EUREKA TOWNSHIP — The Eureka Township Board overturned a citation issued by its zoning administrator regarding an illegal inactive mine after residents approached the board, stating they would lose everything in order to meet the requirements.
William and Jacquelyn Harris spoke to the board on Monday regarding a citation they received from Zoning Administrator Tom Faussett stating they were not complying with Mining Ordinance No. 84.
The Harrises stated the property at 10786 S. Greenville Road is zoned residential and there is not a mine nor has there been a mine on the property since they owned the property.
The Harrises told The Daily News their family has owned the property for multiple generations and it has not been considered a mine or gravel pit for at least 20 years. Al Harris, a previous owner of the property, did dig on the property, but only for personal use and not to sell to Montcalm County or anyone else.
“I just want you to know it’s impossible for me to financially do it,” William Harris told the board of the regulations. “So it won’t be long and you will have my property. I just want you to know that is the way it goes. I can’t afford (to reclaim) it so I am just going to have to turn it back over the county.”
The Harrises purchased the property from family members in 2005 and came to the township to get approval to split the property into two parcels so they could build their current home. Family members live in the original home.
When building the new home, William Harris built a driveway through a hill on the property to be able to get to the home. He said at the time of construction, the township and the Michigan Department of Transportation approved his renovations. He said the irregular geography of the property was noted at that time by the township and was told it wasn’t a problem.
“I wanted to split a property and provide a home for my family and my children and I have accomplished that,” he said. “Now, in January, you pass an ordinance that changes my way of living and my property to the means that is impossible monetarily for me to do.”
A response did not come from the board until the end of Monday’s meeting when some board members said they were hearing about this issue for the first time.
“Up until this second, I didn’t know anything about this situation,” said Trustee Jeremy Austin.
Trustee Elaine Pendrick agreed, stating she felt the board left William Harris without addressing him at the beginning of the meeting.
“How are you being forced off that property?” Pendrick asked.
William explained to follow the ordinance, he would have to put in fencing and signage, present a survey of the property, redo a driveway that was 66 feet wide, have a 3:1 (three feet horizontal for each one foot vertical) slope and add retaining walls, which they can’t afford it and would ultimately have to give up their home.
“If I do all of that, that is almost (the same level) to (the M-91 hill),” William said. “All I have to do is get a half million yards of dirt and build a tunnel (as the driveway would be obsolete) and 65-foot retaining walls so it doesn’t flow onto the neighbors yard.”
The Harrises told The Daily News they broke everything down to estimate how much it would cost and the total came to more than $1 million, as excavating to fill in the property alone would be more than $800,000.
Faussett explained the issue comes down to the property being a dormant mine.
When Jacquelyn Harris asked how it could be a dormant mine when nothing has ever been mined on the property, an argument arose between Faussett and the Harrises on whether or not the property was a gravel pit.
Faussett said if the Harrises would have talked to the planning commission, they could have helped to “grandfather” them in. However, later in the meeting, after Jacquelyn asked why they weren’t already grandfathered in, Faussett responded by stating “No one is grandfathered in. Maybe you should (have been), but currently we don’t have (grandfather) provisions in the ordinance.”
Supervisor Rodney Roy echoed the fact the Harrises should have tried talking with the township.
“You elected to not come in and talk to us at all,” Roy said.
However, the Harrises told the board multiple times that they did try to talk to township officials. Planning commission meeting minutes for March, April and May show William Harris was present at the meetings and discussed the topic. Faussett was also present at those meetings and Roy was present for two of the three meetings.
PROOF OF MINING
“What do you have as evidence legally (determining) that it was a gravel pit?” Pendrick asked Faussett.
Faussett responded by describing the property as “two holes that have been excavated and there are slopes.” He went on to say that Assessor Linda Miller had identified it as a dormant mine.
Trustee Brad Kelley said if the property was a gravel pit, it should have an identification number provided by the state, which would determine if it was really a gravel pit.
Trustee Marty Posekany said the township needed to prove the Harrises have a gravel pit before the citation can be enforced.
“I look at it right now as this is on us as a township to have to prove this a mining operation — a gravel pit — and everything up until this point right now is moot,” Posekany said.
The board discussed looking into the matter to see if there was a number and then going from there while making a motion to overturn the citation until then.
“I move that the citation issued to the Harrises be held in advance. A citation has not been issued at this point and would not be issued until a mining pit number is proven by the township. And no charges accrued to this date because we have not proved our point yet,” Posekany stated in his motion.
The board voted in favor of the motion 7-0.
The board noted they would be contacting the court to notify court officials about the situation and that the citation has now been overturned.
ORDINANCE No. 84 MINING
According to the ordinance, which was developed and passed by the township board in January, an inactive mine is defined as a “site that had not mined or removed at least 10,000 cubic yards of minerals or mined materials in at least one of the three calendar years immediately prior to the enactment of this ordinance.”
Mining is defined as “the excavation, digging, mining, removal and/or processing of peat, earth, gravel, sand, clay, top soil, stone or other soils or materials, including overburden, or the storage or transporting of such items on, to or from a mining site, or the reclamation of the site after removal or excavation of such items.”
A person within the township that has an active or inactive mine must obtain a license for a fee from the township and must post a surety performance bond, cash deposit or irrevocable letter of credit, which names the township as the beneficiary in an amount determined by the planning commission to ensure compliance with all the license, according to the ordinance.
A reclamation plan must also be presented by the mine owners to the township prepared by a civil engineer or surveyor licensed by the state. The plan can be submitted in three parts, including a recent aerial photograph, contour plan and a description of methods for topsoil and replanting.
Requirements for mining sites include fencing, signage, posting of hours for active sites, road access, road maintenance, operation regulations, transportation vehicle standards, lighting, processing and drainage regulations and topsoil.
For reclamation, slopes to a water line cannot be less than a 4:1 (four feet horizontal for each one foot vertical) slope. Slopes to not leading to a body of water cannot be less than a 3:1 (three feet horizontal for each one foot vertical) slope.
For steeper slopes, the planning commission can consider a steeper slope, but may require structure improvements like higher or increased fences, landscaping, guardrails and more.
“All temporary slopes and banks shall be maintained in such fashion and slope as to be reasonably safe and not be an attractive nuisance to trespassers,” the ordinance states.
All mining areas have to follow setbacks, vegetation and filling requirements.
Violations shall constitute a civil infraction. The minimum fine for a municipal civil infraction under this ordinance is $50, plus costs, attorney fees and other sanctions, for each violation. Fees increase for repeated offenses.
To view the full ordinance, contact Eureka Township or visit www.montcalm.org or call (616) 754-5053.