/ Articles / Schoepke Town Board holds informational session on mining exploration
The Town of Schoepke, at its regular town board meeting last week, held an informational session regarding mining exploration within the town. Badger Minerals had been granted a permit for exploration within the town, and had 10 sites which they were considering exploring.
The meeting was, as expected by the board, well attended, with many questions from the audience.
Oneida County zoning director Karl Jennrich began the presentation by explaining the mining ordinance that has been in place for a number of years. In 2018, the ordinance was updated, he said, in relation to new laws that came through. As part of the ordinance, exploration is also regulated, he said. Exploratory drilling allows companies to determine what might be out on the landscape, he said.
“Right now, exploration is only allowed in certain districts in Oneida County,” Jennrich said. “One of those districts is District 10, General Use.”
Much of the Town of Schoepke is zoned as District 10. District 2, Single Family Residential, does not allow for exploratory mining.
The county received the application and fee from Badger Minerals on March 3, Jennrich said, and staff would be reviewing that application with corporation counsel. From there, a meeting would be set to look at things such as financial assurances.
“If by chance a company would want to do exploration in Post Lake or on Pelican Lake in a single family residential district, they would have to go through a separate process to rezone that parcel, if they would like to do any exploration or mining. We look at a whole different code section when it comes to rezoning,” Jennrich said. He said each circumstance would be a little different.
The state, board member Bob Mott said, had already approved the licensing for exploration. He said the county also has a process, with the application pending, and he asked what the process was to determine whether to approve a license at the county level.
Jennrich said staff would look to be sure the permit meets compliance with the ordinance. The county could refuse the application only for noncompliance pursuant to the ordinance. He said the county could not deny a permit simply because they did not want to issue it. Things that would cause an application to be denied would be failure to comply with things the Department of Natural Resources requires or lack of proper financial assurances. The biggest issue, he said, would be if the permit were looking to locate drilling in flood plains or wetlands, which would be an issue due to shoreline zoning.
The intent of Badger Minerals is to drill 10 holes up to a total of 4,000 feet. All of the 10 locations on a map provided to those in attendance, have been approved by the DNR. The license the state issues is a statewide license to drill. Individual notice of intent to drill is a separate item, which starts the review process for each specific site.
Tina VanZile asked if the county would grant a permit with regulations in mind the DNR has already set forth. Jennrich said there were certain ordinances the county did not have, which would be regulated by the state. The county would look at the activities within a mapped flood plain or within the shoreland protection area, which is within 35 feet of a navigable body of water.
Chris McGeshick of Crandon asked if a permit for exploration would be approved by the county before all of the needed paperwork was received by the DNR, or as that information was still coming in. Jennrich said it would be possible because the licensing process was a bit different than the notice of intent for each site. The notice of intent would need to be provided at least 10 days before drilling. Badger Minerals, however, has already provided the county with all of the locations it intended to explore, thereby giving the county much more time to look at each site.
Jennrich said the county does not have the authority to enforce natural resources, or state, rules and regulations, so they would only be in control of the things for which the county has a condition on the permit. McGeshick said zoning may not have the authority to enforce those regulations, but the sheriff’s department would have that authority to enforce all laws of the state, including DNR regulations and administrative rules.
Tracy Benzel a soil scientist with Benzel Soil Services, said the DNR has issued an exploration permit. Benzel has asked, but he said it does not sound like there would not be issuing a letter of confirmation for each individual site where there is a notice of intent. While they would set out conditions to which the company would have to comply, but no specific affirmation would be issued.
The typical target minerals in this area, according to geologist Eric Quigley from Great Lakes Exploration, are zinc, copper and lead, with possible gold and silver as well. The timeline has changed for the project, he said, with the schedule being pushed back until after road limits come off. He spoke to the idea the drilling would use snow berms to limit runoff, stating that, due to the timeline change, there would be other medium in place for that purpose. Quigley said it would take approximately a month, depending on other factors, to complete the exploratory drilling.
Quigley said the material pulled from the drill holes would be held in a sump, or excavated hole approximately two feet by six feet by four feet deep, on average. Water would cover the material excavated until the company is done with drilling. The water would then be allowed to drain away. The sand and drilling grit in the bottom of the hole would be covered, mixed with lime and covered or mixed with concrete and covered, depending on soil testing. The whole would then be back-filled and vegetated. The spoils of each hole, as well as the topsoil removed, would be stored on site, he said, and used in the reclamation process at each hole.
There were some questions regarding what chemicals were used in the process. Benzel said the main chemical would be the chlorine used to disinfect the water during drilling. No PFAS or PFOS are used in the process, he said. In general polymers, Benzel said, are not in that category.
Benzel explained to the group there has been interest in the exploratory mining in the area since the 1970s with the initial interest coming from residents or land owners in the area. Residents had originally approached Great Lakes wondering about how this would affect their property values.
Town of Schoepke fire chief Dwayne Sparks had concerns about getting emergency services to the drill sites, should they be needed. Quigley said the plan was to create as little disturbance as possible, so roads in to the site would be quite crude, but it would be no more difficult than getting to a logging site.
There were also questions about how hunting or other land uses may be affected as well. Again, Quigley explained it would be much the same as areas that are affected by logging and impairments to other uses would be kept at the minimum possible.
Once exploratory drilling had been completed, Benzel said it would take approximately six weeks to get the results back. No other plans for drill sites are on the horizon at this point, other than the 10 holes already mapped. If that would happen, a new notice of intent would have to be filed for each new site. That information, Jennrich said, could be disseminated to the public if requested as it came along.
Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at [email protected]