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Issues of the Environment: Controversy over a proposed 400-acre mining operation in Washtenaw County's Sharon Township

Sharon Township Supervisor Peter Psarouthakis
Peter Psarouthakis
Sharon Township Supervisor Peter Psarouthakis


  • The treacherous freeze-thaw cycle in Michigan has led to several studies claiming the roads are some of the worst in the country. Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s "Fix the damn roads" campaign, helped her secure the election, and there is a near constant need for gravel and sand for concrete and roads.
  • A new set of House bills introduced in May would weaken local control of gravel mines and move permitting to the state level. These bills are especially important to residents of Sharon Twp, located in Southwestern Washtenaw County, who have expressed a desire not to have more mining operations in the township. 
  • An 80-acre mine has operated in Sharon Twp. for years, but there is a great deal of local pushback against a proposed 400 acre mine.  The gravel pit is proposed for 400 acres of farmland purchased by Stoneco (in 2021) at 19024 Pleasant Lake Road, approximately one mile west of M-52.
  • According to the Detroit Free Press, “The sand and gravel industry, represented by the Michigan Aggregates Association, says the state should handle the permitting, just as it does for the mining of certain other minerals. The state needs access to gravel close to where roads are being built and repaired, but NIMBY (Not In My Backyard) attitudes are delaying or blocking needed approvals and driving up costs, they say.”
  • Local officials argue that residents have their lives disrupted by the dust, noise, and trucking of rock and sand. And, there is the potential for gravel mines to degrade water quality and contaminate wells. Residents of Sharon Twp. have expressed a grave concern about the potential for windblown silica dust in public comment sessions.
  • Supervisor of Washtenaw County's Sharon Township, Peter Psarouthakis, says that “well over 90% of township residents appear to be opposed to the proposal [of the Stoneco mine] as presented. They feel this is unsafe for our community and a danger to the health and welfare of the township.” (Source: *directly quoted* https://www.freep.com/story/news/politics/2023/05/04/michigan-gravel-mines-approval-zoning/70178706007/)


David Fair: Governor Whitmer promised to "fix the damn roads." And based on the number of projects you run into out there, the work is well underway. But much more needs to be done. And there are some environmental tradeoffs. I'm David Fair, and this is Issues of the Environment on 89 one WEMU. Much of what is required is near constant need for gravel and sand, and that means mining. And mining means pollution, public health hazards and a threat to water quality and the contamination of wells. Sharon Township is located in the west central region of Washtenaw County near Manchester. It's been home to an 80-acre mining operation for years now. Now there's a proposal for a new 400-acre mining operation in the township. There's been a lot of pushback from residents, but local control of whether it should be permitted is at risk. There's a new set of bills before the state House that would move permitting to the state level. Our guest this morning is Peter Psarouthakis. Peter is former Sharon Township supervisor, now serving as deputy supervisor. Thank you so much for joining us, Peter. I appreciate it.

Peter Psarouthakis: Pleasure to be here, David.

David Fair: The company called Stoneco purchased the 400 acres of farmland on Pleasant Lake Road back in 2021. Since then, it's been going through the process with the aim to turn it into a sand and gravel mining site. Why is this proposal different from the operational mining site that already exists in the township?

Peter Psarouthakis: Well, the size and scope of it are the obvious reasons. Like, you touched on. The other mine is 80 acres. Initially, it was two different mines, 40 and 40, but now owned by one company. And this one will be 400 in the middle of our township, not M-52 like the other one. And it has the potential to really change things in our community.

David Fair: Has the township conducted its own or paid for an analysis of the potential consequences to both environment and public health?

Peter Psarouthakis: Oh, yes. Part of our process is the company submits their application for special use. We then have our own experts--environmental engineers, planners, attorneys, everybody--review that. And, you know, we give input back and forth. And then, it's up to our planning commission to determine if there's very serious consequences or not with the application.

David Fair: As you mentioned, part of the permitting process is for Stoneco to prove there's a need for the mining operation, and the township board did agree that there was a low to moderate need. Now, that second phase of the process is that it must prove it will not result in serious consequences. What does that process include?

Peter Psarouthakis: Well, that includes things like are there any road issues, safety issues on the roads, water-related issues, wells and that kind of thing. Environmental wetlands...

David Fair: Sheer traffic on the road would be an issue, I would think.

Peter Psarouthakis: Yes, traffic. They're proposing somewhere around 300 to 350 trucks a day, which be a huge difference in what we currently have because there's no mine there. And there's concern at M-52 and Pleasant Lake Road, we have a very old church right on that corner. We have an intersection with a light there that has been known to have a lot of traffic accidents through the years. So, increasing volume of traffic with heavy trucks is a concern. We have a lot of bicycle traffic on Pleasant Lake Road. That's also an area that part of the WATS plan for transportation in Washtenaw County, its potential for non-motorized pathways. So, there's a lot of things to look at, including this prime agricultural land that, once it's mined, will never be used again. This has been a farm for many, many years, formerly owned by the Schneerly family. It was going to be....they were about to sign it and turn it into a conservation easement which would have protected it forever. But, at the last minute, the applicants came in and offered them double the amount of money. And they took the money and ran, so to speak.

David Fair: And this kind of operation, any mining operation, is going to kick up all sorts of things from the Earth that are not particularly good for our health. We breathe in a lot of silica dust, among other things, and that is a public health concern. In the rather majority nature of the opposition to this project from township residents, is public health one of the primary concerns?

Peter Psarouthakis: Yes, that's one of the concerns the public has pointed out. And it's not just from our residents. You know, this is going to be have an impact beyond Sharon Township. All the other townships around there, the village of Manchester, everyone has got a lot of concerns. But yes, you know, people are concerned about health issues. I'm not a scientist in that realm, so I don't want to act like one. That's why we hire our experts. But there are concerns there.

David Fair: 89 one WEMU's Issues of the Environment continues. And today, we're talking with former Sharon Township supervisor Peter Psarouthakis. He has been a township supervisor for 11 years, now serving as deputy supervisor. Peter, the House bills that are under consideration would shift the permitting process to Lansing. That would take it right out of the township board's hands. Many other minerals are mined in Michigan already and permitted at the state level. Why, in your estimation, is this particular kind of operation different?

Peter Psarouthakis: Well, I think local control on many issues, not just sand and gravel, is important because each community is different and have their different issues and needs. One of the bigger reasons here, too, is that no one seems to talk about which I testified back in the last session when these similar bills were up and eventually died in the House, was that, you know, the aggregate industry and the state really don't know how many mines there are, how much the current mines are currently producing, and what the state needs are over the next short-term and long-term. Who's to say we don't already have enough gravel mines and product for use for our roads? And local control allows us to immediately react to things that Lansing can't because of where they're at. If there's little issues like dust, too much dust, gone up and bothering neighbors and causing issues, we can quickly address that with the owners of the operation. We've done that ourselves in Sharon Township for many years, and it worked well. That way, it helps the company, and it helps the residents. The company quickly addresses the problem. Residents are happy. The company is happy because, you know, no one's screaming at them anymore, those kind of things, any kind of environmental spills. In our township, we have a mineral licensing board that monitors and issues a permit yearly. During that process, there's test wells that have been set up. So, water has to be tested. We do inspections of the mining operation yearly, have discussions with the owners, so that we are on top of what's happening. That will never happen if EGLE or any other agency in Lansing handles it. They don't respond quickly.

David Fair: As you mentioned, this is not the first time these kinds of bills have been put forth. It certainly happened during the Snyder administration. As you mentioned, you testified last session. Do you sense there is more momentum this time around?

Peter Psarouthakis: For the project to move forward?

David Fair: Yeah.

Peter Psarouthakis: You know, I don't think so. I think, initially, there was, I think, when our legislators who have been lobbied heavily recently before the bills were introduced, there may have been a little bit leaning towards pushing them through. But I think when they saw the pushback and the realities of the situation, I think it slowed down some at this point where cooler heads are prevailing. I understand there's potential for compromise bills to be introduced in Lansing, which would be great. The Michigan Township Association is a group that we work with all the time, and they're doing a wonderful job on this issue. And I am hopeful that, like I said, cooler heads prevail on this.

David Fair: Peter Psarouthakis is our guest on Issues of the Environment this week. He served 11 years as Sharon Township supervisor, now serving as deputy supervisor until the end of the month. And at that point, Peter, you are taking leave of Sharon Township, but you have promised that you are going to continue working to make sure that we have townships that are able to maintain local control. How are you going to advocate for that position moving forward?

Peter Psarouthakis: Well, I'll be speaking to our legislators. When the committee brings up bills, I'll testify again. I have a lot of experience working with these operations and have a lot of input and experience that I think that would be helpful to our legislators that, you know, are not 100% up on every issue that comes before them. So, it's important that the public speak up, and I intend to do that.

David Fair: How long will the next phase of the permitting process take for Stoneco to get through should you maintain local control?

Peter Psarouthakis: I would suspect that a decision will be made in June or July.

David Fair: And what do you expect to happen? Should the township vote against Stoneco being able to start operating and mining in this area, is it going to end up in the court system, and can the township afford that kind of legal bill?

Peter Psarouthakis: Well, according to the applicant's attorney from day one, they have expressed their willingness to take us to court if we don't do what they want. So, I think that speaks for itself. As far as what we can and cannot afford, I guess we're going to have to wait and see.

David Fair: Well, we will most certainly do that. And, obviously, in the next couple of months, there's going to be opportunity to revisit this conversation. So, thank you for filling us in today. I do appreciate it.

Peter Psarouthakis: It's been a pleasure being here. Thank you for the time.

David Fair: That is Peter Psarourthakis. He serves as deputy township supervisor in Sharon Township after having served as supervisor for 11 years. He's going to continue to work for local control of gravel and sand mining permitting moving forward. For more information on today's discussion, simply pay a visit to our website at WEMU dot org. I'm David Fair, and this is your community. NPR station, 89-1 WEMU FM Ypsilanti.

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