The Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment wants to allow sand and gravel mining in Waterloo Recreation Area. It’s the largest park in the lower peninsula… with more than 20-thousand wooded acres.
The DNRE is considering allowing mining on 72 acres of the park. It would be the first time mining would be allowed in the Waterloo Recreation Area.
The company that wants to mine sand and gravel is called Aggregate Industries. It’s based in Maryland and it’s a subsidiary of a Swiss-owned company.
Ron Olson is the Chief of Recreation for the DNRE. He says for many years, Aggregate Industries has been mining right on Waterloo’s western boundary. He says the DNRE would lease the 72 acres of parkland to Aggregate Industries for mining… and in exchange, the state would get a 324 acre parcel that the mining company no longer has a use for.
“So the idea would be if they were able to gravel mine, that they would gift us 324 acres of land, plus they would also pay a royalty fee and then we would also get that revenue as well.”
Those 324 acres would become part of the Waterloo Recreation Area. Olson expects the state to gain seven or eight million dollars from royalty money.
The company would have to restore the former 324-acre gravel pit for recreational use… and years later, they’d also have to restore the 72 acres they want to mine.
“Basically, the slopes would be smoothed out to make the abruptness of gravel mining more blended into the landscape, making an area where native vegetation can grow.”
This proposal worries a lot of people who live in the Waterloo area.
Rachelle Mann is standing on a hill at the edge of the current mining operation.
“I see very ugly flatland. There is no one who lives in this area who thinks it’s an equal exchange.”
Mann says she comes to this part of Waterloo almost every day, to run or walk her dogs.
“Beautiful, wooded, hilled, gorgeous recreation property that horsemen ride on, that hunters hunt through. This entire area is well used.”
A number of people who own homes in the Waterloo Recreation Area have written letters to the DNRE. The letters express concerns about their property values… impacts on water quality… and the loss of 72 acres of trees.
Rachelle Mann says there’s something else that bothers her. About half of the land the DNRE wants to lease for mining is covered by a restricted deed. The federal government gave the land to the state in 1943.
“It was signed by Franklin Roosevelt and the great Harold L. Ickes himself and I want to read a little bit of this language: it says provided always this deed is made under the express condition that the state of Michigan shall use the said property exclusively for public park, recreational and conservation purposes.”
This means the state cannot move forward with the mining lease unless the National Park Service gives them permission. And there’s more: the land is under additional restrictions because the state has accepted federal funds for the Waterloo Recreation Area.
Bob Anderson is with the National Park Service.
“We don’t own the land. Our focus is to protect the federal investment. This is measured in the land, to make sure if we allow them to convert the acres that they get something equivalent.”
He says the state has to prove they can replace the land that’ll be mined with land that has equal fair market value.
Aggregate Industries did not provide an interview after saying they would.
The DNRE is accepting public comments on this proposal until March 15th.
That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.