Sharon Twp Residents to Soon Enter Next Phase of Fight Against Proposed Gravel Pit

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The property on Pleasant Lake Rd in Sharon Twp proposed for gravel mining. Photo: Google.

By Doug Marrin

Sharon Township residents opposed to a large gravel mining operation coming to their lush and bucolic countryside are steeling themselves for the next phase of the fight.

In February 2021, Stoneco of Michigan submitted a special land use application to Sharon Twp for a gravel mine. The gravel pit is proposed for 400 acres of farmland purchased by Stoneco at 19024 Pleasant Lake Road, approximately one mile west of M52.

The steps for opening a gravel mine in Sharon Twp are as follows:

  1. The applicant requests a special land use permit and must prove there is a need for the materials it intends to mine.
  2. If successfully proven, the applicant must next prove the mining operation will not result in very serious consequences.
  3. If successfully proven, the applicant must apply for a mining operation license.

After a year of public meetings and due diligence, the Sharon Twp Planning Commission’s opinion in March 2022 was that Stoneco failed to provide sufficient evidence for the need and recommended the township board reject Stoneco’s application. Stoneco responded by submitting a letter to the township board contradicting the PC’s reasoning for the rejection. Reexamining the information, in June 2022, the board found that Stoneco had established a “low to moderate need” for the aggregate materials on Pleasant Lake Road.

Location of the proposed Stoneco gravel mine is shown in red. Sharon Twp already has two active mines on M52. Image courtesy of Sharon Preservation Society.

The Sharon Preservation Society is fighting hard against the gravel pit. In a recent email update, the Society stated, “Phase Two of the review process for a Special Use permit is likely to begin this fall. The applicant, Stoneco Inc, will submit more information to the Planning Commission. The most important part of the process is to determine if the mine would cause very serious consequences. The review process may be complicated as there should be a lot of technical information. Expect at least one public hearing.”

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. In the public meetings thus far, many of the township’s approximately 2,000 residents have already voiced their fears and opposition to the negative impact a gravel pit would have on their rural community.

Three bills affecting mining are working their way through the Michigan legislature. If passed, Senate bills 429, 430, and 431 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 behind the bills is that most communities reject these operations at a time when demand is high for the materials.

At an informational meeting last July, Sharon Twp Board Supervisor Peter Psarouthakis commented on the pending legislation. “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.”

Community members concerned over the prospect of a large gravel mine coming to Sharon Twp gathered in July at an informational meeting sponsored by the Sharon Preservation Society. Photo by Doug Marrin.

“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.”

Sharon Preservation Society stated in its update, “It's possible that SB 429-431 will return for a vote in the House Local Government and Municipal Finance Committee this year. If so, it's more likely to be during the lame duck session. If you have not yet contacted your representatives, or any of the committee members, now is the time.”

The Society is urging residents to sign a petition voicing their support of the township board in denial of the gravel mining permit.

The petition and more information can be found on the Society’s website at http://sharonpreservationsociety.org/

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