State Senate approves bills to strip local governments of permitting authority for gravel mines
The Michigan Senate has overwhelmingly approved bills to strip local governments of authority to issue gravel mine permits.
The bills would give permitting authority to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. In the vast majority of cases, EGLE would be required to issue the permits even if local governments and residents oppose new mines.
The bills currently set no limits on hours of operation for gravel mines, and they would be allowed to operate within a block of schools, churches, or existing neighborhoods. Opponents at a Transportation Committee hearing said the bills would destroy the quality of life for many people across the state who live in quiet, rural areas.
Bill Richardson is with Waterloo Township near Jackson. He serves on the township's aggregate extraction board. He testified that state officials can't respond quickly to local safety issues.
He said in his township, trucks loaded with gravel were heading onto roads at the same time as school buses, and in two instances, the trucks nearly plowed into the rear of a bus. Local authorities were able to require the gravel mine to delay their trucking activities by fifteen minutes in order to prevent truck-school bus collisions.
And in another situation, he said, gravel had spilled out onto the roadway from a mining site, causing a traffic hazard. Local officials were able to get in touch with the mining site operator almost immediately to have the issue addressed, something Richardson says would be nearly impossible for an already over-stretched EGLE, with perhaps three or four staff assigned to cover the entire state.
Richardson said most townships, including his, have good working relationships with gravel mine companies.
"If there are issues with one or two townships in the state denying or delaying permits, we don't strip away all regulatory authority from all townships, since most of us make it work just fine."
But the Michigan Aggregates Association said the state is running low on gravel in close proximity to road construction projects, and the bills will lower the cost of road-building.
Doug Needham, President of the Michigan Aggregates Association, testified that some local governments are preventing gravel companies from getting enough gravel by delaying or denying permits.
"The need for better roads and infrastructure is a statewide problem, impacting all citizens across the state of Michigan, not just those in one township," he said.
The bills now go to the state House.