EAU CLAIRE, Wis. — Menards is seeking permits for a sand mine it already operates at its rural Eau Claire headquarters for use in the retail company’s cement products.
Eau Claire County officials couldn’t precisely determine how long Menards has been mining a 10-acre piece of its sprawling corporate campus in the town of Union, but found evidence it has been going on for some time.
“It’s been going for a number of years now,” said Jared Grande, the county’s land use manager.
An investigation led the county to issue a notice of violation earlier this year to Menards, which is in the process of getting all the necessary government approvals to operate the relatively small mining operation on its property.
Aerial photographs available on the county’s online property mapping website show a pit on the Menards property that grew in size and changed in shape over the past decade. The 2018 aerial photograph shows several piles of different material in the center of the pit — at the same location in maps provided this spring in the company’s application for a county permit.
The Leader-Telegram sought comment from Menards about why and how long the mine was operated without required permits, but those messages were not returned last week.
As with other situations where landowners are found in violation, the county opts to work with parties to get them into compliance instead of issuing fines.
However, county policy doubles the fee for reviewing mine reclamation plans that are filed after operations have begun. Based on the acreage of Menards’ mine, that fee would’ve been $8,500 in advance but the company will now be charged $17,000.
Menards’ mine permit and rezoning requests, and its reclamation plan will be subject to a public hearing at 7 p.m. July 23 in front of the county’s Planning and Development Committee at the county Courthouse, 721 Oxford Ave.
While still proceeding through the process for local approvals, Menards has already received a state permit needed for its mine.
Michelle Asher, a state Department of Natural Resources wastewater specialist, said she first learned about mining at the site in November. Menards then sought a storm water permit — a DNR requirement for all mines — and was issued one in February.
Maps submitted by Menards for its county permit show an existing 11-acre mine and a neighboring 10.6-acre area labeled as a future mine — both on a parcel of land on the northwest corner of the company’s campus, between railroad tracks and County Line Road.
The small scale of Menards’ mine means it needs fewer DNR permits than the large frac sand mines established in Wisconsin in the last decade. Material won’t be processed on-site — just screened by size and hauled into the cement plant — eliminating the need for well permits. As the property is not a wetland, it doesn’t require a permit for disturbing that kind of habitat.
In documents submitted to the county, Menards said the mine provides sand for products made at its headquarters so the company won’t have to truck materials in from elsewhere.
“The property that the concrete plant is located on happens to have an abundance of sand,” Nick Brenner, Menards’ real estate representative, wrote in the permit application.
Neighbors would see less truck traffic to that part of the Menards complex, Brenner wrote, and mining operations would be limited.
There are numerous industrial businesses — including a sand mine, concrete plant and materials yard run by Haas Sons of Thorp — along with rural homes and farms located in the vicinity of the mine, based on a map showing parcels within a 700-foot radius of the mine.
“It is very likely that neighboring properties will not even notice the activities taking place,” Brenner wrote.
Not only would the mining happen at an elevation from surrounding property and at distances from neighbors required by law, Brenner wrote that topsoil berms will be built around the top of the mine where equipment is actively digging. Fencing, berms, trees, barricades and “no trespassing” signs will keep people away from the mine pit.
Excavation at the site typically will take place during one month a year and portable screening equipment will be brought to the mine to sort sand and gravel by size.
Menards plans to extract a total of 828,824 tons of material at the mine site, keeping a stockpile area for 40,000 tons.
Removing all that sand and rock is expected to happen over the course of 21 years, but will depend on quality of the material and market conditions, according to the reclamation plan.
After removing the sand it intends to, Menards will then work to even out the property for its future reuse. Rock not used in concrete and a hill on the north side of the property will be used to fill in the mine, which will then be covered with topsoil and grass planted there.
Though the land will be more even than it currently is, diagrams in the proposed reclamation plan shows it will still be a crater at a lower elevation than surrounding land.
Menards anticipates $811,423 in one-time reclamation costs, plus $10,000 annually for site monitoring expenses, according to its plan.
Menards expects to use the reclaimed mines for other industrial uses, including stockpiling materials that would again have to be trucked in from elsewhere to supply the concrete plant.
Menards’ mine is a small operation compared to others seen in the county in recent years during the frac sand boom that has since cooled for our region.
In the last five years, the Hi-Crush frac sand operation has disturbed 233 acres of land — 10 times the area that Menards intends to use over the course of its mine. Based on volume of material expected to be mined, Hi-Crush’s original plan was to extract 35.3 million tons of sand over 36 years — more than 42 times what Menards intends to do.