A few months ago I posted information about a fight in Ganges Township, Allegan County, where the township is seeking to regulate sand mining but a CAFO that is proposing to mine a large amount of sand is claiming it is exempt from any township regulation on mining under the Right to Farm Act. The claim, made by the Scenic View Dairy CAFO near Fennville is that because it uses sand as bedding for its dairy operation, the township ordinance regulating sand mining is preempted by the Michigan Right to Farm Act. Based on a letter sent to Apparently the Michigan Department of Agriculture is supporting the CAFO’s claim that they would not need a permit to mine sand for CAFO use, even if the sand were to be shipped to other CAFOs all over the state. The operation has apparently defied enforcement efforts by Ganges Twp directing it to cease mining operations, and the township has been forced to take them to court.
A couple weeks ago the case was heard in by an Allegan County judge, and I have received second hand information about it which I approximate below, but there apparently has been no reporting on this issue at all. The judge reportedly declined to halt the sand mining by the CAFO while the case was going on, based on his belief that mining will not cause any irreparable harm because it won’t send anyone to the hospital, and the sand is just going around the corner and being used on the farm (this has to be one of the most bizarre interpretations of irreparable harm I’ve ever heard, especially since mining is a pretty darned irreversible impact!!). The judge apparently was open to the possibility that the Right To Farm law prohibition on local units of government regulating any farming activities does apply to sand mining at a CAFO, questioning why the township would not have submitted its mining regulatory ordinance to the Michigan Commission on Agriculture for them to review and sign off on, as is required under the Right to Farm Act (wouldn’t this mean that EVERY township or county ordinance regulating ANYTHING even remotely associated with farms or agriculture must go through a review by the Ag Commission in order to be considered valid???). In addition, there is reportedly a request to the Attorney General for clarification of the application of the Right to Farm preemption to sand mining.
As the folks in Ganges Township have pointed out, this unbelievably broad interpretation of the Right to Farm Act could have implications for ANY agricultural activity – while the Right to Farm Act discusses the “land”, as anyone familiar with Michigan resource laws knows the state have severed rights between the surface of land, where agriculture occurs, and mineral rights. So where does one stop? Would manufacturing of tractors be allowed because the operation uses a tractor? And how does one prove without any regulatory oversight that the sand is in fact intended for or actually only being used at the CAFOs of this owner, or does this allow this operation to sell sand to ALL CAFOs with no need for a permit, regardless of how much is used?
As a side note, Scenic View Dairy CAFO also has had water discharges according to the DEQ website and is supposed to get a permit, but as of March 9th the state was still waiting for its application.
I hope that if anyone on this list has more complete or accurate information they will post it – this is an appalling situation, but we don’t have direct access to court papers or reporting about this mess, and so some of this may be incomplete or inaccurate!!
Anne Woiwode, State Director, Sierra Club Mackinac Chapter
109 East Grand River Avenue, Lansing, MI 48906
517-484-2372 phone, 517-484-3108 fax email@example.com