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Letter: Legislature should uphold local control in zoning decisions

The Detroit News

With only a handful of legislative session days left, the state Capitol will be dominated by a frenzied push by outgoing legislators to secure passage on their projects, and by others to shepherd bills across the finish line before having to start from scratch with a new Legislature in January.

Among the bills we should abandon this session is Senate Bill 431, a particularly outrageous attack on local communities’ ability to make local zoning decisions, and a threat to Michigan residents’ quality of life and to our environment. 

SB 431 was written by the sand and gravel mining industry to eliminate local units of government and residents from having any say on where and how industrial-scale sand and gravel mines can operate in our communities. This includes which roads heavy gravel trains travel and the hours the mines could operate; in fact, it would allow operations — blasting, digging and hauling — as early as 6 a.m., six days a week.

If this bill — now before the Senate — becomes law, it could mean new mining operations right next to your own backyard — or next to your local school's playground or your child's daycare, the authors write.

If this bill — now before the Senate — becomes law, it could mean new mining operations right next to your own backyard — or next to your local school's playground or your child's daycare. It could even go next to a polluted water source — threatening drinking water. And you, and your locally elected officials, would have no voice in the matter.

Some might think this doesn’t apply to them — they don’t have mining operations in their community. But you could — and your municipality would not be able to do anything to regulate it. There would be no oversight at any level of government over these operations, which can have lasting negative quality of life and environmental impacts for decades. What’s more, this bill would weaken communities’ ability to plan and zone, and could embolden other potential harmful special interests to follow suit.

On behalf of all Michigan communities, we are hoping our state legislators will fight for us.

Under SB 431, a mining company could not be denied a permit if the company can demonstrate two things: that the mine will make money, and that the company would take any step at all to merely “reduce” risks to public safety created by their operation. That’s pretty vague.

The bill contradicts 100 years of local government control and violates the spirit of Michigan’s constitution favoring local control.

Under current law, nearly all Michigan communities with mines have a good working relationship and partnership with these operations. If any issues arise, they are resolved through an annual review process. But under SB 431, this annual check-in to make sure things are working — for both sides — would be eliminated.

Our organizations and our members are having important conversations with state legislators about the importance of local control of our communities. Legislators need to hear from you, too.

Neil Sheridan, executive director, Michigan Townships Association

Steve Currie, executive director, Michigan Association of Counties

Dan Gilmartin, executive director, Michigan Municipal League