Riparians concerned about potential impact of Michigan Senate Bill 431 on local zoning control in Michigan

by Lon Nordeen, MLSA Board Secretary

SB431 was sponsored by Sen. Adam Hollier (D-District 2). The bill has passed out of committee review and has gone to the floor for a potential vote. SB431 would amend the Michigan Zoning Enabling Act to prohibit local governments from preventing mineral extraction unless there are “very serious consequences”, there is also a similar bill, HB5979 sponsored by Rep Triston Cole (R-District 105)

We were contacted by Gregg Berens about his experience with mining near Wilkinson Lake and this is what he had to say, “Our chain-of-lakes association, Healthy Waters Alliance, has been fighting this [mining operation] on the local level for several months now. It seems obvious to us that this is a horrible place for a gravel operation. This is a quiet, residential lake community. They want to be able to mine within 50 feet of the lake which at that location is all wetlands. They want to be allowed to pump huge amounts of water to wash the gravel. Plus, they want to crush gravel on-site.  Can you imagine the noise, the dust, and all the potential environmental disasters that an operation like this would bring. This would all be done with about 170 homes being within 1/2 mile from the mine. We already have people putting their homes up for sale (I’m considering that as well). Our research has found no other instances of a mining operation being allowed to operate directly on the shores of a residential lake in Michigan. This would be a horrible precedent to set, and if SB 431 passes it might not be the last. We have been trying to get the word out to the community both about our gravel pit fight and about SB 431. The more people we can get informed and on our side the better it will be for all those folks who love and cherish living on a quiet, healthy lake.”

Arguing For the Bill

Mining, construction, and other groups that support the bill underscore the importance of gravel in much needed road construction and repair as well as other infrastructure projects.

  • In the Detroit News, Senator Hollier argued that the state needs one set of zoning rules on the subject instead of differing rules depending where residents live. Also, aggregates like sand, gravel and limestone are used for building projects. It’s expensive to transport, so having more mines in operation helps to keep material prices from increasing significantly.
  • According to Beryl Falbaum, a spokesperson for Edw. C Levy Company, a large international mining company operating in the Holly area: “You’re not going to fix the roads without our materials,” he said. Anything related to building — whether roads, homes or airport runways comes from aggregate mining. He said there is a shortage of materials, in that the supply isn’t meeting the demand. He’s citing a study that his company offered in support of SB431 in Metamora.
  • Alexander Patsy with the Genesee County Road Commission echoed these concerns. He said the materials aren’t scarce, but making new mines might be difficult due to local regulations. He said the GCRC uses tens of thousands of tons of material per year.
  • John Sellek is spokesperson for the 110-member Michigan Aggregates Association, he points out that aggregate companies are the first layer in a construction process. They remove the raw materials from the earth to be refined and used into other regular products. The Fenton and Holly areas are rich in gravel.

Arguing Against the Bill

Is there a real requirement for the gravel industry to receive special treatment under the law? The underlying requirement for this bill had been brought into question when it was revealed that the study used to support the need was developed by mining lobby groups. State of Michigan auditors found that MDOT gave considerable influence to outside work for a state-paid study on whether Michigan has enough aggregates to do future highway construction projects.
Legislation removing local oversight over the location and operations of sand and gravel mining would be dangerous to Michigan communities, churches, schools and the environment, according to a coalition of statewide organizations that have joined together to urge opposition to Senate Bill 431. Coalition members include the Michigan Townships Association, Michigan Municipal League, Michigan Association of Counties, Michigan Association of Planning, Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, Michigan Environmental Council, Michigan League of Conservation Voters and Michigan Association of School Boards.

  • “Senate Bill 431 is a wholly unwarranted piece of legislation that eliminates local officials’ ability to have any say in the impact of sand and gravel mines in their communities,” said Neil Sheridan, executive director of the Michigan Townships Association. “While MTA supports access to materials necessary to fix Michigan’s roads, the existing process allows for local governments to balance those needs, along with those of their residents and the impact of mining operations in their borders. This bill, however, removes local authority and all safeguards to ensure that balance.” The legislation would essentially allow the aggregate industry to operate unfettered, with virtually zero oversight at any level of government, unfairly favoring the industry over our residents, students and the environment.”
  • “This bill is an attack on local government’s ability to plan and zone for sand and gravel operations, and is in direct opposition to the principles of quality community planning,” added Andrea Brown, executive director of the Michigan Association of Planning. “Local government must be permitted to make data-based decisions about ALL uses—including sand and gravel operations—so that the health, safety and welfare of Michigan residents can be preserved.”
  • “This bill essentially takes away all oversight of aggregate mining in the state,” said Michigan Environmental Council Policy Director Sean Hammond. “We see the current local permitting process as sufficient to help protect residents from the potential impacts of aggregate mining. This proposed ‘one size fits all’ standard is simply a checklist of documents to submit. It is not responsive to concerns around groundwater contamination, noise pollution, or whether the remediation plan is sufficient to restore the site after the mining company is done with it.”
  • “The water level of on-site lakes could be reduced, detrimentally affecting provincially specific wetlands. Pits and quarries disrupt the existing movement of surface water and groundwater; they interrupt natural water recharge and can lead to reduced quantity and quality of drinking water for residents and wildlife near or downstream from a quarry site. In Michigan, under Public Act 631 of 2018, lakes under 5 acres do not undergo water quality reviews unless they connect to another body of water via the surface or a shallow aquifer; this represents a direct pathway of exposure, ” according to Tim Minotas of Sierra Club.

Our suggestion is for Michigan voters to read the bills and make their own decisions. However, from my personal perspective as a long-term lake resident who regularly attends the local Planning Commission and Board meetings, I wouldn’t want to lose local control over all mining operations!


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