Hernando Phoenix: To mine or not to mine, that is the question or is it?

February 24, 2015

February 23, 2015 | By Dorothy Famiano
Starting with the fact that the Hernando County Board of County Commissioner’s primary function is to oversee and guide the budget, ordinances, resolutions and establish policies which govern the County to insure the health, safety and welfare of the citizens one would assume this means the current as well as the future of Hernando County. Right?The people of Hernando County are entitled to know what is going on, and most of all your right to peaceful enjoyment, economic growth, environmental protection, clean drinking water from natural wells and pure air are willing to be sacrificed for a radical 20 year Comprehensive Land Use plan change allowing mine expansion, blasting, carcinogenic chemicals released into the atmosphere and destruction of our potable water sources; all destroyed when not a single new job will be created.

This is probably the biggest decision this commission will make that will change the character of our community forever. The residents of Hernando County must stand up and demand a professional experienced in economic impacts to give them the facts and real numbers that matter.

Moving forward with an economic impact study was agreed upon by the BOCC at the end of the hearing that took place December 16, 2014. Russ Weatherton emailed the contractor and told him to go ahead and move forward with a true Economic Impact Study. A few hours later another email was sent halting the directive in the previous email. In the second email Russ Weatherton told the contractor he had been advised by the County to stop the study.
The burning question here is WHY? What happened in those three or four hours that made the BOCC change it’s mind. Could it be because the contractor that was approved did a study in Levy County and found that leaving the land for public recreational use would be in the best interests of the County and it’s citizens as well as create more financial benefits than allowing a mining operation to take over the County?

Is it possible that the BOCC would put the best interests of a foreign corporation based in Mexico above the resident’s as well as current and future business endeavors ahead of insuring the health, safety and welfare of Hernando County residents? Has the Hernando County BOCC decided to overlook the fact that they are sitting where they are because the same people that voted them into office work hard and pay taxes to fund their salaries?

Why is the BOCC ignoring the negative impact the CEMEX expansion will cause? It appears that due to public outrage the County has decided to have the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council create an ‘impact statement.’

Here’s the rub. There is a big difference in an economic Impact Statement and a true Economic Impact Study. The BOCC knows this and it appears to be a transparent attempt to whitewash the whole matter and disregard every citizen’s right to peaceful enjoyment, economic growth, environmental protection, clean drinking water from natural wells and pure air.

The Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council, while qualified to do this “economic impact statement,” (and much more), is merely plugging numbers, presumably from CEMEX, into a standard model and letting the model spit out resulting numbers, sort of like counting socks to see if you have even numbers each different color.

What is not being proposed — and could not be done in a week for $500 — is to independently verify the projections by CEMEX. What is not being done is to determine the validity of the standard model for this analysis. What is not being done is to test the model in similar analyses. What is not being done is looking at other variables that could affect the economic impact of the project. What is the County going to have to pay for road maintenance? What is the County going to have to pay for increased law enforcement costs? What about additional EMS runs? Environmental costs? It seems that the Region’s thinking is that the model would work for a mine in midtown Manhattan or for the same mine in rural Hernando County.

But the major omission is that there is no consideration of the costs of the project. For one half of a permanent job and whatever limited tax revenue that will come from the project, how many jobs and what tax revenue from other sectors, particularly tourism, will be lost as a result of this project?

Who’s going to pay for the reclamation of the land twenty something years down the road when we have a 500 acre parcel of wasteland sitting there?

Taking those factors into account would be a true economic impact statement.

If this plan change goes through there is a very real possibility that Hernando County will be an economic wasteland all for CEMEX and the five property owners own selfish motives.

If you’re not quite up to speed on the pending issues surrounding the proposed mining operation you may want to continue reading…

Interim Use: CEMEX Construction Materials Florida is seeking a radical change the comprehensive land use plan for 738 acres on Cortez Boulevard from agricultural to mining and commercial to use the property over the next 20 years for open pit industrial lime rock mining.

Reclamation: Reclamation is a false hope if we look at all the other sites around Hernando where CEMEX has mined and left the area blighted. The CEMEX South Brooksville plant is an abandoned eyesore and has become a blighted area, just one of several past mining sites in Hernando. We have seen no lease agreement so we don’t know who is responsible for the reclamation. These owners or their heirs?? Or are your tax dollars going to pay for it while the five property owners and Cemex become rich to the detriment of the County?

Residential impacts: The mining activities will damage adjacent residential properties home to 150 people. Damage may include cracks in homes, sinkholes from the percussion of the blasts and contamination of local fresh water wells. It will degrade quality of life from the perpetual noise and the ear-piercing beep of heavy equipment that will be heard.

Proximity to Brooksville: The blasts will be heard in nearby downtown Brooksville, the county seat home to over 7100 residents, over the next 20 years.

The chronic carcinogenic silica dust is downwind of the town. This is in the wrong location on the main business corridor into Brooksville and should not be sited so close to so many people. Over 500 residents have signed petitions opposing this.

African American Spring Hill Cemetery: It will damage the historic African American Spring Hill Cemetery located within this parcel of land and disturb visitors to the cemetery. A buffer of just 250’ is proposed at this currently operating cemetery where visitors come to honor their dead that include many veterans and seven generations of Brooksville pioneeer; this is too close. The blasting will damage the vaults. Excavation down 45 feet is planned on two sides of the cemetery which will create a steep incline and erode the land around it. .

Property Values Reduced: This project will reduce property values for over 50 homes and is incompatible on Cortez Boulevard, the business corridor leading into Brooksville, with over 50 businesses in the immediate area that hope this business-zoned area will grow. The plan to create berms are an ecological abomination.

Hydrogeology: According to the Southwest Florida Water Management District map, this parcel is located within the Peck Sink Watershed–a fragile karst system. Hydrogeologists have stated that this Special Protected Area is vulnerable to groundwater contamination from blasting and excavation of a steep incline from north to south that once removed by mining, could cause sinkhole activity and lower the water table–compromising fresh water wells of residents in the area and generating flooding that would degrade water quality in Peck Sink.

Hospital Pollution: The community is concerned with patient and staff exposure to the air pollution and
possible interruption of delicate equipment and operations at Bayfront Health Hospital located directly
across the street. CEMEX proposes a 20-year industrial mine that would generate chronic air pollution
from silica dust–a known carcinogen. It is too close to the hospital and historic Brooksville.

Habitat Loss/Endangered Species: This new mine application would allow removal of a large tract of wild forest that is highly rated as a strategic conservation area that is prime wildlife habitat for endangered wood storks, threatened species such as bald eagles, Florida Black Bear, gopher tortoises and other species of special concern. CEMEX doesn’t think they should have to mitigate for this loss.

Canopy Road Conveyor Belt: The northern border along Fort Dade Avenue has been designated a protected canopy road by the County’s Canopy Road Ordinance. CEMEX proposes to build a conveyor belt over the canopy road to transport the lime rock from the new mine to an existing mine north of that road. The canopy would be damaged and the view turned from beautiful to industrial. Why would the county grant an easement to do this?

Cement Plant Pollution: CEMEX was cited by the EPA for mercury and dioxin emissions at its cement plant further north of this site which will receive and process all the lime rock from this new mine if approved. It is the 5th dirtiest coal plant in Florida according to the EPA. Why would the BOCC allow the life of this obsolete coal-burning plant that creates pollution that threatens the health of everyone in the area keep going?

No demonstrated need at this location at this time. There is no driving need for more mining in Hernando. CEMEX has other mining sites in the county and one location that is a future mining site. The annual county mining report indicated that at one site, mining has ceased to sell off existing stockpiles.

CEMEX has other sites where they can mine. This is a bad location—too close to too many people in Brooksville, surrounding residents, and fronting the business corridor into town.

Here’s the kicker folks – No new jobs for 20 years. the proposed change benefits only 5 property owners and CEMEX, a foreign corporation that will lease the land for a 20 year, highly extractive purpose without generating one new job, while congesting our roads with heavy trucks, destroying native habitat and discharging dust that fills the air with

Hernando’s Economic Future: Our community is at a crossroads. Mining at this location will deter environmentally-sustainable growth that the City of Brooksville and Hernando County desperately needs.

Nature tourism is a far better way to build a strong economic future but mining will diminish it and reduce the potential of other economic opportunities. You can’t have it both ways; tourists are not drawn to a mining town. Plus it will reduce tax revenues for Hernando County for 20 years when we could be building a strong economy.

What you can do
• Email the county commissioners to let them know how you feel about the difference between an Economic Impact Study and an Economic Impact Statement and their failure to inform Hernando County Residents as to what is really happening here. Let them know Hernando County is where you live work and play and you are not standing for what they are doing. Send your comments to:Planning@hernandocounty.us. In the subject line, put CEMEX CPAM 1102 so it goes into the official file. Copy the commissioners or email them directly at: wdukes@hernandocounty.us,nnicholson@hernandocounty.us, jadkins@hernandocounty.us,dianerowden@hernandocounty.us, jholcomb@hernandocounty.us

You can reach Dorothy Famiano by emailing dorothyfamiano@gmail.com or call 217-274-5075.

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