By Benjamin J. Gohs, News Editor
The fight to operate a limestone quarry in Norwood Township that ended just over two years ago when mine owner Wayne Wynkoop took his own life is about to begin again.
Kirk Velting, Co-owner of Heritage Resources mining and rip-rap company, purchased the Wynkoop property back in February of this year for an undisclosed sum of money.
“We purchased it in a deal we worked out with the bank and we took over the mortgage,” Velting said. “In his (Wynkoop’s) last go around to get money he refinanced his house and somebody ended up buying it in foreclosure so there is a new neighbor there. I did get the five acres and rental house and 70 acres in the back.”
Velting submitted his site plan and application to operate a limestone quarry on the property back in early March.
According to Velting, while many of the details—like hours of operation—will have to be worked out with Norwood Township officials, he does anticipate using four employees and far fewer than the previously estimated 35 truckloads per day from the property in the beginning.
“How we start out will depend on supply and demand,” he said. “I expect we would be up there for a month or so to dig up what we need and then it would be pretty quiet again with just loading trucks for customers—and then we would roll in with the rip-rap plant to get started with.”
Velting intends to produce both road-grade limestone gravel as well as rip-rap which is stone used to create the foundation for breakwater areas.
Velting began at age 12 working with his father in the construction industry. He left the family business to enter the mining field until his father was ready to retire. That is when he began mining for himself.
“I’ve run quite a few operations. One of the biggest was the Cherry Valley pit. When I started it my engineers estimated it contained 21 million yards,” he said. “And, when we pulled out in 2004 they were loading out 26,000 tons a day.”
Velting added, “We’ve been doing it quite awhile and we do a lot of portable work for other mining operations because we’ll do the stuff that others don’t like to do because it’s hard.”
Velting’s current mine is in Bellevue where he has operated since 2001.
“We also do recycling of concrete and asphalt and we try to do things different from anybody else in that we try to be a green company as best we can,” he said. “We even had people who have designed special equipment that runs on LP gas instead of diesel.”
Norwood Township Planning Commission Vice-Chairman John Laney said the planning commission has received the application packages.
“It is currently being reviewed by our attorney for applicability,” Laney said. “Once he finishes his review we then would take it up either this month (April) or, at the latest, the following month.”
When asked if site plan review by township attorney falls within normal protocol, Laney said “no.”
“The reason the attorney is reviewing this is there is a great deal of similarity between this application and the last (Wayne Wynkoop’s) application,” Laney said. “We need to see if there is enough differences to warrant consideration by the planning commission.”
If the planning commission determines Velting’s application is similar enough to the previous application it can be denied outright.
Velting’s only recourse in such a situation would be to file for appeal with Charlevoix County 33rd Circuit Court.
When asked if he thinks he can get a fair hearing after the trouble Wynkoop had with his mine, Velting said he remains positive.
“They have to listen to what I have to say because it is their job. I think I can prove—if they give me the time—that there are no serious consequences and I want to be a good neighbor,” he said. “The planning commission has to prove that there will be serious consequences under new mining regulations.”
Velting could not cite the rule in question.
History of the Wynkoop Mine
The issue started back in 2005 when Wynkoop applied for a special use permit so he could process and sell limestone gravel off his property.
He rescinded that application and declared that he had a nonconforming use under the township’s ordinance.
In 2007, he applied for and received his permit to operate.
Thus began a back-and-forth with the courts, Zoning Board of Appeals and opponents—some of whom served on the township planning commission and township board of supervisors. He lost the right to mine and then in 2008 regained the right to mine before being shut down again.
In 2009, he submitted his fourth application but to no avail.
Finally, financially ruined and exhausted, Wynkoop committed suicide in his home in January 2001.
A search for violations of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) standards by Heritage Resources revealed no issues.
However, during a search of mine safety records it was discovered that, in 1999, the Federal Mine Safety And Health Review Commission fined Heritage Resources $20,000 after inspectors determined the company was negligent in the death of a mine worker at the Cherry Valley pit. According to the mine safety commission, the 27-year-old miner was killed when he was pulled into a conveyor that did not possess the proper safety guard.
The accident occurred at the Cherry Valley sand and gravel pit on May 2, 1997.
In addition to the civil penalty assessed, the widow of the deceased sued Heritage Resources and received nearly $1.5 million.
“We don’t actually own it (Cherry Valley pit) anymore. We sold it to our partners and pulled out of there in 2004,” Velting said. “That pit went from a sand pit to a gravel pit because we hit a vein. We did not know at that time that we were under mine safety and health regulations and that (the fatality) is how we got introduced.”
He added, “Ever since we have been on good terms with them and have had no major injuries—a few years back a foreman had a heart attack on site but that is out of our control.”
Velting said that, while mining is one of the more dangerous occupations, it can be safe if done properly.
“Sometimes you have to learn the hard way and that was definitely the hard way,” Velting said.
Hearts and minds
Velting said he has sent letters to the property’s immediate neighbors and spoken to at least one neighbor personally.
“Every operation I’ve had I’ve been a good neighbor and got along with my neighbors,” he said. “Everybody is against it at first but once we get going and they see what we’re doing it’s not a big deal.”
Calls were placed to the residences of several people known to have opposed the Wynkoop mining operation. Only one person responded.
Sadie Bartosik, who has been appointed as deputy-clerk to the township board, had verbally opposed Wynkoop’s mine back in 2006.
“I don’t want to be construed as biased by giving my opinion one way or the other,” she said during a telephone interview last week. “Sometimes people interpret that, because you are a member of a board, your opinion has more influence.”
Bartosik did say she was never a member of the Norwood Township Citizens for Health and Safety, a non-profit group formed to fight Wynkoop’s mine.
“There is a lot more than peoples’ opinions involved in considering the application: the road situation, the affect it has on people and their rights to … peace and quiet,” she said. “I’m sure you can appreciate that industrial enterprise like that would influence the environment and the peace.”
Bartosik added, “The same application was reviewed four years ago and it was proved at that time that it would be harmful to the citizens.”
Bartosik lives roughly a half-mile from the proposed mine location.
Velting said he believes some of the apprehension of the opponents to Wynkoop’s mine was that he had been their neighbor and that he had never operated a mine before.
“I hope to prove there will be no serious consequences at the April 8 planning commission meeting,” Velting said. “From what I understand, they have the right to grant me the permit and that’s what I’m going for.”
Velting said his proposed mine will be a minor inconvenience to neighbors at the most.
“They might hear some back-up alarms on trucks but I can’t help that because it’s a matter of safety,” Velting said. “Our DEQ water and air is 100 percent in compliance. I’ll give the neighbors the names and numbers (to corroborate) because it’s all out there.”
He added, “I don’t hide from what has to be done because that makes people in my industry look bad and I try to discourage those types.”
Velting said he would like to get permission to begin scooping up the gravel that is already tore up while he has nearly $70,000 worth of required environmental studies performed on the property.
Velting has also offered to fund the reconstruction of Norwood Road from U.S. 31 to his driveway at 01195 Norwood Road.
“I’ll donate the gravel and I already talked to the (Charlevoix County) Road Commission and I will work with them to get that to a class-A road,” Velting said. “If they give me permission I will get that started—it’s a win-win for everybody.”
The amount of limestone on the property, Velting said, depends upon how deep he will dig.
“If everything goes right … I could be producing material within a month,” he said.
When asked what he plans to do if everything doesn’t go right, Velting responded: “We’ll wear them out. Failure is not an option for me—we’ve got to make a go of this.”
A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday April 8 at Norwood Township Hall on the matter of a proposed mining district ordinance. Proponents claim the measure would increase health, safety and enjoyment of Norwood; opponents claim it is unnecessarily stringent and cost prohibitive.
“I got my application in before they’re going to hold the public hearing on that so I’m grandfathered in,” Velting said when asked about his thoughts on the proposed new regulations.
Velting said, though he lives downstate, he will be in Charlevoix County often and is willing to meet with anyone who has concerns.
“I hope they realize that I have a lot of experience in this business and I want to be a good neighbor to the best of my abilities,” he said.
Velting said he can’t be sure of a time-line due to all the unknowns involved. But, he did say he is amenable to donating the property to a church camp or land conservancy once he has removed the limestone.
“I’m not into big development,” he said. “I don’t foresee that happening.”
For more information go to www.portableriprap.com.