Editorial: Stripping local control is the pits

The Detroit News
Lawmakers shouldn't force a huge gravel pit on the small community of Metamora.

Michigan lawmakers are contemplating reviving a bill that would force a large gravel pit on the tiny village of Metamora. Usurping the community’s local control over zoning is a misguided move that could have ramifications for towns throughout the state. This was a bad idea in last year’s lame-duck session, and it remains so.

The Metamora Land Preservation Alliance is working to fight the legislation and raise awareness of the valid concerns the Lapeer County village has in preventing another gravel mining operation near its borders.

Some fear the bill would gain more momentum this time around given Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s push to “fix the damn roads,” and the need for more gravel to make that happen.

Rep. Triston Cole, R-Mancelona, is reportedly pushing the reintroduction. In lame duck, the measure was floated by former Sen. Tom Casperson, a term-limited Republican from the Upper Peninsula. Casperson is now a top aide to Sen. Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan.

It’s worth noting these lawmakers all live far away from Metamora, and are removed from the negative impacts that village residents fear. Lawmakers from the area strongly opposed the bill last year.

Metamora Township is already home to four gravel pits, so it’s not as if it’s opposed to mining. The one-stoplight town, however, doesn’t want to add the new operation that would mean 200 gravel trucks rumbling through its downtown daily.

Of more concern is the fact the location of the proposed pit is next to an Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site. Residents are worried that mining the property would lead to more contamination, which has already impacted homes and drinking water near the site.

This should be of top concern for both Whitmer and lawmakers, who have drawn attention to the state’s existing problems of lead and PFAS in the water supply.

Edward C. Levy Co. has fought to put in the mine at this location for years, and is upping the lobbying pressure this time around, using the state’s infrastructure needs as its rationale.

The Legislature in 2011 passed Public Act 113 — related to this same dispute — that restricted local zoning ordinances from blocking gravel mining operations unless communities could prove “very serious consequences.”

Metamora has made that case, and courts have supported its rationale and upheld its mining ordinance.

The existing law goes far enough, while still giving local residents some control over property in their community.

Lawmakers should resist the pressure to overthrow Metamora’s wishes.