Stille Bill Would Curb Dune Mining In 10 Years

May 16, 2002
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LANSING — Mining operations within Michigan’s critical sand dunes would come to an end over 10 years under legislation state Sen. Leon Stille has proposed in Lansing.

The Spring Lake Republican’s bill also would double mining fees to create a new state fund to pay for preserving sand dunes and restoring mine sites.

Stille’s proposal to set “an absolute solid deadline” for phasing out mining comes from what he sees as a growing public sentiment against mining within the critical dune areas that line Michigan’s shorelines. Provisions designed to generate a phase-out that were included in a 1994 amendment to the state law regulating dune mining have not produced the desired result, Stille said.

Additional legislation is needed to bring about the eventual end of mining along the shoreline, he said.

“I think it’s time to think some end may come to this process,” Stille said. “I think that it’s sound policy.

“We must protect the dunes and preserve them for our youngsters and future generations,” he said.

Michigan sand mines provide more than 30 percent of the sand used nationwide by foundries, and more than 90 percent of the foundry sand used by the automobile industry, according to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

Of the 285,000 acres of sand dunes in Michigan, 5,000 acres are designated for mining, and less than 1,600 acres are actually under a mining permit, according to the DEQ’s 1999-2000 annual report on sand dune mining.

There are presently 21 permitted mining sites in Michigan, 12 of which are actively mined for industrial uses — mostly the foundry industry. Six of the 12 mines accounted for nearly 98 percent of the total 2.8 million tons of sand production in 2000.

All of the mines are along Lake Michigan, with most of the sites located between Muskegon and Benton Harbor. Stille’s legislative district alone includes three sand mines in Muskegon and Ottawa counties.

Stille’s bill provides increased protection to the sand dunes while giving miners plenty of time to plan the relocation of their operations inland. It competes with a similar but tougher bill introduced in the spring by state Rep. Julie Dennis, D-Muskegon, and Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, to end mining within five years, tighten restrictions until the prohibition takes effect and impose new fees on mining operations to finance state acquisition of dune areas.

The Dennis-Peters bill, introduced in May, now sits in the House Conservation and Outdoor Recreation Committee.

Stille believes the Dennis-Peters bill “isn’t going anywhere” and that his legislation will receive “a quick and favorable review” in the Legislature because it offers twice the amount of time that mining companies have until they must end operations within coastal sand dunes and move inland.

“I don’t think the industry can react that fast,” Stille said of the 5-year phase-out included in the Dennis-Peters bill. “We think 10 years is a logical lead time for something of this magnitude.”

The Lake Michigan Federation, a Chicago-based environmental group that has a regional office in Grand Haven, has strongly supported the Dennis-Peters bill. While the group does not support Stille’s bill, it doesn’t oppose it either, regional director Tanya Cabala said.

The Stille legislation represents “a great start” that indicates growing interest in Lansing to provide greater protections for the sand dunes, Cabala said.           

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