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Company continues to mine sand in critical dune area along Lake Michigan

Aug 11, 2015

Since the 1930s, Sargent Sand Company has held a permit to mine sand from its property that's surrounded by Ludington State Park.

For years, the 400 acre mine was dormant as the company negotiated to sell its land to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

That sale fell through.

Last year, the mine cranked back up again, and the neighbors aren’t too happy about it.

Complaints about noise

Just a couple of miles north of Ludington is a quiet, tree-lined neighborhood between Lake Michigan and Hamlin Lake.

“My husband and I both had a dream of finding a little place and we fell in love with Ludington,” Linda Daul says.

Daul bought her cottage in 2012. She looked forward to spending her summers at the retreat away from her home in metro Detroit. But then, last summer…

“I was greeted with constant, 24-hour noise. Noise from the sand mining operation and the trucks,” Daul says.

Linda Daul lives near the sand mine and is concerned about its noise pollution.
Credit Aaron Selbig/Interlochen Public Radio

She didn’t know that during the previous fall, Sargent Sand Company was busy ramping things up at the mine.

Daul is leading a group of her neighbors on a hike to see the mine up close.

It’s a short walk through a forest, up a ridge, over the other side, and there it is. The site is a hive of activity. Big dump trucks and bulldozers are hauling sand back and forth. And it is pretty loud.

“It definitely eliminated the sound of chirping birds and rustling,” Daul says. “It’s very sad. It’s heartbreaking.”

Daul’s issue with the noise is not the only concern about the mine.

What fracking has to do with sand mines

Ted Auch works for an environmental group called FracTracker in Cleveland. He’s been traveling around the Midwest and getting an up-close look at sand mining operations.

He says that since 2009, the mining of silica sand has become a billion-dollar-a-year industry. That’s because the sand is used in hydraulic fracturing – or fracking. Auch says the fine sands around the Great Lakes are perfect for fracking.

But the resurgence in sand mining comes with environmental concerns.

“These are sensitive ecosystems. Can you reassemble them? The answer is no,” Auch says. “That’s my big concern is - what the hell are they doing here? Do they have anything for reclamation in mind? It doesn’t look like it to me.”

So is the sand being mined in the state park used for fracking?

Unfortunately, we don’t know. Sargent did not respond to requests for an interview for this story.

Hal Fitch runs the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s Office of Oil, Gas and Minerals. It’s responsible for oversight of sand mines.

Fitch says he’s not sure where Sargent Sand Company’s sand is headed.

But he says Michigan sand is not typically used for fracking.

“Most of the dune sand that’s mined in Michigan is used in the foundry industry,” Fitch says.

An unusual mining permit

Fitch says there’s no way an operation like Sargent’s – in a critical dune area – would get a permit today.

But Sargent’s 400 acres surrounded by Ludington State Park is an inholding – that means they own it outright.

“Of course, mining involves removal of the sand so, to that extent, it’s going to change the landscape. There’s no question about that,” Fitch says. “However, they have property rights that we have to honor and so they have rights to conduct their operations there.”

Fitch says the DEQ inspects the Sargent site periodically. The company has to do things like re-establish sand slopes and re-vegetate areas it has already mined.

He says the company has always complied with the law.