Lansing (Great Lakes News) – A coalition of labor and business interests have united to provide solutions to Michigan’s road problem. Build It Michigan Strong hopes to increase access to basic road materials like sand and gravel to reduce costs and make road construction cheaper. To accomplish this goal, the coalition is supporting Michigan Senate Bill 431 which makes it more difficult for local units of government to restrict the extraction of natural resources.
Build It Michigan Strong boast support from the Michigan Teamsters, the Asphalt Pavement Association of Michigan, the Michigan Concrete Association, Operating Engineers 324, and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. This often unaligned group of supporters is looking to solve a shortage of basic components for road construction (aggregates) that could stall the completion of the push to fix Michigan’s roads.
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“We have existing resources that we have been using for many years, but as time goes by some of these locations where we bring gravel and sand from getting used up,” said executive director and CEO of the Michigan Concrete Association Dan DeGraaf. “Having easy access to these materials is critical as we get ready to rebuild Michigan.”
Because of the reported shortages, construction companies are forced to increase costs by trucking large quantities of aggregates from more gravel-rich portions of the state to gravel-poor portions of the state. The coalition supports a bill from Democrat Sen. Adam Hollier that prevents counties and townships from stopping the acquisition of natural resources by placing regulation responsibilities in the hands of the state. Advocates argue this will allow construction teams to access large quantities of gravel and sand currently protected by activists.
“Senate Bill 431 is one of the things that the legislature should do to provide for cost saving reforms before they look at re-prioritizing spending or raising revenue,” said President and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce Rich Studley. “The challenge we have in Michigan is that fixing the roads is a statewide problem. There are some parts of the state where there is no sand and gravel left. Local opposition has kept the state from making use of the most cost effective sources of these materials. What we want to do is streamline and approve the regulatory process so that contractors don’t have to ship or truck sand and gravel miles and miles.”
The coalition does acknowledge that new gravel pits will prove inconvenient, but argue that the pros far outweigh the cons.
“There is usually a little bit of pain while the activity is going on, when there are a few more trucks to haul the material away to the project sites,” DeGraaf said. “There is some inconvenience, we can’t deny that fact. But bringing materials from farther away costs everybody more money and puts more trucks on the road because we need to bring materials from a further distance.”
A gravel pit that has properly undergone reclamation can also prove to be an attractive spot for housing development and recreational activities like swimming and fishing.
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“The industry has really improved its track record of reclamation across the state,” Studley said. “There are home-sites on lakes and ponds that used to be gravel pits. We recognize that reasonable regulation is necessary and appropriate, but you have activists who have moved to an area next to sand and gravel and don’t want to see commercial activity. If we’re going to repair Michigan’s roads across the state you need the basic materials to do that.”
Bill 431 is currently in the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and still requires passage in both the House and the Senate.