Friday, October 6th, 2017
A group of residents of Grass Lake have banded together against a proposed gravel pit along Norvell Rd. The Friends of Grass Lake Township, a non-profit group opposed to the proposed mine was formed to bring attention to the proposed mining operations.
L&L Development LTD has submitted an application for a Special Land Use to the Grass Lake Charter Township for the Removal and processing of topsoil, stone, rock, sand, gravel, lime or other soil and mineral resources. L&L Development LTD is a separate company from Lester Brothers, however “some of the owners share interests in both companies” according to Bill Lester.
The Grass Lake Times sat down this week with Bill, Cody and Billy Lester along with their attorney Geoff Snyder and separately Rick Murphy, President of Friends of Grass Lake Township to discuss the proposed mining operations.
One common ground for both of them was how unique this experience has been. Rick Murphy said he had “never been involved in anything like this before” and Bill Lester indicated “it is so blown out of proportion”.
L&L has previously developed 3 subdivisions in Grass Lake; Wolf Lake Highlands on Wolf Lake Rd, Sand Hill Estates and Sandy Ridge subdivision and condominiums, along Mt. Hope. According to Bill Lester, this whole project began as a subdivision plan. “We took our initial plans to the Township, and their review said to move that much dirt, we would need a mining permit.” After some test boring at the site, L&L determined that “the gravel here was unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. The rock content and the quality of the sand make it ideal.”
According to Bill Lester, L&L Development would mine the gravel and sand for up to the next 10 years. “The Township can limit us in how long the operations can continue” he said. The property is about 1 mile south of Warrior Trail along Norvell Rd. Lester said “the property is approximately 80 acres total and we are looking at only up to 20 acres of mining activity. There are areas of wetlands and natural gas pipeline that will not be touched.” After the 10 years, they would develop a high end subdivision that would be centered around a 10-12 acre lake. “We are looking at lots that cost $100k and homes in the $700k range.”
Opponents are skeptical of the subdivision and fear there is nothing that prevents the Planning Commission from extending their mining operations past the original 10 years later down the road. Rick Murphy feels they (L&L) “are using the subdivision to meet the requirements of being compatible with local zoning ordinances and the Grass Lake Charter Township Master Plan.” Murphy, who moved to Grass Lake to escape the noise associated with a local mine “could not believe that any parcel with 10 acres zoned R1/Agriculture could be used for mining purposes.”
Murphy was clear that the Friends of Grass Lake (FOGLT) were opposed to the mine, regardless of who was proposing it. “This is in no way a vendetta against the Lester Brothers, or L&L Development. We would be doing the same thing regardless of who the company is”. “They have a right to propose it and we have a right to oppose it”.
FOGLT plans on focusing on two primary areas for why the mining operations should be denied.
1) Property Values-According to Murphy, they have studies which show time and time again that property values drop 30-35% after a mining operation goes in. One of the studies was for Chelsea, when they were fighting the mine there and that is just 10 miles down the road. That “significantly affects the tax base for the township”
2) The Grass Lake Zoning Ordinance for Special Land Uses doesn’t allow mining operations in this area because of the stated: Be harmonious with and in accordance with the Purposes of this Ordinance and be designed, constructed, operated, maintained and managed so as to be harmonious and appropriate in appearance with existing or intended character of the general vicinity. The complete Zoning Ordinance is located at www.grasslakect.com
Geoff Snyder, L&L Development’s lawyer indicated that state law “doesn’t afford the Planning Commission the ability to deny the permit, only to regulate it.”
Another topic of discussion is about Grass Lake High School being located just over a mile from the proposed site. Murphy said that “concerned with safety with the high school. The property is completely in a no passing zone. You know how slow these trucks move, what’s going to happen when they pull out moving slow and somebody tops the hill?” When he contacted the Jackson County Road Commission, it took numerous attempts, “calling every day” before someone finally spoke with him. They said they would not do any studies or adjustments to Norvell Rd until it has been finalized”. He added, “Unfortunately safety is not one of the mandates in the state law for denial of a mine”.
Two years ago, the Jackson County Road Commission announced plans for completely rebuilding Norvell Rd in 2018 and 2019. That project is unrelated to the L&L Development plans.
Lester said they are willing to work with the Planning Commission to minimize impact to the high school traffic. “We will allow the trucks to enter the pits prior to school and not allow them out until after school starts. All of this can be regulated by the Planning Commission.” Lester estimates “the truck traffic would average 4 (trucks) a day throughout the year. Summer months would be higher, during construction season, while winter months would be lower and possibly non-existent. The trucks would be taking the aggregate directly to the job sites. I think it will decrease the truck traffic in downtown, not increase it.”
Murphy said the opposition has “only had 4 weeks to get organized, L&L has had 4 months.” “This is going to affect the Town for a long time. I moved here to get away from gravel pits. I don’t like seeing this happen.”
Opponents and Friends of Grass Lake Township have placed “Stop the Mine” throughout the community. They are meeting Sundays at Dale Fisher’s Gallery, 1916 Norvell Rd. The next meeting of FOGLT is this Sunday, October 8th at 3:00 pm. The Planning Commission Meeting is Thursday, October 12th at 7:00 pm at the Grass Lake Charter Township Hall, 373 Lakeside Dr. They are planning a mass mailing to every household in Grass Lake making people aware of the mine and its hazards on Friday, October 6th. “Its amazing how many people don’t know what is going on” said Murphy.
Opponents also fear that by issuing the Special Land Use will “open the floodgates” to other companies for mining within Grass Lake. “They will be lining up at the door to start mining” Murphy stated.
The FOGLT have hired The Law Offices of Conlin, McKenney & Philbrick of Ann Arbor to represent the group’s interests and fight the mine.
Social Media has been full of comments for and against the mining. Many reference the Bohn Rd and Clear Lake mining operations as examples of what could happen. Cody Lester responded that “you are comparing apples and oranges with Bohn Rd and Clear Lake, neither of which we operate. Clear Lake is huge, over 100 acres easily.”
Bill Lester wrapped up by saying “If I thought it was going to be as dangerous and unsafe as people are saying, we would not proceed. We are a family business and want to stay a family business, we are not interested in becoming an aggregate company.”
The Planning Commission is appointed by the Grass Lake Charter Township Board. By law, one trustee from the Township Board must be appointed to the Planning Commission. The decision of the Planning Commission in regards to Special Land Use applications is final, it does not go to the Grass Lake Charter Township Board for vote.
The initial application was presented to the public and the planning commission in May, then tabled until more information could be obtained. The Public Hearing was reopened at the September Planning Commission Meeting, then tabled for additional information until the October 12th meeting.
Editor’s Note: Scott Bray is an elected Trustee to the Grass Lake Township Board. He has no vote in this matter.