Supporters and opponents of bills to remove local control over gravel mines testified at a hearing in the state Senate Thursday.
The bills would have the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy approve or deny permits, instead of villages, townships and cities.
The sponsor of the bills, Democratic Senator Jim Ananich, admitted there were no gravel mines in his district. He also said he had not met with township officials while the bill was being drafted.
"I should have reached out to townships and others ahead of time," he testified. But Ananich said he thinks the bills are necessary even if townships can't support them.
That's because gravel companies say they're running out of gravel close to road construction projects.
During the testimony of Judy Allen, Michigan Townships Association's Director of Government Relations, State Senator Ed McBroom angrily accused her of dishonesty when she testified that the current permitting scheme works well and there are few problems.
He also laughed derisively at one point during her testimony, then apologized.
In an interview after the hearing, Allen told Michigan Radio that her group had approached the gravel industry last year seeking a compromise. She said industry representatives said their biggest problem was local governments that dragged out the permitting process, so the MTA drafted a bill to address that issue.
But later, "we were basically told by the industry, not once but twice, that anything that allowed a local government to have a say or to say no, they would oppose," she said.
Meanwhile, attorneys representing opponents of the bills say they would allow mines to pollute the groundwater, to operate virtually 24/7, and be located within 50 feet of the next property line.
The bills also allow gravel companies that plan to mine less than a million tons of aggregate to operate without seeking a permit.