2017-01-01 / Insight

CHANGING THE LOCAL LANDSCAPE

Solar panels, gravel mining and the Karegnondi project
BY JEFF HOGAN
810-452-2640 •


Gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May to mark installation of the first solar panels in Lapeer were (left to right) Lapeer City Manager Dale Kerbyson; Irene Dimitry, president of Business Planning and Development for DTE Energy; Lapeer Mayor Bill Sprague and Carla Gribbs, regional manager for DTE Energy. 
Photo by Jeff Hogan Gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May to mark installation of the first solar panels in Lapeer were (left to right) Lapeer City Manager Dale Kerbyson; Irene Dimitry, president of Business Planning and Development for DTE Energy; Lapeer Mayor Bill Sprague and Carla Gribbs, regional manager for DTE Energy. Photo by Jeff Hogan LAPEER COUNTY — The rolling terrain of Lapeer County was impacted by two major infrastructural projects in 2016, while another bid to mine gravel has stirred the angst of many Metamora-area residents and kept attorneys busy with competing lawsuits.

Grappling about gravel

The southern third of Lapeer County, particularly the Dryden Road corridor from M-24 to Van Dyke continued in 2016 to be a hotbed of activity stemming from an interest by at least two major aggregate companies to start new gravel mine operations in Metamora Township.


A front-end loader in May carried a 66-inch diameter pipe on Klam Road in Oregon Township as construction progressed in 2016 on the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline through Lapeer County. 
Photo by Krystal Moralee A front-end loader in May carried a 66-inch diameter pipe on Klam Road in Oregon Township as construction progressed in 2016 on the Karegnondi Water Authority pipeline through Lapeer County. Photo by Krystal Moralee American Aggregates of Michigan (AAOM) and Ajax Paving have expressed an interest to begin major gravel and sand mining operations on a portion of the D-bar-A Boy Scout Ranch and neighboring property. Many area residents, business owners as well as public officials in the Village of Metamora, Metamora Township and likewise in Dryden are concerned that hundreds of gravel trains traveling through their communities every day would ruin the quiet, rural atmosphere and drive down property values as a result.

Metamora Township officials in 2016 filed suit against AAOM and Ajax Paving in Lapeer County Circuit Court, arguing a Michigan statute they contend was written by and for gravel companies does so by running roughshod over the interests and concerns of local municipalities and its residents.

AAOM and Ajax filed a countersuit against Metamora Township, asserting it has no authority to challenge a state law and block its interest to lease land from the Boy Scouts of America and mine gravel from the sprawling property.

The legal squabble is before Judge Nick Holowka who is hearing the case that is anticipated to end up before a state appellate court depending on the local ruling expected to come in 2017.

Solar panel fields

Far less controversial, construction was underway all summer and fall by contractors working for DTE Energy to install nearly 200,000 solar panel fields at two locations in Lapeer.

Installed on property owned by the City of Lapeer, one phase of the solar panel project was constructed on what’s known as the DeMille site bordered by I-69 to the south, Thumb Correctional Facility to the west, DeMille to the north and an area roughly edged by the Meijer store property to the east.

The other site on the east side of town is roughly bordered by Turrill Road to the south, Cliff Drive to the west, DeMille Road to the north and behind property that fronts Saginaw Street to the east.

Some work on the estimated $100 million project will need to be completed in the spring on what is the largest solar panel project east of the Mississippi River that will generate enough alternative energy to power 9,000 homes and businesses.

In addition to the solar panels installed by crews from South Bend-based Inovateus Solar and J. Ranck Electric of Mt. Pleasant, workers also put up dozens of new tall utilities poles along DeMille Road and McCormick to hold new cables to transport the solar-generated energy to a DTE Energy substation on Imlay City Road (across from Walmart) where it was connected to the electric grid.

Karegnondi Water Authority

Thousands of Lapeer County homeowners and motorists were inconvenienced for much of the year by the construction of a Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA) water pipeline from Lake Huron in southern Sanilac County through several Lapeer County townships on its way west to serve Genesee County municipalities.

The landscape in northern Oregon Township is forever changed by the construction of a water treatment plant near Marathon and Stanley roads. The plant is expected to take another year to complete, possibly by next June. The treatment facility will treat water from the KWA pipeline for all current and future Genesee County water customers, which includes 17 townships, cities and villages, representing about 150,000 people.

To provide the electrical service to power the treatment plant a substation was built nearby and huge aluminum poles were installed along Marathon, Mt. Morris and Peters roads to hold the power lines used to transport the electricity to the grid.

The 77-mile, 66-inch diameter pipeline through central Lapeer County caused numerous road closures or detours that were often a nuisance to area residents and emergency crews responding to fires or medical calls. There also many reported calls of motorists getting their vehicles stuck and damaged when they disregarded road closure signs and tried to traverse the area anyway.

The project was originally estimated to cost $300 million, but Genesee County Drain Commissioner Jeff Wright estimates the final bill will be closer to $285 million.

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