know anything about this company," she said. "They don't have a track record. You can't 'Google' them. It's almost impossible to find information."

Schlaugat agrees that more needs to be known about the company. The town of Howard adopted a mining ordinance last December, which is why the company must come before the Plan Commission for a permit.

"I wouldn't say (commission members) are against it, but the information is sketchy and people are screaming for information," he said.

Jeff Sikora owns one of the side-by-side farms along Highway B where the mining would take place. He said he wouldn't even consider letting the company mine his land if he thought it would hurt the property.

"My main concern was safety with the school bus route," Sikora said, adding that his grandchildren live nearby.

The company has assured him that trucks would not be going through during school pickup and drop-off times, he said.

Sikora, 47, who has lived on the farm all his life, intends to keep living on his property during the excavation, noting that land will be mined in 10-acre lots. "It isn't going to be much of a disturbance at a time," he said.

Sikora said the company approached him a few months ago. He believes his land will be better off after all the sand is removed.

"I'm on highly erodible land," Sikora said. "When they are done, I'll have a lot better farmable soil than I have now."

Sikora can't attend Monday's meeting but encourages people to get all the facts. "They don't have all the information," Sikora said.

He has not committed to any deal with the company, he said.

His neighbor, Bob Schindler, also is considering allowing the company to mine his land. Bob Schindler's son said the family wouldn't have any comments until after Monday's meeting.

The Bob Schindler and Kasey Schindler families are distant relatives, Kasey Schindler said.

Schlaugat said it is a difficult situation because Canadian Sand and Proppant is planning to bring several high-paying jobs to the area. "The infusion of money this company is going to put into Chippewa County is phenomenal, but these issues have to be addressed," Schlaugat said.

Dan Masterpole, Chippewa County conservationist, said Canadian Sand and Proppant also must apply for permits from the county.

"(County ordinance) requires any new non-metallic mine that there be an operation plan submitted and a reclamation plan to ensure that all non-metallic mines are reclaimed to state standards."

The company has not filed those permit requests yet, Masterpole said.

"I'd anticipate they'll file them in a couple of weeks," Masterpole said.

Schlaugat believes the company is lining up other possible mining sites in the towns of Cooks Valley and Auburn, immediately north of Howard. However, Masterpole said the company has not told him of any other possible locations.

"I'm not aware of any other sites, but that's not to say there aren't," Masterpole said.

The county already has about 85 non-metallic mines, generally ranging from 20 to 40 acres. They are fairly evenly distributed throughout the county, he said.

"They are spread out corresponding to the line where the glacier melted," Masterpole explained. "This one is different because of the possible size and depth."

Canadian Sand and Proppant plans to divide the site into eight 10-acre parcels, each taking two to three years to be mined and reclaimed, Schlaugat said, although the permit would be from August to July 2048.

The Plan Commission merely will make a recommendation. The town board then likely will discuss the matter in July and August, he said.

The town has about 650 residents, Schlaugat said.

Kasey Schindler said her group of concerned homeowners is trying to canvass the entire town to get the word out about Monday's meeting.

"There are some really upset people," she said. "We're a private township with a lot of families. It's a quiet, very peaceful area. You'll definitely notice the difference (if the mine is allowed)."

Vetter can be reached at 723-0303 or [email protected]



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