Legislators Digging In Against Dune Mining

June 5, 2002
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LANSING — The mining of sand dunes along Lake Michigan would come to an end within five years under legislation pending in Lansing that seeks to ban the practice.

Bills sponsored by state Rep. Julie Dennis, D-Muskegon, and Sen. Gary Peter, D-Bloomfield Township, would phase out all sand dune mining in Michigan by 2006 and tighten restrictions on mining until the ban takes affect. The legislation also would impose new fees on mining companies that would go into a fund to finance state acquisition of critical dunes areas.

Dennis and Peters proposed the same bills last year. They failed to move before the legislative session ended.

Backers of the legislation say it’s essential to better protect a vital natural resource that’s unique to Michigan.

“As legislators it is our duty to preserve our environment and natural resources,” Dennis said. “If we act now to protect our sand dunes, then our children won’t have to pay the price in the future when we lose our dunes if we do nothing.”

Industry representatives, however, contend the legislation is unnecessary because dune-mining operations will have to shut down or move inland anyway once they completely mine the area outlined in their existing permits. Existing state law prohibits the opening of new mining operations.

“What we have under permit now is all we can mine,” said Bob Chandonnet, owner and president of Nugent Sand Co. in Muskegon. “It’s totally unnecessary. We’re already sunset under existing regulation.”

Nugent has mined about 450 acres along Lake Michigan since 1912. Chandonnet expects the company will deplete its mine within eight years, nine at the most.

“We have to move inland if we plan on staying in business,” he said.

Forcing mining companies inland and away from the dunes that line the Lake Michigan shoreline is the goal of one environmental group that has been a strong advocate for strengthening the state’s dune-protection laws.

“We’re just saying, ‘enough is enough. We’ve mined the dunes for 150 years,’” said Tanya Cabala, director of the Muskegon office for the Lake Michigan Federation. “We’re saying there are places you can mine sand where you’re not removing an irreplaceable, thousands-of-years old dune. They’re not replaceable unless we have another ice age.”

A report done in connection with the original 1976 Sand Dune Protection and Management Act identified “vast quantities” of sand available for mining inland from the shoreline, Cabala said.

Sand mined in Michigan is used largely by foundries to produce molds for the automotive industry.

Environmentalists and mining companies differ on the environmental impact of sand dune mining, which the Lake Michigan Federation says has grown 50 percent since legislators enacted the 1976 Sand Dune Protection and Management Act.

Environmentalists portray mining as destroying the dunes. Mining companies say the impact is overstated and that existing operations affect less than one half of 1 percent of the state’s 275,000 acres of sand dunes, Chandonnet said.

“Overall impact on total dune area is minimal,” Chandonnet said.

The Dennis and Peters bills, introduced concurrently in the House and Senate, would also require existing permits to expire if the area has not been mined for a year, and designate an additional 12,000 acres of sand dunes as “critical.”

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