County Commission kills Economic Impact Study of New Mine

January 16, 2015

The January 13th county commission was a real circus. Chairman Wayne Dukes stepped down but not before moving to appoint Nick Nicholson as chair and Jim Adkins Vice Chair. Diane Rowden has been on the commission for many more years than any of the others, but as the only woman and a Democrat to boot, she was ignored. And Diane was the only one to defend our efforts to stop the CEMEX mine from moving forward.
At the previous meeting, the commissioners reached consensus to direct County Procurement Officer Russ Wetherington to contact Harvard-educated economic Dr. Richard Weisskoff to produce an economic impact study of the CEMEX proposal. Weisskoff is an expert and has produced economic impact studies for Levy and Hendry Counties when they were faced with mining applications.
But then Wetherington was told to put that on hold and ask for direction at the next commission meeting. Well, that meeting was Tuesday, and it started out badly. The item was not on the agenda. Diane Rowden moved to add it back in for discussion. When it came up, newly-seated Chair Nick Nicholson read a statement from Weisskoff into the record that stated in part:
“My economic study will examine the state of the County’s economy, its strengths and weaknesses, trends and aspirations, particularly employment, housing, population growth, and job creation…it will then turn to the current issues at hand, and, on the basis of statistical analysis, chart what the future could hold for the economy. This will give the decision-makers the economic tools they need to evaluate the alternatives and help chart the future for their County.”
The chair then stated he would never support such a study; that he did not think we should be telling businesses what to do and that Dr. Weisskoff was biased. He looked around and the commissioners with the exception of Diane Rowden agreed instead to have county planning staff review and report back on an aggregates study produced by Florida Department of Transportation in 2007. This is a far cry from an economic impact study. But clearly, they just do not care to be informed on the potential impacts of this important decision that will affect our future for a long long time.

The DOT study is industry-focused and sets out an agenda to promote mining in Florida without scant reference to Hernando County. It identifies the Miami-Dade “Lake Belt” as supplying 46% of Florida’s needs and analyzes how to respond to a disruption in supply chains there.

It does note that “Mine expansion permits are routinely challenged and seriously delayed” and that “Land use categories commonly associated with local government comprehensive plans may not be compatible with place-based resources such as limestone.” And it notes that “Hernando…has reserves of durable rock…but rapidly sprawling rural development have created permitting and land use conflicts as new mines are planned.” And “The rapidly changing demographics…make mine siting and development a significant challenge for mining companies.”
Past Planning Commission Chair Richard Widmar, whose Planning Commission turned down the mining application by a vote of 4-1 while he was chair,  contacted the commissioners to say that:  “As such, the (DOT) study is not germane to Hernando County’s proposed mining extensions. It does not address extension of mining activity into non-mining Comprehensive Planned FLUM areas, nor the resulting impact to the community, nor the taxable impact to the county and city of Brooksville. The study does not address housing and transit impacts. Cemex in Hernando County is not a major producer in the Florida crushed stone industry. Their representatives are on record as saying that ‘extending mining would not create any new jobs’ and ‘existing jobs would not be affected by a denial of the mining extension’. The impact of extension on the community economy, jobs, housing, transit, and labor income is not clear. The impact on Cemex’ bottom line is very clear.”

The impact on CEMEX seems to be all that the other commissioners (except Diane Rowden) are concerned with. In his haste to kill the economic impact study, Chairman Nick Nicholson failed to get an up or down vote on that study and instead was proceeding to approve a review of the dated DOT study in a crazy bait and switch game until Diane Rowden reminded him that he needed a vote to do so. Well, that vote came and Diane was the only NO vote. It proceeded without any citizens being given an opportunity to speak, despite a reminder from DeeVon Quirolo in the audience. After the vote, we were given an opportunity to comment. Many thanks to the rest of the team: Rosemarie Grubba, Jude Simpson, Larry Simpson, Tina Henize, Mary Ellen Urban, Joe Lemieux and others who all spoke out in support of the economic impact study and against the DOT review. Thanks to Jennifer Sullivan, Dr. Richard Weisskoff of University of Miami and Dr. Stan McGahey of St. Leo’s College for statements they submitted that were read into the record. Thanks to Jill Graddy, Cindy Dietrich, Barbara Bartlett and others who showed up to support our Neighbors Against Mining efforts to stop CEMEX.

During the general Citizen Comment, DeeVon Quirolo also raised the need for a cumulative impacts assessment to the hydrology and geology of the proposed mining parcel, as recommended by Noah Kugler of H20 Geosolutions and endorsed by Dr. Phil van Beynen of USF in comments submitted into the record earlier. There was no response from the commission on this. The comprehensive land use plan requires an assessment that the Peck Sink Watershed would not be damaged as a condition for any development of the area located across the street from the proposed mine for an anticipated a medical arts complex. Why not an assessment of the impacts of mining—a far more invasive activity that experts predict may damage fresh water residential wells and water quality in Peck Sink?  If mining proceeds, it will be too late to undo the damage.

Right now, various state agencies are reviewing the CEMEX application pursuant to the Dec. 9th County Commission meeting that approved transmitting it to them. They have 45 days to respond and then the county commission comes back for a quasi-judicial meeting tentatively scheduled for April 2015. To approve the mining, the commission needs a supra-majority vote of 4 of 5 commissioners. That will be the big decision.

Right now, we need to encourage our commissioners to listen to someone besides their buddies the property owners and CEMEX and “just say no to mining.” Other than Diane Rowden’s sensible input, their votes seem to reflect that they are entirely unphased by all the public opposition to this project and unconcerned by all the impacts and roadblocks this project presents in terms of consistency with the current plan and establishing a need for it. They are clearly marching to a different drummer.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW:

Contact our county commissioners. Let them know of your concerns with the CEMEX mine application to change our comprehensive land use plan to allow open pit industrial mining for 20 years:

* Discourages sustainable tourism and economic growth
* Won’t create one new job
* Compromises the Cortez Blvd. business-zoned corridor
* Across from Bayfront Hospital impacting operations & patients
* Nearby are 150 residents in 50 homes all on fresh water wells
* Property values will drop along with the county tax base
* Surrounds the historic African American Spring Hill Cemetery
* Located downwind of our county seat, Historic Brooksville, home to 7,100 residents, affecting public health with carcinogenic silica dust
* Water quality will decline in Peck Sink Watershed, a special protection area established with county and state funding
* Proposed conveyor belt over Fort Dade Avenue will turn this scenic road into an industrial mining operation
* Endangered & threatened species in the valuable hardwood forest will be out-right eliminated by excavation

Emails are: Nick Nicholson nnicholson@hernandocounty.us
Wayne Dukes wdukes@hernandocounty.us
Jim Adkins jadkins@hernandocounty.us
Jeff Holcomb jholcomb@hernandocounty.us
Thank Diane Rowden for her support: drowden@hernandocounty.us
For more info, contact us at justsaynotomining@gmail.com.

Like our facebook page at Neighbors Against Mining in Hernando County, FL

 

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