In partnership with the Michigan Township Association and other key organizations, MLSA signed on, yet again, to a coalition letter in opposition of gravel mining legislation moving through committees in the House and Senate in late June, the bills have not made progress since. You can see the details here: June 2022 Coalition Letter. Additionally, MLSA Director, Lon Nordeen and member, Carol Westfall, recently attended a very informative event about gravel mining, going on to write the following article about the event that was originally published in the Manchester Mirror and has been re-printed with permission.
Gravel Mining – A community information event
by Carol Westfall, Pleasant Lake, Manchester
Over 150 concerned citizens participated in an important community event on Saturday, July 23rd at the UAW Hall – Local 1284 in Chelsea. Hosted by Sharon Preservation Society, the event educated Sharon Township and area residents about the serious impacts of sand and gravel mining, including the impact of Senate Bills 429-431, on issues of local control. 2021-SIB-0429.pdf (mi.gov)
The area was well-represented. Though the majority of attendees were from Sharon Township (where a 400-acre gravel mine application has been submitted to the township), attendees also hailed from Manchester and Chelsea, plus Bridgewater, Freedom, Lyndon, Scio, Sylvan, and Delton Townships.
The event opened with brief reports from Sharon Township Planning Commission Chair, Kathy Spiegel, and Andrew DeLeeuw, Chair of the Sharon Township Mineral Licensing Board. They updated attendees on the status of the current gravel mine application, plus highlights of gravel mine oversight procedures in the area.
A panel discussion followed, moderated by Lester Graham, host and reporter of “The Environment Report” at Michigan Radio. The panelists all had extensive expertise and included: Peter Psarouthakis, Supervisor, Sharon Township; Representative Donna Lasinski, D-52 and Michigan House Minority Leader; Megan Tinsley, Water Policy Director, Michigan Environmental Council; Mike Wilczynski, Certified Professional Geologist, Pangea Environmental LLC; Larry Heslinga, Chair, Committee for Gravel Mining Concerns, Healthy Waters Alliance.
Representative Lasinski framed the issue by explaining that Michigan absolutely needs to improve its aging infrastructure in order to maintain a strong economy and keep jobs here. “I have three kids. One has already left the state. Another hit a pothole that totaled his 11-year old car. That’s financially catastrophic for a 24-year old. Like you, I want my kids to stay in Michigan.” Fixing the roads is an important part of infrastructure improvement and that requires aggregate from gravel mines, she noted. “There’s a tension. No one wants a gravel mine near them. There’s one near where I live off Zeeb Road.” “We need to strike a good balance, however.”
Lasinski stressed that she has a long history of supporting water and environmental protections and that she is a strong proponent of having good local zoning controls like those in Sharon Township. She emphasized the importance of keeping important issues top-of-mind with your elected representatives, especially during this lame duck session when the majority of bills get passed after the November election. Call, write, email, visit – whatever you’re comfortable with. Even after hours: “Just leave us a voicemail!”
Peter Psarouthakis has served as Sharon Township Supervisor since 2011 and has been actively involved in all aspects of gravel mine applications and legislation. He has worked with legislators and has testified in Lansing about the critical need for retaining local oversight over gravel mines in an effort to thwart proposed legislation that would shift gravel mine oversight to the state. He has also engaged gravel mine experts to supplement Sharon Township’s expertise and help guide the township in its development of proper application, zoning, and oversight measures.
Psarouthakis noted there are so many challenges that must be addressed proactively, including: resident desires to protect property values, farming heritage, and natural resources; safety; impacts to air, noise, land, water, and roads; and, remediation plans. Sharon Township has an extensive gravel mining application process that requires a proposed gravel mine to address these concerns prior to application approval. He emphasized that resident involvement is critical and that residents can always access all bills at: https://www.legislature.mi.gov/
Megan Tinsley, Water Policy Director for the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC), discussed the critical need to map all aspects of Michigan’s flow of underground water, rivers, and streams as many other states have done. That water feeds the state’s wells and water systems and must be better understood in order to evaluate impacts and/or risks gravel mining could impose on a particular area. She was pleased to announce that $10M has been approved in the state budget to develop that mapping process.
Mike Wilczynski, Certified Professional Geologist for Pangea Environmental, LLC, has over 40 years of experience throughout the U.S., Canada, and Colombia, South America. He was also Senior Geologist with Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality and has been an adjunct instructor of geology at several colleges. Wilczynski emphasized the need for local control and oversight of gravel mines in order to protect the land, water, wetlands, wildlife, and other environmental aspects we treasure.
He believed better mapping, planning, zoning, and oversight could alleviate some problems associated with gravel mining. Wilczynski’s focus is on the long-term impact of gravel mining. While OSHA manages safety onsite for mines, it does not extend to safety issues off the mine’s property. Residents living in the area, for example, can be negatively impacted by noise, traffic, reduced property values, air quality (including silica dust), and water or land problems. Better mapping and understanding of “where” the gravel needs are and where the mines might best be located (on a state level) would go a long way to alleviating problems. Perhaps a new subdivision may not be built in an area flush with aggregate and thus, a potential future gravel mine site.
“Not every township has strong zoning regulations like Sharon Township,” Wilczynski said. He explained that some townships feel they have zero control so they quickly approve gravel mine applications without bringing in experts to help craft zoning and other mining guidelines to protect the environment and residents’ interests. That’s a mistake.
Larry Heslinga, Chair of the Committee for Gravel Mining Concerns, Healthy Waters Alliance, lives on lakefront property that’s part of a small chain of lakes in Delton, MI (Barry County). He has been actively involved in working with residents and township officials to limit actions by a local gravel mine that owns 153 acres, including 800 feet of lakefront. Heslinga explained that around his lake, homes are modest and residents are middle-class. Many are retirees who worked hard to live here. The threat of a loss in property values or the character and quality of the environment they cherish would be devastating to them. These are their “homes,” not 2nd homes or vacation cottages. Heslinga shared science and evidence around his gravel mine concerns and urged attendees to stay vigilant and keep advocating for what is right for your area when it comes gravel mines and their oversight.
Audience participation was vigorous with many questions and observations. Pat Vailliencourt, President of Manchester’s Village Council, expressed concern about the potential of Manchester’s downtown Main Street having to accommodate more truck traffic from a Sharon Township gravel mine. There are already a lot of large trucks cutting through Main Street to and from M-52 without adding more gravel trucks. Someone else commented that the proposed
Sharon Township mine would be large – 400 acres; possibly over 300 truck hauls per day. Other residents voiced frustration and concerns about unknown risks to them, their families, and their animals should a gravel mine be approved. Yet others reminded the audience to get involved, speak up, and contact elected officials about concerns.
Interested in this gravel mining topic and wondering “What can I do?” Contact the Sharon Preservation Society for more information on this specific mining location. Or, this link: Information from Other Organizations Opposed to Senate Bills 429-431 – Sharon Preservation Society for more state-wide reach.