Sharon Twp Working Through Gravel Mine Application

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By Doug Marrin, STN Reporter

If you live in the Manchester area, by now, you have probably heard of a mining operation applying for approval in Sharon Township.

Sharon Township Planning Commission (PC) Chair Kathy Spiegel took some time to explain the application process and what’s ahead.

Last spring, Stoneco of Michigan submitted a special land use application to Sharon Township to open a gravel mine. Prior to the application, Stoneco purchased 400 acres of farmland located at 19024 Pleasant Lake Road, about a mile west of M52, in hopes of getting approval.

“The first step in being licensed to do that is a special land use application, which the Planning Commission is responsible for reviewing,” explains Spiegel. “The Planning Commission reviews all special land use applications. But when it comes to gravel mines, it is a little bit different.”

Spiegel explained that there are two parts to the application process for a gravel mine. The first part is that the applicant must demonstrate the need for the resources to be extracted. This is the phase Sharon Township is in right now.

“We’ve asked for additional information from them on what other sources of the material are available within a 60-mile radius,” says Spiegel. “Our ordinance requires this. At this point, we’re following our ordinance, which we as a Planning Commission are committed to doing.”

Stoneco has informed the PC that it expects to have that information for the January meeting.

In its application, Stoneco states that the resources proposed to be extracted at this location will be a mixture of sand and gravel for use in road and building construction. To determine its need for the new gravel pit, Stoneco explains it will be closing two of its gravel mines in the next few years, but also, the demand for sand and gravel will dramatically increase.

The application states, “Stoneco’s demand based on past experiences, and, while speculative in nature, foreseeable future has strong correlation to Federal and State funding for infrastructure.”

Aerial map showing the location and boundaries of the proposed gravel mine. Image: Sharon Twp.

Stoneco explains that MDOT’s 2021-25 plan allocates $13.3 billion to its highway program. This is a 43% increase from the previous 2020-24 plan, which allocated $9.3 billion. Michigan’s Governor has increased road funding with $3.5 billion of road bonds, of which 58% has been allocated to the Metro Detroit and University (Ann Arbor – Lansing) MDOT regions.

Stoneco also points to The American Jobs Plan with its $2.25 trillion infrastructure proposal that would allocate $115 billion for roads and bridges and another $36 billion for airports.

“These actual funding increases will necessarily result in an increased demand for road construction aggregates in Southeast Michigan in the near future,” states Stoneco. “This increased demand is likely to only increase with the introduction of The American Jobs Plan.”

Stoneco further states that MDOT’s “Highway Program investment for FY 2021 includes 640 lane miles of rebuilding and rehabilitation, 830 lane miles of capital preventive maintenance, and 280 lane miles of freeway and non-freeway resurfacing. The Rebuilding Michigan Program has been designed to improve average remaining service life (RSL) of pavement conditions from zero-years of RSL in 2020 to 24 years of RSL in 2023.”

Spiegel is quick to point out that this is the phase the PC is in now—assessing the need.

“We have held one public hearing on the application, which was August 17 at the Sharon United Methodist Church fellowship hall,” says Spiegel. “I’m guesstimating about 300 people were in attendance. A lot of people got up and spoke, and a lot of people submitted letters. Both that evening and before and after, people expressed their concern about the project. But everyone who spoke and all the letters we received were really about part two of the process.”

Once the PC has ruled on the need, the application goes to a second phase which looks at serious consequences.

“We will have another public hearing on that,” says Spiegel. “In the end, the decision by the Planning Commission is just a recommendation to the Township Board to approve, not approve, or approve with conditions.”

She explains that the PC’s recommendation comes down to weighing the need against the consequences. If that need is great and the consequences minor, the PC would most likely recommend approval. If the need is lower and the consequences are low, the PC might recommend approval with some provisions or maybe not.

“Where the application comes into question is when the consequences are quite dire,” says Spiegel.

At its January meeting, the PC will discuss the new information that Stoneco submits. Then, they proceed into the second phase of researching the consequences.

“It’s going to involve us hiring a lot of experts,” says Spiegel. “The County will be involved because of the roads. The State may as well because M52 is a state highway. We will also hire engineers to do water testing, talk about how far particulates might travel, how far of a setback we might need from neighboring properties to protect them from particulates, noise, and so on.”

“We have had a few people come into the township hall and express support for the gravel mine,” adds Spiegel. “Their point is that you can’t build and maintain roads or new construction without these materials. And these materials have to come from somewhere.”

Spiegel says that the PC has not yet set its January meeting date, but it will be posted on the Township’s website once set.

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I live in Sharon Township and am one of the many concerned citizens that attended the public hearing in August mentioned in this article.  I suspect all of us, and many Michigan residents, would like to see improvements in our roads and infrastructure.  However, it's important to remember that this does not necessarily equate to the need for opening more mines.  Consider that: the State of Michigan currently exports more gravel than any other state, which could indicate it has a surplus; Michigan is one of the few states that has not conducted a geological study to determine where the state's aggregate resources exist; the mining industry has repeatedly stated Michigan will run out of gravel unless more mines are opened, yet it has repeatedly used a debunked and discredited report to do so.  And that, in any case, no company should profit at the expense of a community's health, safety, or property values.  The burden is on the applicant - Stoneco in this case - to prove that there is a need for a new mine (particularly such a large one) AND that there will be no serious consequences to the community.  

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