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Michigan cities urge governor to sign bill limiting their say on where mines are placed

Local government officials are asking the governor not to sign a new bill that blocks communities from restricting the areas where mines can be placed.

The bill, which cleared the Legislature in just two weeks at the end of the session, amends the Michigan Zoning Act to block zoning ordinances that prevent the extraction of natural resources if someone could make a profit by extracting them unless “very serious consequences” would result.

The measure would overturn a 2010 Michigan Supreme Court decision that held that Leelanau County’s Kasson township may restrict gravel mining through zoning.

According to House sponsor Rep. Matt Huuki (R-Atlantic Mine), the bill is critical to the survival of the aggregate industry.

Huuki said that last year’s Supreme Court decision forced a “well respected aggregate producer” in his district to go out of business and drove up the price of gravel in the Western Upper Peninsula.

Requiring local governments to show that proposed mining would have very serious consequences “strikes the balance between private property rights, local zoning interest, and the public’s need for aggregate,” he wrote in a letter to colleagues.

But people who live in areas near mineable resources say that it puts the value of their homes and their quality of life at risk.

Nancy Nemacheck of Ironwood told the Senate Natural Resources Committee that the current local permitting process protects against the abuse and exploitation of natural resources.

“In Ironwood Township, Gogebic County, Michigan we have experienced firsthand our local government, Ironwood Township, protecting a neighborhood where a local contractor attempted to turn a 17-acre farm into a gravel processing and crushing operation within 300 feet of a few residences and within one-half mile of 20-30 residences.”

The Township rejected his operation, she said, after finding that it would general dust, noise, traffic and pollution that would interfere with public health and safety and that it was unnecessary because of the many other local sand and gravel pits.

“The passage of the bill will affect Kasson township and every other township in Michigan,“ said Elaine Morse, chair and secretary of the Kasson Township Planning Commission, “because it takes away the power of the local government to plan for their community.”

Much of Kasson township sits on gravel deposits and after years of lawsuits over where the mines may operate the township created a gravel district within its master plan.

Morse and other local officials are lobbying against the bill because they worry that it might mean that gravel miners could now locate virtually anywhere in the township.

Michigan Environmental Council Policy Director James Clift called Huuki’s bill a bad policy that will jeopardize all master plans and zoning ordinances in the state.

In a Senate hearing on the bill he said:

“We are also concerned that HB 4746 an SB 470 place the property rights of some resident above the property rights of others. In this case, the property rights regarding the mining of sand and gravel become a ‘preferred use’ above the property rights of individual residents to ‘quiet enjoyment’ of their property. This undermines private property rights and the investments that Michigan residents have made in their homes.”

Attorney Gerry Fisher, who represented Kasson township in the Michigan Supreme Court case that upheld the township’s zoning rights, said that he was amazed that the Republican Legislature moved to dismantle local zoning rights within two weeks of the change being proposed.

“It was an astonishing experience realizing that these legislators had all been lined up by industry,” he said.

Fisher is asking the governor to veto the bill.

“Areas planned and used for residential and other purposes will suddenly find large heavy industrial uses interjected directly in their midst, utterly destroying incentive to build new homes, open new business, or otherwise create new job opportunities,” he said in a July 1 letter. “This does not represent reinventing Michigan in a positive manner.”

The governor’s office did not respond when asked whether he planned to sign the bill.

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