Sharon Twp Residents Gather Over Gravel Mining Concerns
By Doug Marrin
The Sharon Preservation Society (SPS) hosted an informational event on July 23 regarding the impacts of sand and gravel mining. The panel discussion and presentation were in response to a proposed large gravel mine in the heart of the farming community.
“We have been in touch with a lot of people in our township and from other townships as well, who have let us know their concerns,” said SPS President Barbara Schmid. “There’s an awful lot of pressure to put mines in communities that people are very worried and concerned about, and there’s not a lot of information from different sources about what that means.”
For Sharon Township, it began in February 2021 when Stoneco of Michigan submitted a special land use application to open a gravel mine. The mining operation would be located on 400 acres of farmland purchased by Stoneco at 19024 Pleasant Lake Road, approximately one mile west of M52.
With news of the gravel pit application, many of the township’s approximately 2,000 residents began voicing their fears and opposition to the negative impact such an operation would have on their rural community. SPS organized the informational event to inform residents amid the swirling controversy accurately.
Sharon Township is a predominately agricultural community located in southwest Washtenaw County. In addition to farmland, the township’s topography is characterized by rolling hills, woodlands, and wetlands which serve as a groundwater recharge area for the county’s watershed.
Sharon Township Planning Commission (PC) Chair Kathy Spiegel presented the meeting by explaining the township’s steps for opening a gravel mine.
- The applicant requests a special land use permit and must prove there is a need for the materials it intends to mine.
- If successfully proven, the applicant must next prove the mining operation will not result in very serious consequences.
- If successfully proven, the applicant must apply for a mining operation license.
After a series of public meetings and requests for Stoneco to provide more information, at the recommendation of township consultants, the PC ruled in March 2022 that the applicant failed to provide sufficient evidence for need. Stoneco’s attorney responded with a letter to the township board urging trustees not to follow the PC’s recommendation. Stoneco provided more information to the board. In June 2022, the board found that Stoneco had established a “low to moderate need” for the aggregate materials on Pleasant Lake Road.
The applicant is now in the phase of proving the mining operation will not result in very serious consequences.
The panel discussion began with the topic of Senate bills 429, 430, and 431introduced into the state legislature that would take control of mining permits out of local government and put it in the hands of state officials. The argument by the mining companies is that most communities reject these operations at a time when demand is high for the materials.
Panelist Peter Psarouthakis, Sharon Township Supervisor, responded, “I get concerned that (the gravel companies) are not providing our legislature with accurate information and facts. For instance, Sharon Township is listed among 30 townships and municipalities in Michigan that have contested or denied permits. Sharon Township has never denied a permit…Yet, they stand up there, and they provide this information to our lawmakers as fact.”
“Local government is clearly in a better position on a day-to-day basis to monitor the activities of any zoning question,” continued Psarouthakis. “I also have a concern about EGLE. I think it’s a pipe dream to think that they have the ability to regulate on a day-to-day basis like your local government does.”
Donna Lasinski represents western Washtenaw County in Lansing and was also a panelist. She was asked about reducing road repair costs by reducing the transportation costs of the materials. Hence, the argument for local, closer gravel pits such as is proposed in Sharon Twp.
“We can’t choose where the aggregate is,” responded Lasinski. “It’s a natural resource that is identified as a good that Michigan has, just like our freshwater supply and others. And just like we do with our freshwater, we have to find ways to provide and protect. That balance often provides a little bit of tension.”
“What we’re trying to balance with aggregate right now is that we have let our roads degrade so much over the last 15 years,” continued Lasinski. “We’re at the point where we can’t just resurface.”
“They’re telling us in broad terms that they expect that the aggregate that we have access to would last about ten years,” she added. “With the acceleration of our road repairs, they expect that supply now to only last about five years.”
Panelist Megan Tinsley, Water Policy Director with the Michigan Environmental Council, was asked her thoughts about Senate bills 429-431.
“We also would be very concerned with the removal of local input into things that have to do with noise, air, and water quality,” responded Tinsley. “That discussion belongs in the local community because the residents are the ones impacted by it. Those impacts can become cumulative. So, we believe there’s a room for balance here, keeping the local governments as part of the equation, but also looking to more a statewide look at what sort of environmental standards we should look at when permitting these types of operations.”
Other concerns were brought to the group. Discussion touched on the impact of gravel mining on the water table, reducing its ability to filter and recharge the area's watershed. Panelist Mike Wilczynski, Certified Geologist with Pangea Environmental LLC, explained that silica dust stirred up from an active gravel pit can cause illnesses such as lung cancer and silicosis, a disease he described as “very similar to black lung disease.”
The panel discussed the impact on property values. Wilczynski and panelist Larry Heslinga of the Healthy Waters Alliance told of mine companies citing the Pheonix Report to show there is no drop in home value with the introduction of a gravel mine. Wilczynski said, “Larry’s group looked into the used sites, and none of them were in the Midwest. None of them were in a populated area.”
“The Upjohn Institute did a study that showed a 35% or more depreciation in property value next to a mine, and I can bring people here from Grass Lake Township that will tell you they can’t sell their houses, added Wilczynski.”
Heslinga continued the thought, “What the mines will say is that it doesn’t impact you, and your property value will appreciate the same rate as any other property value. And that’s partially true after you take that 35% hit.”
“The way the mining industry presents their information is really intellectually dishonest because comparisons are not valid,” added Heslinga.
A Q&A session followed the panel discussion. Approximately 130 people attended the event. For more information on gravel mining in Sharon Township, visit the Sharon Preservation Society at http://sharonpreservationsociety.org/