The great Sand Rush of 2011 in on, as four companies plan on mining or processing sand in Chippewa County as soon as this year.
The prize is a natural resource in the county, sand that can be refined for use in the extraction process of oil and natural gas.
The company gathering the most attention this week is Preferred Sands, which has already been rebuffed twice by the city of Bloomer after the firm wanted to set up a plant in a city industrial park.
The Genoa, Neb., company continues to plan to mine a site in the town of Cooks Valley.
“It’s not a new site. It’s an expansion of an existing facility that’s in place,” said county conservationist Dan Masterpole.
That existing 13-acre site is owned by Sam LaGesse and received a permit two years ago, said Seth Ebel, a project engineer for the county Land Conservation department.
What Preferred wants to do is expand the mining site to 225 acres, and have LaGesse’s permit transferred to the company.
Masterpole said that sand companies typically wash the sand at the mine site and then truck it to a processing plant where the sand is dried and refined.
What’s new is the company wants to set up its processing plant in the town of Bloomer, north of the intersection of Highways 64 and 53.
The Bloomer Town Board will hear a presentation by the company at 7 p.m. Monday at the town hall at 21281 Highway 40.
Then the Chippewa County Department of Land Conservation and Forest Management will hold a hearing at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Room 1 of the county courthouse at 711 N. Bridge St. Discussion at that meeting will limited to comments on the company’s reclamation plan for its 225-acre mining site in Cooks Valley.
“The hearing is not to determine whether or not a mine should be allowed at the site, but rather whether these standards are met,” Masterpole said.
That means no comments will be accepted about potential noise, dust or road traffic problems from the mine, Masterpole said. That’s outside of what the permit is about, which is the company’s reclamation plans for the mining site.
A permit allows the county to set conditions on the company, such as the hours of operation.
Another firm with local sand plans is Superior Silica Sand of Koske, Texas, which is planning to mine sand in the town of Arland in Barron County and then truck it to its processing plant in the town of Auburn.
“There will not be a hearing for that mine,” Ebel said. That’s because, unliked Preferred’s plan, no one with property within 300 feet of the mine site chose to ask for a hearing.
Superior Silica is awaiting approve of a non-metallic reclamation permit. Masterpole said his department has reviewed the plan, and it meets state and county specifications.
“The department anticipates issuing the permit with conditions in the near future,” Masterpole said.
Another Cooks Valley mine
A third sand mine company, the Chippewa Sand Co., wants to mine sand in Cooks Valley, near where Preferred Sands plans to mine. Chippewa Sand is on the south side of a deposit ridge of sand, while Preferred is operating on the north side.
Chippewa Sand hasn’t said where its processing plant would be located, Masterpole said. Wherever that plant is, it will need access to a rail line and natural gas, which Masterpole said is used to dry the sand.
The most well known locally of the other sand mine companies is EOG Resources of Houston, Texas. The firm plans to mine in the town of Howard and its processing plant is in Chippewa Falls.
EOG said work is progressing on schedule on the Chippewa Falls plant, which has a cost of over $60 million. The company said the cost of the mine is confidential.
“The plant is expected to begin accepting shipments of sand for processing in the fall of 2011,” the company said in replying to an emailed question from the Herald.
EOG has already gone through the reclamation permit process, getting one in 2009.
It is asking for a relatively minor modification on its planned rail loading building at this property at 1425 County S, Chippewa Falls. That request will go before the city Plan Commission at 7:30 p.m. Monday in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 30 W. Central St.
Masterpole said the four companies differ in the way they plan on mining. EOG will mine into a hill and go into the ground below grade.
The other three have different plans. “They’re taking (part of) a hill, but not creating a hole,” he said.
Each method possesses unique challenges and need to be managed differently, he said. If all of the plans are properly engineered, Masterpole said, “We cannot (legally) say no.”
EOG will be the end user of the refined sand, while the other three companies are industrial sand companies, Ebel said. That means they intend to sell the sand they mine and refine to other companies.
On the road
But to get the sand to their plants and then ship it to other markets, the mining companies’ trucks will be using county and town roads.
That’s how Bruce Stelzner gets involved.
Stelzner is the highway commissioner for Chippewa County. He said the county Highway Department is working with the four companies about traffic the operations will generate. He added local towns are also working with the companies.
Some of the roads expected to get the heaviest use are County DD, County A, and sections of County M and B, he said. None of them were constructed to the standards to withstand heavy industrial use, and all have seasonal weight limits during the late winter.
The roads in the area of the operations outside of Chippewa Falls are designed for traditional use, for agriculture.
Stelzner said his department’s goal is to maintain the safe use of the roads while minimizing the impact to county taxpayers.
By the numbers
Mine: Town of Cooks Valley
Plant: Town of Bloomer
Mine size: 225 acres
Life of mine: 20 years
Average water usage: 594,000 gallons a day
Amount removed a year: 650,000 to 700,000 cubic yards of material
Post-mine use: 107 acres of pasture
Local land owners: Sam LaGesse, Don Prill, James Springer
Chippewa Sand Company
Mine: Town of Cooks Valley
Plant: Undisclosed site
Mine size: 176 acres
Life of mine: 14 years
Average water usage: Figure not available. A wash plant is planned for on-site materials processing.
Amount removed a year: 385,000 cubic yards of material
Post-mine use: Not available
Local land owners: Jeff Buchner, Robinson Panosian Mining, LLC.
Superior Silica Sand
Mine: Town of Arland, Barron County
Plant: New Auburn
Mine size: 135 acres
Life of mine: 5 years. Permit can be renewed indefinitely.
Average water usage: Figure not available. A wash plant is proposed for on-site materials processing.
Amount removed every year: 1.4 million cubic yards of material
Post-mine use: 117 acres of farmland
Local land owners: Anthony Glaser and others.
EOG Resources, Inc.
Mine: Town of Howard
Plant: Chippewa Falls
Size: 185 acres (with 126 to be excavated over the life of the mine)
Life of mine: In excess of 20 years
Average water use: The sand mine will require minimal water use, primarily for wetting down sand in the trucks prior to shipment.
Amount removed every year: 600,000 tons.
Post-mine use: The land will be reclaimed and returned to the control of the landowners.
Local land owners: Robert Schindler, Jeff Sikora.