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Neighbors express concerns about proposed sand and gravel mine near Chelsea

Rebecca Williams
Michigan Radio
Mary Mandeville (L) and Tim and Mary Jane Eder on Island Lake. The proposed mine site is west of the lake.

A Ready-Mix concrete company, McCoig Materials, wants to open up a mine on a site north of Chelsea. The two parcels of land they want to mine are in between the Waterloo and Pinckney Recreation areas. This part of southeast Michigan has a lot of little lakes and unique natural areas.

McCoig Materials wants to operate the mine for 22 to 30 years and remove 11 million tons of sand and gravel.

People who live on the lakes nearby have been raising concerns about that.

Mary Mandeville spends summers in her cottage at Island Lake.

“Just to the west of us is where the proposed gravel mine would be putting in their operations. We’re very concerned about the impact on the environment, on the water table level. We’re concerned about air quality with all the dust from the dumping of the gravel into the trucks.”

McCoig Materials did not respond to our interview request.

But their mining application to Lyndon Township states that they plan to mine about 50 feet below the local water table.

They’ll create a lake at the mine site. The company hired a consultant to study the effects of groundwater changes from the creation of that lake. The report says the mine is not expected to have a detrimental impact on the hydrologic features of the area.

But Tim Eder is not reassured by that. He and his wife Mary Jane live at Island Lake year-round. Eder says he worries the mine could lower the water level in their lake.

“We fear that by dredging a hole 55 feet below the water table that our lake is going to drain backwards. Right now this lake is fed by groundwater; it’s all spring fed. And we fear the lake is going to be drained into the pit,” he says.

The mine's effect on wetlands

The mining application says one wetland will be removed for the mine. The company will need a permit from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to do that.

There’s also a special kind of wetland nearby – it’s called a fen. It’s about a half mile away from the proposed mine site. The mining company’s application says the mine is expected to have no adverse impact on the fen.

But Lynn Walter says there could be unexpected consequences.

She’s an emeritus professor of geology at the University of Michigan, and she lives in Chelsea. She reviewed the mining company’s application. She calls it competent, but lacking.

“I’m not the only one to say it’s lacking. The township advisors, the engineering companies, you know, they’re all saying it in a more gentle way than I have, 'yeah, you know, maybe they ought to put some more wells in, maybe we need monitoring wells.' Not after they do the mine, no. This has to be done before.”

She says a more detailed study is needed, using every available groundwater well in the area.

Walter says one of her big concerns is that the mine could end up changing the chemistry of the water that feeds the wetlands in the area, and cause damage to those wetlands.

The Chelsea City Council and the Chamber of Commerce have also expressed concerns about the mine. Officials are worried about the 60 to 80 gravel trucks that would run through downtown Chelsea every day.

A law on the books that restricts township officials' power

Lyndon Township officials will decide whether the mine can move forward.

But there’s a Michigan law (Act 110 of 2006 (125.3205)) that limits their ability to say no. Here's an excerpt:

An ordinance shall not prevent the extraction, by mining, of valuable natural resources from any property unless very serious consequences would result from the extraction of those natural resources. Natural resources shall be considered valuable for the purposes of this section if a person, by extracting the natural resources, can receive revenue and reasonably expect to operate at a profit.

Kevin McLaughlin is the chair of the Lyndon Township Planning Commission.

“We have to have extenuating circumstances to be able to vote no on the mining process,” he says.

But he says his team is weighing the decision carefully.

“We’ve compiled a very competent group of professionals: be it road engineers, structural engineers, hydrology experts and engineers, lawyers that have worked with such a project in the past,” he explains.

McCoig has an option on the land parcels. If they decide to sell, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Washtenaw County have both expressed interest in buying the land to add to their park systems.

There’s a second public meeting on this issue this Thursday in Chelsea.

From Lyndon Township's website:

The March Planning Commission Meeting is Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 7:00 p.m. at the Washington Street Education Center Auditorium 500 Washington Street 100 Building Chelsea, MI 48118 We have requested the auditorium to be open at 6:00 p.m.

This story was informed by the Public Insight Network.

Rebecca Williams is senior editor in the newsroom, where she edits stories and helps guide news coverage.