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Deny Brooksville mine expansion, planning commissioners say

BROOKSVILLE — For more than an hour and a half Monday, the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission listened to two dozen residents who had a litany of reasons why an application to expand a rock mine on State Road 50 should be rejected.

They were worried about destruction of wildlife habitat, water and air contaminants, negative impacts on tourism, destruction of the tree canopy, damage to the Spring Hill Cemetery, falling property values and the unsightly pit they expect to see left behind when the mining is done in 20 years.

Attorney Darryl Johnston, officials from Cemex Construction Materials Florida and experts representing owners of the 730 acres west of Brooksville made their pitch. They argued that the project met the county’s land use requirements, posed no safety hazards and would benefit the community. They responded to numerous questions from commission members and the public.

In the end, planning and zoning commissioners voted unanimously to recommend denial of the application to the County Commission. The county requirement to protect the residential nature of communities influenced their decision, as did questions about whether the county needs more mining land when so much already is set aside for lime rock extraction.

Planning commissioner W. Steven Hickey didn’t like the idea of leaving a 600-acre hole in the ground after mining is complete.

"That bothers me,’’ Hickey said. "I won’t be here to see that hole ... I don’t want that to be my legacy.’’

The last two efforts to change the Cemex mine land use in the comprehensive plan and rezone the property did not fly.

Three years ago, when the issue landed with the County Commission, two commissioners were opposed. Under rules at the time, that stalled the project and applicants withdrew their request.

Since then, the County Commission has changed its rule requiring a super-majority vote. Now a simple majority of three votes out of five is enough to approve a project.

The application to change the comprehensive plan is the first step for mine owners. If the county commission approves it, they move on to rezoning.

About half of the acreage involved would be used for new mining operations under a lease that would last 20 years. The ownership group includes influential business leaders, including former mining executive Tommy Bronson and real estate broker Robert Buckner.

Mining would occur eight feet above the water table and could go down as deep as 60 feet. The only protected animals found on the site were gopher tortoises, which would be moved following state rules.

The land would be returned to use, possibly as residential, in the future.

Continuing mining operations would provide needed raw materials for construction, extend the availability of mining jobs and continue to provide millions of dollars in tax revenue to the county, the school district and other government entities, applicants said.

The arguments from thousands of county residents who have signed petitions, sent emails and appeared before the commission also were largely unchanged.

Residents reported rattling windows from blasts, and concern that deer, fox, raccoons and other wildlife they see around their homes would disappear. Others worried that dust in the air would worsen breathing conditions or that mining operations would put their drinking water at risk.

Those who bought property nearby relied on a future land-use map showing residential property in the area, not mining, argued resident Tina Henize.

"Very few would have anticipated’’ a mine near their home, she said. "This is an absolutely inappropriate land use.’’

DeeVon Quirolo, who has lead the fight along with organizations including Neighbors Against Mining, Nature Coast Conservation and the local Sierra Club, reminded commission members of the strong community opposition to the plan. It’s inconsistent "with all of the adjacent land uses,’’ she said, including residential development, the historic Spring Hill Cemetery and the Bayfront Health Brooksville hospital across SR 50 from the site.

The applicant’s experts said the mine blasting is governed by specific rules. Records show that it does not violate those rules, they said, and there are no health threats from the mine.

Quirolo had counter arguments.

Public records showed that Cemex violated the blasting levels with little state oversight and that mercury had been released from Cemex operations at levels above acceptable levels.

"Overall,’’ she said, "it’s a bad deal for Hernando County.’’

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>>Previous Coverage:> Residents express skepticism over proposed expansion of mining near Brooksville>>

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Deny Brooksville mine expansion, planning commissioners say