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Legislature considering bill that would let state, not townships, issue gravel mining permits

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A state House Committee is planning to consider a bill that would take permitting authority for sand and gravel mining away from townships, and give the authority to the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE).

The bill has already passed the state Senate.

State Representative Gary Howell (R-North Branch) says although EGLE would have the authority to issue permits, it would have very little authority to deny them, even if the proposed mines are within 400 feet of someone's home or a school.

The permits would allow sand and gravel mines to operate Monday through Saturday, and in special circumstances, Sundays as well. Blasting noise would be permitted up to 130 decibels.

Howell's district has a township, Metamora, that's been fighting for years to prevent a gravel mine from being established next to a Superfund site that has polluted the groundwater. Local residents worry a gravel mine there could cause the existing plume of contamination to spread even further.

Howell said the bill also sets a dangerous precedent.

"What happens when the next industry comes along and says we need a special exemption because the locals are too difficult to deal with, pretty soon you've eradicated local zoning entirely," he said.

Mining companies and allies say townships are unreasonably refusing to issue permits. 

They say that significantly raises the cost of building roads, because sand and gravel have to be shipped from a further distance.

Bill sponsor, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, (D-Flint), said shifting permitting responsibilities to EGLE would relieve local governments of the burden and allow for a uniform decision-making process across the state.

But Howell said local governments are in a much better position to decide the appropriate locations for mines.

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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