by Scott Brown
MWA Board Member
Arguing that Michigan needs sand and gravel to build roads, bridges and homes, the Michigan Aggregates Association (MAA), a non-profit trade association founded in 1960 to protect and promote the interests of the Michigan aggregates industry, and its allies in the state legislature, will again introduce legislation in 2021 that will seek to prevent local units of government from denying permits for new aggregate mining sites.
Introduced to the Michigan state legislature in 2018, and again in 2020, if passed, aggregate industry supported legislation would have acted to amend Section 205 of the 2006 Michigan Zoning Enabling Act to read “a local unit of government shall not, by ordinance or otherwise, prevent, prohibit, or deny a permit, approval, or other authorization for the extraction, by mining, of natural resources from any property, possessory, or contractual rights…”. It is important to point out that supporters of the controversial legislation have failed to garner enough support for passage in each of their two previous attempts.
The intensity of the controversy surrounding the proposed legislation has been amplified by the fact that Michigan is known to host one of the most abundant concentrations of aggregate in North America. Referring to the immense volumes of stone, sand, and gravel that were transported to Michigan from as far away as Canada during the last ice age by the movement of the immense glaciers that were also responsible for creating Michigan’s vast natural heritage of inland lakes and streams, aggregate provides the foundation for the construction of roads, highway, railroads, bridges, dams, and both commercial and residential construction. The importance of aggregate is emphasized, for example, by the fact that the United States Geological Survey (USGS) indicates that aggregates comprised of crushed stone, sand, and gravel account for 94% of the material utilized to construct interstate highways.
In addition to concerns related to having sufficient quantities of aggregate to complete construction projects, the Michigan Aggregates Association argues that even though Michigan currently hosts 325 aggregate mines, their primarily rural locations force those engaged in highway and bridge revitalization in urban areas to haul aggregate in from distant counties, therefore resulting in significantly higher project costs. The aggregate industry indicates that the most important mining operations are those that are situated closest to densely-populated metropolitan areas where the materials are needed for road-building and other aggregate dependent construction projects.
As currently written, the 2006 Michigan Zoning Enabling Act allows local units of government to consider a host of critical factors, including the potential impact of the proposed aggregate mine on property values, road safety, local water resources, and on overall quality of life within surrounding communities. The Michigan Township Association indicates that the existing provisions of the law give local communities the right to deny new aggregate mines when necessary, in addition to giving local government officials the leverage to negotiate with the owners of existing aggregate mines to help prevent conflicts with their residential neighbors. For example, the current law permits local units of government to regulate hours of operation, and to attempt to limit the unfavorable impacts of existing aggregate mines by requiring noise abatement, dust control, and truck traffic regulation.
Environment groups in Michigan remain adamantly opposed to the passage of legislation that would deprive local units of government the right to deny land use permits for aggregate mining operations due to the fact that, because of their glacial origins, proposed aggregate mining sites are often situated in areas of the state hosting an abundance of extremely valuable freshwater resources such as inland lakes, streams, wetlands, and ground water that are known to be vulnerable to degradation by surface mining operations.
Please “stay tuned” to future Michigan Waterfront Alliance e- newsletters for more information as the next round of Michigan Aggregates Association supported legislation proceeds through the legislative process later this year…