By David Fleet
Lansing — The dust has been kicked up once again on proposed statewide legislation that would take local control away from communities with mining operations which include gravel pits.
A bipartisan bill package, HB 4526, HB 4527, and HB 4528 was introduced earlier this month that would allow the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) to make permit decisions for area mines. The mining permit power is currently in the hands of local municipalities.
The House Bills, currently in the Regulatory Reform Committee, were introduced by Rep. Angela Witwer (D-Delta Township), Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit) and Rep Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes). The committee includes 15 members, eight Republicans and seven Democrats.
Earlier this month Michigan Aggregates Association Executive Director Doug Needham testified in support of the House Bills in the Regulatory Reform Committee.
“We’re in need of these bills because Michigan’s crumbling infrastructure and strong economy is driving up demand for a limited amount of permitted aggregate,” said Needham in a written statement.
This legislation will help fix Michigan’s broken road building supply chain, stretch our infrastructure dollars further, and support our trades workforce. The legislation will also help protect our environment with CO2 reductions and land reclamation requirements, he said. This vital legislation would give oversight of the aggregates permitting process to EGLE, said Needham.
A local lawmaker said he’ll oppose the bills.
“We all agree that roads must be built,” said Rep. David Martin R-Davison, 68th House District, representing Goodrich along with Groveland and Atlas townships in The Citizen readership area.
“The local governments are in the best position to look out for their residents and identify the most needed projects in their local community,” said Martin in a statement. “I also know that state departments do not have the best track record in efficiency. I’m focused on arriving at a compromise that continues to give local governments a voice, protects private property and provides a wonderful Michigan natural resource to our road builders.”
Currently, there are four active mines in Groveland Township, one on the Holly-Groveland township border and one in nearby Springfield Township. One non-opened mine with a consent decree.
Groveland Township Supervisor Bob DePalma has battled the state control legislation for many years.
“The township is the first point of contention residents come to when something is wrong with the mining operations,” said DePalma, who testified on May 9 in Lansing before the Regulatory Reform Committee opposing the bills. “If they change the law, we’ll have to tell the taxpaying resident, they need to go to Lansing to find out what inspector could come out to address the issue.”
“When the township conducts the mining permit reviews, our engineering firm looks at the mining company property and comes up with a cost per acre when it needs to be reclaimed,” he said. “Under the proposed legislation, it’s just a flat $8,000 per acre for the reclamation. It’s not even close to what it actually cost. It’s not going to take care of any reclamation plan.”
“Today in the township, we take every bond required of the mining operations and it’s insurance company is vetted by the township attorney,” he said. “They make sure it’s a real insurance company, I can’t see the State of Michigan doing any of that.”
“Who knows the local needs better than the community leaders who live here, he said. ‘The State of Michigan can have a public hearing but they don’t have to listen to what residents say.”
Some of the same proposed legislation was debated over the past years. Several versions have failed to be passed by laymakers, added DePalma.
“I emphasized before that how do you do a master plan around a mining operation when you can’t work with the owners?” he said.
Supervisor DePalma along with 13 Oakland County Township Supervisors filed a letter to the House Reglatory Reform Committee in opposition to the bills including: Chris Barnett, Orion Township; George Kullis, Holly Township; Diane Scheib-Snider, Rose Township and Jayson Rumball, Brandon Township who oppose the House Bills.
However, locally Oxford Township Supervisor Jack Curtis, supported the legislative package in a letter dated May 2 to the Michigan House of Representatives. In a segment of the letter, Curtis emphasized the need to move the mining permits to EGLE.
“Why is moving aggregate permitting to EGLE so important? Under the current system, local governments are being placed under great political pressure to deny a huge number of sand and mining permit requests,” wrote Curtis. “This is resulting in endless delays and denials that are pushing aggregate mining farther and farther away from our biggest public construction projects. It is my opinion that the problem is not the mining operations as we have several in Oxford Township, it is the trucking. More extensive truck travel time will continue to exacerbate this problem in other communities that have no mines.”
“When we combine high demand for sand and gravel with a consistent opposition to accessing aggregates close to major infrastructure projects, cost go up rapidly,” he wrote. “This is true not only because high demand and decreasing supply causes price inflation, but also because sand and gravel must be hauled from longer distances, greatly increasing delivery costs.”
Curtis denied further comment regarding the issue. The full letter is available www.house.mi.gov/Committee/HREGU
By David Fleet