OBH Client Metamora Land Preservation Alliance Instrumental in Defeating Gravel Power Grab


Among the flurry of recent lame-duck activity in the Michigan Legislature was SB 1210, a bill sponsored by Senator Tom Casperson (R – Escanaba), which was aimed squarely at the tiny, pastoral township of Metamora, located near the center of Michigan’s thumb. Under Metamora’s glacially-formed, gently rolling hills lies a significant deposit of gravel and other aggregates, coveted by mining companies for decades. Gravel mining has long been present in the township; four separate mines are currently operating. But in 2015, aggregates giant Levy Company sought township approval for a new mine more than 500 acres in size, the approval of which would ensure that the countryside hums with mining activity for 30 years into the future.

Enter Metamora Land Preservation Alliance (“MLPA”), a coalition of local homeowners, business owners, and concerned citizens established more than ten years ago and dedicated to natural resource protection and community preservation in the Metamora area. After the township sought to slow the application process in order to consider recent legislative changes to Michigan’s state law governing gravel mining, a protracted battle ensued between the municipality and Levy, with MLPA, represented by Olson, Bzdok & Howard, PC, intervening to voice its concerns regarding noise pollution, traffic through the one-street downtown district, and environmental contamination from the Metamora landfill, a U.S. EPA Superfund site, among other issues.

Litigation has been ongoing, but opposition to the Levy proposal apparently drew the attention of Casperson, chair of the state Senate Natural Resources Committee. SB 1210 sought to wrest all local control over aggregates mining from municipalities; the bill would have mandated the issuance of a local permit if the mining company could demonstrate that natural resources could be profitably extracted and that very serious consequences would not result from that activity. These provisions were on their face largely in line with existing law; but where municipalities had previously enjoyed some leeway in determining whether very serious consequences would occur, SB 1210 also provided an applicant could effectively dodge a very serious consequences analysis by simply providing detailed, objective information about the mining proposal such as site plans and haul routes. SB 1210 would leave no room for the municipality to review the proposal in light of its specific, local circumstances. Moreover, in the few reserved areas municipalities have traditionally held power to regulate, such as operating hours, noise, and traffic, SB 1210 further restricted local control by prescribing standards that local ordinances could not exceed.

After SB 1210 was introduced on November 27, MLPA quickly mobilized its constituency to fight the bill’s passage. Several members, together with residents and township attorney Michael Nolan, provided testimony before the Natural Resources Committee, emphasizing that SB 1210 would prevent local governments from considering the health and safety, environmental, and financial effects of mining in their communities, and in particular, would have fast-tracked approval of Levy’s proposal in Metamora that would send 200 gravel trucks through the tiny village daily. Enough legislators were convinced, and given the apparent lack of support, Casperson dropped the bill on December 5. MLPA’s victory validates not only Metamora Township’s ability to consider how Levy’s 500 acre mine will impact its residents, from water contamination to vibration to traffic, but the ability of all municipalities to continue to look after the health, safety, and welfare of their residents and meaningfully weigh the unique impacts natural resource extraction will have in their communities.

Rebecca L. Millican, Associate Attorney

Rebecca L. Millican is an Associate Attorney with Olson, Bzdok & Howard, PC practicing environmental, land use, and nonprofit law. You can learn more about Rebecca on our site here or contact her at rebecca@envlaw.com.




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