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Records: Gravel lobbying group directed state-funded report

June 6, 2019

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan transportation officials took direction from a lobbying group for the sand and gravel industry when commissioning a 2016 study that determined the state is running out of gravel to rebuild its roads, according to emails and other records.

The Detroit Free Press obtained records under Michigan’s open records law that show the Michigan Aggregates Association recommended the consultant that the state Department of Transportation hired for the nearly $50,000 study funded with taxpayer money.

The lobbying group, which is pushing for legislation to limit local governments from denying permits for gravel mines, also determined the study’s scope, price range and suggested its anticipated findings.

“We presume it goes without saying (but we’ll say it anyway!) that we expect the conclusion to be that there is, in certain definable regions of the state, a looming shortage of aggregates that needs to be addressed,” wrote Doug Needham, the association’s president, in a May 2016 email to the department’s then-director, Kirk Steudle.

Needham told the newspaper that the association gave advice when they were asked, but that their lobbyists didn’t write, proof-read, finalize or pay for the study.

Tim Fischer, a Department of Transportation spokesman, defended the state agency for seeking guidance from an industry group since the study was specialized.

Steudle, the agency’s former director, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The study is often cited by Michigan gravel companies seeking to open or expand a mine. The projects have been met with opposition from residents in several communities across Michigan because of the noise and dust.

Lyndon Township in Washtenaw County faced the opening of a gravel mine in a community recreation area but the developer pursued a land swap instead.

Township Supervisor Marc Keezer said he isn’t surprised that the state’s Transportation Department sees its interests as aligned with the gravel industry, rather than with residents.

“MDOT does road and transportation networks,” Keezer said. “Why would they want to restrict their ability to do that at affordable prices? I think it all comes down to money.”

Metamora Township resident Ronald Barnard testified last December against the expansion of a gravel pit at a Senate hearing where Needham cited the study in his testimony. Barnard said he’s astounded by the findings.

“That’s really underhanded political dealing, I think,” he said. “I find it disgusting that they’re able to utilize the power of MDOT to give them a leg up on legislation that would allow them to be just the robber barons of gravel.”

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, http://www.freep.com

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