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Senate Committee holds another hearing on bill to exempt gravel mining from local zoning laws

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The state Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Committee heard more testimony on a controversial gravel mining bill on Wednesday. Committee chair Tom Barrett (R-Charlotte) said he expects the committee will take action on the bill "in the not too distant future."

The bill would exempt gravel companies from township ordinances and regulations. 

Opponents fear the committee plans to vote to approve the bill while there is restricted access to committee hearings because of the pandemic.

Michigan gravel companies say gravel isn't everywhere. So when they find it, they need to be able to mine it. The bill would let them do just that - no matter if the gravel is in a neighborhood, next to a superfund site, or a recreational area. 

Victor Dzenowagis is with a group in Metamora Township that opposes the bill. He says if it becomes law, gravel companies will have a lot of freedom.

“Gravel company comes in, starts digging a pit, and the neighbors will go crazy, and they'll say how can you put a gravel pit in the middle of a residential area? They'll go to their township and the township will say, there's nothing we can do about it.”

Dzenowagis’ group, and his township administration, Metamora Township, has been fighting an attempt by the Levy mining company to dig a large aggregate mine directly next door to a superfund site. 

Many residents who live near the superfund site have been taken off well water because of the spread of a plume of contaminated water. They fear the plume will move further, faster, and in different directions, as the result of a mine digging into the water table and using the water for its operations.

Greg Julian is Supervisor of Leelanau Township, which has set aside a zone where gravel mining is permitted. He says there’s decades-worth amounts of aggregate in that zone. But mining companies want more. One mining company has been purchasing large tracts of land outside the zone and clear-cutting them.

Julian thinks it’s because they’re betting the bill will become law.

“It’s disheartening for citizens to see these large blocks of agriculture and forested land outside the boundary being purchased by the aggregate companies and being clear cut and prepared for expansion of gravel,” says Julian. “It has us on high alert on what’s going on in Lansing.”

Meanwhile, gravel companies say townships are arbitrarily denying them permits to dig new mines. They say there is a gravel shortage in Michigan, and if they cannot dig new mines, the price of construction and roads will go up.

*This post was last updated on June 24 at 3p.m.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.
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