Above, This aerial photo gives an overview of the gravel mining operation located on Bohne Road.
Story by Christine MacIntyre
Disgruntled residents expressed a slew of concerns and negative feedback involving the effects of living next to a gravel mining operation located on Bohne Road in Grass Lake. Neighboring residents voiced their concerns Thursday, Sept. 17 during a Grass Lake Charter Township Planning Commission meeting that took place via Zoom. None of the residents expressed positive interest in the approval of a special land use permit applied for by Target Trucking, an aggregate supplier based in Milford Township.
Concerns include a variety of items – namely the dust, fumes, and noises that arise, but perhaps more pressing are concerns involving potential damage to wetlands, water contamination, along with arising health concerns among neighboring residents.
The Bohne Road mine has a seemingly troubling history, dating back 17 years to 2003 when the original special land use permit was granted to landowner Tom Zenz for the purposes of removing sand from his farm. Before obtaining the permit, Zenz sold parcels of land surrounding the perimeter of his property; however, the landowners claim to have been unaware that they would be residing next to a gravel mine operation and state that they were assured the land would remain agricultural.
The original permit was granted for five years. Over the years, the property morphed into a large commercial mining operation that Target Trucking now operates. Upon the 2008 expiration of the original permit, those utilizing the property at the time failed to submit a new application; yet continued operations through 2014.
Target Trucking took over operations under a special land use renewal that was granted by the township planning commission. Grass Lake resident Bobbi Harper stated during the Zoom meeting, “No public meeting was held and the residents were not informed.” However, Township Zoning Administrator Doug Lammers replied that a public meeting was held – he supplied meeting minutes from the hearing.
Five years later, in August 2019, a petition was presented to the planning commission during a public hearing requesting that Target Trucking’s special land use permit be denied.
Harper commented, “One man with tears in his eyes presented a white cloth covered in the thick dust that he had wiped from his house just before attending the hearing.” It was noted during Thursday’s meeting that the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EAGL) Air Quality Inspector Stephanie Weens monitored the site as a follow-up to an email complaint of noise and dust; however, she found no violations at that time. She also supplied Lammers with Target Trucking’s dust control plan.
Piles of dirt are seen along the property lines of several neighbors who live next to the Bohne Road gravel mine.
Target Trucking was granted a one-year conditional special land use permit. There were 18 conditions listed, including the addition of a dust control element, an erosion control element, a restoration plan, and the erection of a fence to prevent trespassing and increase safety. The site plan, prepared by Washtenaw Engineering, is signed with Planning Commission Chair Jere Hinkle’s signature, dated Sept. 19, 2020.
While the plan indicated a dredge lake 3.5 acres in size, to be expanded to a maximum of 4.9 acres, a subsequent aerial photo and a screenshot on the EGLE website based on EGLE staff’s GPS coordinates of the boundaries of the lake indicates the area of the dredged lake is actually 9.5 acres.
In January 2020, EGLE issued Target Trucking a Part 301 violation notice under the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act, for the creation of a nine-plus-acre lake, when the original site plan indicated a lake under five acres. Target Trucking was forced to cease all mining activity within that lake and was ordered to obtain a hydrogeological study and wetland delineation study.
According to the documentation provided by several neighboring residents, in 2017 the Department of Environmental Quality Air Quality Division investigated dust complaints at the Bohne Road gravel mine – an investigation which resulted in a status of non-compliance and a violation notice.
Upon the expiration of the one-year conditional special land use permit, a public hearing was scheduled in August 2020; however, the planning commission delayed the vote to renew the special land use permit due to an incomplete application and opposition from residents. This led to the recent hearing on Sept. 17.
During the public hearing, several residents provided testimony over Zoom, including that of Carl Wells who stated he had emailed documents to several members of the planning commission regarding the inaccuracy and discrepancies of Target Trucking’s site plan. Documents provided by Wells allegedly showed wetlands that have been destroyed and wetlands that were not shown on the site plan, as well as a drain line from the “big lake to the little lake which is overflowing.” Wells concluded, “Gentleman, you are dealing with a site plan that just does not reflect reality – it does not reflect government documentation that can easily be found online. If you approve it tonight, it is on you.”
Gravel pit neighbor Ruth McDaniels stated, “My wetlands run into their wetlands – they’re all the same wetlands. They’re being trampled.” She says she is no longer able to enjoy her property due to the “mounds of dirt” that prohibit her from sitting on her deck or enjoying her pool. “We are just tired of this.”
Ellen Price, another neighboring resident, stated, “This has been going on for 17 years in my backyard. What can we do but voice our opinion? There is so much to this – there’s sickness, there are violations. I urge you guys to please be on the side of the people.”
Star Crowdis has lived on the corner of Bohne Road and Kalmbach for 45 years. Her greatest concern is the health and well-being of the neighbors; and is troubled by the fact that she feels her and other neighbors aren’t able to voice concerns without being retaliated against.
“The planning commission asked for proof and we gave them plenty of it, but they seem to always side with Target Trucking. Apart from [Planning Commissioner] Nancy Prindle stating she was uncomfortable with approving the permit, there wasn’t even any discussion among the commissioners about our concerns.”
Additional information provided to the commission by numerous neighbors and Grass Lake township residents includes time-stamped photos and video footage of after-hours work violations, Google Earth photos proving that a second back entrance has been used by Target Trucking, along with alleged proof of noise, dust, and diesel fumes that continuously plague the neighboring residences.
“The residents do have valid complaints,” says Certified Professional Geologist Mike Wilczynski who works for Pangea Environmental and began investigating the mine after hearing rumors about the problems associated with it. With over 40 years of experience in hydrogeology and mining, Wilczynski says that he is partly responsible for having EGLE issue a violation earlier this year that stopped the dredge mining in the lake created in violation of Part 301 until a hydrogeological investigation is completed and a permit application is reviewed.
“I doubt the permit will be issued without a contested case hearing, if at all,” Wilczynski said. “Mining can be done right. What is going on in Grass Lake is not right. The last time I saw a mine this bad was in the 1980s in backwoods North Carolina.”
Sandra McCoy, a Grass Lake resident, and scientist working closely with Wilczynski states, “The township is required by law to act in a manner that promotes the interest of the greater public good. This includes basing the SUP renewal on complete and accurate information and weighing the whole record in making their decision.” Further, “You’re not allowed to use your property in a way that deprives your neighbors of reasonable enjoyment of their property.”
Many residents have indicated they feel the township is ignoring their pleas, siding with Target Trucking for their own agenda. McCoy agrees that despite the numerous concerns raised by residents, the township “gleefully granted a five-year extension of the Bohne Road mine permit” and that the planning commission claims to care about the residents and listen to concerns; yet “in reality, what they do is ‘read’ the letters that are submitted…” She continues, “If you don’t give any weight to the concerns in making your adjudicatory decisions, then you are not ‘listening.’”
This timestamped photo taken in a resident’s backyard shows operations being conducted on a Saturday, which is prohibited according to the special use permit.
In early 2018, a group of residents formed a 501(c)(3) nonprofit called “Friends of Grass Lake Township” and filed a lawsuit to appeal a special use permit that was granted for a proposed mine on Norvell Road in Grass Lake. The township provides no right of appeal regarding the issuance of special land use permits, therefore prompting the lawsuit.
This case was tried before Honorable Judge John T. McBain in Jackson County Circuit Court who ruled that by issuing the permit the planning commission had violated several Michigan laws as well as the township’s own zoning ordinance and master plan. The court stated that “the citizens of Grass Lake township who by way of local laws, regulations, and zoning ordinances have a legal right to be free from hazardous or disturbing land uses that would result in a mining operation located so close to residential development…” This lies at the heart of the complaints of the Bohne Road residents.
Chairman Jere Hinkle has previously stated that if Target Trucking is in compliance with local, state, and federal laws, along with anything the township imposes, the planning commission is obliged to issue the permit. In addition, Lammers states that there are currently no violations issued apart from the January violation issued by EGLE. He also states that, while there have been a number of letters received, there have been very few formal complaints in regard to the mine.
Registered landscape architect specializing in water resources Jerry Siznowski said he’s been working on the Bohne Road project for maybe a year and a half now. His work includes permits required by EGLE or local governments. Siznowski states that the berms are intact and are fully vegetated. In addition, he says monitoring wells have been placed in the wetland to observe water level, confirm they’ve not been affected, and have not been worked on or drained.
Siznowski’s job as a wetland delineation specialist is to locate hydric soils and indicators such as hydric vegetation, which he says exist on the wetlands on Target Trucking’s site. So far, he says, there’s a lot of desktop data about neighborhood wells, neighborhood wetlands, streams, and controlled drains for flooding; however, “Once we have the surveyed, real data, then a study will be conducted and reviewed by EGLE.” Based on his preliminary findings, Siznowski states the groundwater is not going down.
“It’s a tough subject,” says planning commission member Doug Lammers, noting that there are a lot of accusations to sort through; however, there is a process that needs to be followed and until citations are issued, they remain accusations. “Our commissioners are volunteers,” Lammers states. “They have no other agenda and really do care about the residents’ concerns.”
Further investigations are pending, including one by Michigan Health and Human Services regarding health issues and one by EGLE regarding the use of mineral well brine by Big Barney’s Dust Control. Also, a new sand and gravel ordinance was passed by the planning commission in July and is pending approval by Jackson County; however, residents are concerned that the new five-year permit will fall under the old ordinance which does not offer the extra layer of protection to residents that the new one would.
This story comes from a recent edition of The Exponent. If you would like to keep up to date with the happenings of the Irish Hills and the surrounding area subscribe to The Exponent today at www.theexponent.com/subscriptionplans.