Pending Issues with CEMEX mine application for Comprehensive Land Use Plan

March 14, 2015

See below our latest comments filed with the Hernando County Planning Dept. regarding the outstanding issues on the CEMEX mine application.  On this post, I did not enclose the maps, studies and other attachments referred to but they were filed with the county even though each document is already part of the official record.

County reply

PENDING ISSUES
On the CEMEX CONSTRUCTION MATERIALS FLORIDA LLC
BK LAND TRUST
BMM LAND TRUST
Application for a Comprehensive Land Use Amendment
Hernando County, Florida (CPAM 1102)

Submitted to:

Hernando County Planning Department
20 North Main Street
Brooksville, FL 34601

Submitted by:

DeeVon Quirolo,
Resident of Hernando County &
President, Nature Coast Conservation, Inc.
Neighbors Against Mining Project
222 East Liberty Street
Brooksville, FL 34601

March 12, 2015
This document will review the Discussion of Issues presented in the Hernando County Planning Department Staff Report dated December 15, 2014. It seeks to address whether the applicant has met the burden of establishing that this application is consistent with the established goals, objectives and policies of the Hernando County Comprehensive Land Use Plan and the minimum requirements contained in Florida Statutes Chapter 163, Part II (The Community Planning Act). It supplements comments submitted to Hernando County on July 2, 2014.

1. Future Transportation Corridors. There exists a county-owned collector road that runs north to south through the property that the staff report notes “would be interrupted by the proposed mining activity.” CEMEX proposes to include this road within the mining footprint such that portions of that road will be excavated as deep as 45’ according to the 20 year mining plan. (See attached).

The county has required the applicant to provide all required roadways in accordance with the “Future Functionally Classified Roadways Map” as part of the mining reclamation requirement. However, according to the record of testimony, the applicant has agreed only to lay a bed of clay at the bottom of the excavated pit, not restore the area to its previous elevation. There is a steep slope—a 100 foot drop–from north to south on this parcel. It is not in the county or the public’s best interests to allow this to occur to a county-owned roadway. The question of whether the road will be fully restored to its previous elevation as a functional road remains unresolved based on the record.

In addition, the proposal to connect CR 491 (Citrus Way) to California Street will create a new road immediately adjacent to several residential properties. These property owners have not been provided notice of this proposed change to the property abutting their backyards. Many are unaware of this specific aspect that is being considered.

2. Historic Cemetery Impacts. The Historic African American Spring Hill Cemetery, recently registered with the state as a historic cemetery protected by state cemetery laws, is entirely surrounded by this parcel with access via a dirt road from Ft. Dade Ave. It contains seven generations of Hernando pioneers & World War veterans. CEMEX’s 20 Year Mining Plan proposes to mine on two sides of the cemetery. CEMEX has not yet demonstrated that the proposed buffer of 250’ from the edge of the mining to the nearest grave is adequate to insure that the impacts of blasting, wave vibrations, and other excavation activities will not create nested insecurities in the land that would damage the historic vaults and endanger the safety of visitors to it. This is still an active cemetery where visitors go to bury their dead or visit the cemetery. The buffer proposed for along Cortez Boulevard is 600 feet. Surely this state-registered historic cemetery deserves at least as much protection and with all due respect, much more, in view of the potential for damage to the cemetery and inappropriate nature of open pit industrial mining around it. The burden on the applicant to insure that mining is consistent with and will not damage this existing historical use has not been established. Cemetery trustee Alyce Walker has filed written comments opposing it and has testified in opposition to it on two occasions. This issue has not been resolved and remains a barrier to approval of this application.

3. Mining setback from SR 50. The concept of allowing an open pit industrial mine at the gateway to Hernando County’s seat–historic Brooksville– is inconsistent with the existing business zoning of the corridor and too close to the 7,100 residents of that city who will be exposed to the chronic dust pollution, noise from blasting and visual blight that even a 400 foot buffer from the nearest mining berm or existing trees cannot mask.

The City of Brooksville has the right of first refusal on this corridor and has already installed fire hydrants and run water in anticipation of the business/residential zoning in the FLUM. This is a radical, inconsistent departure from that anticipated use. The county would not be a good neighbor to impose this change on the five hundred eighteen city residents and property owners and over five hundred county residents and property owners who have signed petitions opposing mining at this location. They represent the tip of the iceberg of all city and county residents who oppose this proposed amendment because it is in the wrong location and inconsistent with adjacent uses. This is an unresolved issue.

4. Impact to wildlife. We recommend on-site mitigation. Off-site mitigation to compensate for the loss of the rich natural habitat and abundant wildlife it supports at this location is a poor substitute for simply protecting it by creating a conservation corridor here and making this forested northern part of the parcel off limits to mining. In addition, the comments of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Southwest Florida Water Management District both noted guidelines for dealing with such vulnerable natural resources, which must be followed by the county prior to determining that outright habitat loss is a legitimate resolution to this incompatible use of the land.

As noted in staff comments, the comprehensive land use plan clearly outlines the value of the Big Hammock, SHCA’s and large areas of functional wildlife habitat and outlines goals, objectives and policies to insure their protection, e.g. Goal 1.06. Policy 1.06B(3): Prohibit development activities that are inconsistent with agency rules regarding habitat protection and Goal 6.01 Protect Wildlife and Conserve, Appropriately Use and Protect Wildlife Habitats noting that the potential exists for the natural resources on-site to provide habitat and support species considered to be important to Hernando County.

Again, the burden of proof lies with the applicant to establish consistency with the existing comp plan policies and regulations. Chapter 2: Mining Objective 1.10B reads, “For all land added to the mining category, protect ecological features and natural resources from the adverse impacts of resource extraction.” Policy 1.10(B)(1) notes the requirement of an environmental review to determine the suitability of the proposed land use category. This plan amendment is inconsistent with Objective 1.10B to protect ecological features and natural resources from the adverse impacts of resource extraction, which in this case is complete removal of the habitat. It clearly violates the policy stating that “Resource extraction may not be allowed in areas of habitat known to support viable populations of threatened and endangered species” and in “other affected areas” containing habitat of species of special concern.

The report prepared for CEMEX by Flatwoods Consulting Group indicated there are 246.3 acres of Woodland, Hardwood Hammocks or Freshwater Marshlands and another 129.6 acres of Wooded Rural for a total of 375.9 acres of dense habitat of a total of 573.47 acres sought to be mined. The remaining pastureland contains many large trees. The wooded habitat would be destroyed if mining were approved at this site, including the open space of the pastureland and its trees. The survey Listed Species Survey Report indicated that this land is known habitat for 8 Species of Special Concern, 6 species listed with the stronger designation of Threatened, and one listed with the highest level of protection as Endangered in addition to numerous other animals.

These woodlands provide ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, runoff prevention by filtering rainwater into the aquifer and support crop pollinators and other insects. Per the above-cited policies, mining violates this section of the comprehensive land use plan due to the presence of dense canopy, three ponds and freshwater marshes that provide habitat known to support threatened and endangered species and species of special concern.

In addition, the report notes that “Several wildlife species were observed… that include white-tailed deer, wild turkey, nine-banded armadillo, black racer, eastern gray squirrel, red-shouldered hawk, pileated and downy woodpecker, and several species of passerine birds including American robin, Northern cardinal, blue jay, ground dove and mourning dove.”

The best way to protect these habitats and species from the adverse impacts of mining is to make the northern portion of this parcel where the canopy exists off-limits for mining. This is an unresolved issue.

5. Wetlands impacts & 6. Karst features: This parcel is contained within the Peck Sink Watershed (see map).
The county and state have expended approximately $4.5 million taxpayer dollars to protect water quality in the Peck Sink Watershed. Hydrogeologist Noah Kugler of H20Geosolutions submitted comments into the record indicating that there is a steep slope of over 100’ from north to south on this parcel. He notes that “The limestone typically moves large volumes of water quickly underground even in the absence of large karst features.” Excavation would induce potential impacts such as lowering the water table and affecting fresh water wells of residents in the area and flooding Peck Sink thereby degrading water quality in this special protection area. “A decline in water levels within the mine area could lead to significant reduction in moisture at the plant root zones and alter hydroperiods, particularly north and west of the mine area.” See attached expert comments, charts, maps and qualifications of Mr. Kugler which have been entered into the record. Mr. Kugler also summarizes the USGS study entitled “Potential Impacts of Quarrying Stone in Karst—A Literature Review” that has been entered into the record, to further define his concerns.

Dr. Philip van Beynen of the University of South Florida Department of Geography/Environmental Science and Policy Programs agrees. He notes that “The borehole analysis technique used to investigate this site is widely accepted by those in the karst scientific community to be unsuitable for investigating karst aquifers.” See his attached comments agreeing with Mr. Kugler that further study is needed before mining is approved.

Ordinance 94-8 the Groundwater Protecting and Siting Ordinance of Hernando County citing Chapter 187, F.S. the State Comprehensive Plan, “requires the protection of aquifers from contamination.” The intent of the ordinance is “To protect the quality of water obtained from existing and future community public supply wells, in addition to county-wide groundwater resources.” Section 6 Prohibitions with Wellhead and Special Protection Areas specific prohibits “9. Mining and borrow pits.”

Chapter 7 of the comprehensive land use plan requires that the Brooksville Regional Medical Center Planned Development District to provide evidence that Peck Sink will not be negatively impacted by development. Why hasn’t a similar requirement been applied to this application?

CEMEX has not met the burden of proof here. The weight of credible expert evidence that mining would endanger public health by impacting residential wells and reducing water quality in the Peck Sink Watershed has not been refuted by CEMEX at this point. Mining is an incompatible use of this area due to these impacts that violate existing policies and regulations. This is an unresolved issue.

7. Potential impacts from mining and blasting. Bayfront Health Hospital is just across the street. Mining would produce chronic aerial pollution to patients and staff, outside and via hospital air duct systems. The blasting, vibration waves, and tremors will disrupt sensitive equipment and delicate medical procedures, and endanger patient health and recovery. Not an appropriate location for a mine and the proposed buffer of 600 feet is inadequate to prevent damage to adjacent uses.

See comments and qualifications of Dennis Clark, mining expert, attached. He notes that blasting activities will endanger the hospital. “Even with a 600 foot buffer, dust and fumes, noise and vibration will be not only noticeable but could be problematic. In terms of blasting, wind direction, temperature inversions and vibration durations and frequencies could have a major impact on the hospital’s operation. Here we are not concerned with a rattling of dishes or the displacement of a picture frame, but the integrity of the operation of the hospital. In terms of criteria not only air-over pressure and peak particle velocity are important but accelerations of ground motion and their effects must be taken into consideration. Neither State nor Federal blasting criteria directly address the needs of acceleration limitations of impacts to the infrastructure of the hospital, which must be made. This is due to the fact that the large majority (99%+) of structures near mining/quarry operations are either residential or commercial so peak particle velocity is considered sufficient. Likewise, it is only recently that dust and fumes from blasting operations are being addressed in any Federal blasting regulations and State programs that are being over-sighted by federal programs.”

Plus there are 150 residents living in 50 homes immediately adjacent to the proposed new mine and many of them are outraged that the county is considering changing the existing rural residential zoning to allow open pit industrial mining. The record reflects strong public opposition in this long-established residentially-zoned community. It is a radical deprivation of the right to quiet enjoyment of private property to change the CEMEX parcel that is currently zoned agricultural to mining. It’s just the wrong use for this area—too close to residents and an inadequate buffer of just 100 feet.

The lives of nearby residents have been diminished by the current mining operations further north of this parcel and they expected the mining to be completed, rather than expanded closer to their homes. The residents have endured: noise and blasting, dust, lights, vibration waves and tremors that causes damage to homes, air pollution from silica dust that threatens their health, environmental impacts, habitat loss, changes in the community character and unsightly landscapes that have reduced their quality of life and been destructive to the character and integrity of the existing residential environment. All of these impacts can be expected to worsen and increase over the next 20 years if the land use plan is amended to allow more mining in this area.

This is contrary to Chapter 1 Objective 1.01H Protect Established Residential Area and Provide for Development of Historically Platted Lands and Policy 1.01H(2) Protect existing and future residential areas from encroachment of incompatible uses that are destructive to the character and integrity of the residential environment. You can expect legal challenges if the residential property rights are infringed.

Furthermore, Mr. Clark notes that “Before any permit is issued, citizens have the right to express objection to the mine/quarry operation and to understand fully what protection he or she will have that ensures the safety of their person and property. Currently the citizen/community is unsure of the existing permit conditions and how any criteria, including blasting, protect them or their property.”

A review of past five years of blasting records from CEMEX for the mines located further north leave many unanswered questions. There are repeated events that exceed legal thresholds of blasts and wave velocities and the thresholds appear to have been manipulated to avoid the appearance of a violation. Some of the blasts have been corroborated by residents who have been knocked to the ground during such blasts and distriburbed. (Cynthia Dietrich, personal communication. She has a monitor in her yard. Buford White—also has a monitor in his yard). The State Fire Marshall says he has never inspected these reports and that CEMEX is required to self-report violations.

This information leads us to conclude that CEMEX has not demonstrated that mining and blasting in the future is consistent with and will not adversely impact the existing residential community and nearby residents in the City of Brooksville. The fact that CEMEX says they have not had numerous complaints is because no one thinks it would make any difference when the fox is guarding the hen house, so to speak. No records of complaints they have received has been produced. Look at the record of opposition now that the county is seeking input.

8. Property Values. Changing the land use plan from residentiaI/agricultural to allow 20 years heavy industry as an interim use is the most radical change possible and will destroy the character of this area for well beyond 20 years. At the Hernando County Planning Commission hearing and subsequent Hernando County Commission hearings on CPAM 1102, dozens of residents and property owners have spoken out or submitted written comments opposing this project due to a predictable loss in property values.

To do so would be inconsistent with the Hernando County Comprehensive Land Use Plan. Chapter 1: Future Land Use: Policy 1.01H(2) as noted above.

There are over 50 residences that are home to over 150 residents in the immediate area and hundreds more in Brooksville that would be negatively-impacted by mining activities because their property values will be reduced. At previous county hearings, former realtor and Brooksville resident and property owner Jill Graddy submitted substantial competent published studies that provide evidence into the record confirming that property values will likely be diminished if mining is allowed. They were also submitted in my earlier comments.

1. “An Assessment of the Economic Impact of the Proposed Stoneco Gravel Mine Operation on Richland Township” dated 2006 by George Erickcek, Senior Regional Analyist for the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research found that a mine in this area of Michigan, “Will have a significant negative impact on housing values. Once in full operation, the gravel mine will reduce residential property values…by $31.5 million dollars. In other words, the chance of the gravel mine not having an adverse effect on housing values is one in a thousand.”

2. Erickcek’s 2006 study also cites a previous study by Nelson, Genereaux and Genereaux entitled “Price Effects of Landfills on House Values” published in Land Economics, 1992 that stated: “Recent research shows that property value effects may be significant up to two or three miles from such sites.”

3. A third study entitled “The Impact of Surface Coal Mining on Residential Property Values: A Hedonic Price Analysis” by Austin Williams, published in Pursuit: The Journal of Undergraduate Research at the University of Tennessee studied data from each county in 13 U.S. states that had mining. Their conclusions were as follows:
“For a county of 1000 square miles with a media residential price of $76,658, the addition of one surface mine decreases housing value by $261.10. The overall loss to the average sized county with 30,446 housing units would amount to $7,949,359.

4. A fourth study, entitled “ Property Valuation Model Effect of Traffic Noise on Property Value” by Mahmoud El-Gohay, published in 2004, found that “The primary finding of this study was the negative relation between the market value of a property and the noise level emitted from the nearby freeway. A statistically significant model with 7 independent variables explained 70% of the variance in the market value of the property. “

CEMEX presented a study of property values during previous and current mining activities in Hernando County which failed to establish a baseline PRIOR to mining in order to reach their conclusion that no risk of property value loss exists. This is a flawed study for the reason that it does not show the impact of mining on property values prior to mining because all properties were in an area of current mining. Plus they are incapable of producing even one published expert study showing that property values will not be impacted because the experts all conclude that mining reduces property values. It is common knowledge that no one seeks to live near a mine. All realtors know that. CEMEX has failed to provide competent evidence as to the potential impact on property values, but you have the expert nationally-accepted studies we have submitted. Mining is an encroachment and is incompatible because it destroys the character and integrity of the residential environment and reduces property values. This is a major unresolved issue.

9. Loss of wildlife habitat. see #4 above. Create a conservation easement on the northern portion of this parcel that is off limits to mining to protect the habitat in situ. Commission a cumulative environmental impacts assessment to more fully understand the ecological consequences of mining at this parcel prior to any approvals or recommendations for approval.

10. Impact to cultural resources. The letter from the Florida State Division of Historical Resources dated August 15, 2011, in response to the Cultural Resource Assessment Survey (CRAS) is flawed. That survey completely ignored consideration of the historic African American Spring Hill Cemetery which is entirely enclosed within this parcel and subject to great destruction if mining is permitted. Therefore, the state review based on this flawed survey is incomplete in that it does not consider protecting this registered state historic cemetery. Nor did the recent state review by that agency update its source materials. To eliminate consideration of the cemetery, even though it is private property not owned by the applicants, is a major oversight.

11. Canopy road impacts. As noted in the staff report, “The Fort Dade Canopy Road is a unique resource protected by County Ordinance.” It is an irreconcilable conflict to allow construction of an industrial conveyor belt over that protected road without impacting the trees and drivers with dust, noise, runoff and the visual blight that will destroy this popular scenic part of Hernando County and turn it into an industrial facility. Plus the loss of trees to install the industrial-sized foundations leading up to the conveyor belt will violation the letter and spirit of the Canopy Road Ordinance and will be unsightly as well.

The County Canopy Road Ordinance is clear: “No tree shall be removed for the purpose of access to adjacent properties.” CEMEX has already marked many trees in the area and begun piling up land on its northern border in anticipation of your approval. The trees appear to be slated for removal. Others have been fined up to $1000 for removing one tree from this protected road. Why would the county grant such an easement? How is this in the public interest? We don’t even have a written description or engineered drawings of it at this point which would be required if one were seeking even a county permit for relatively minor home renovations. It is also unclear if this conveyor belt will be close enough to infringe on the historic cemetery grounds and if, once built, it will diminish the peace and quiet of that historic cemetery.

How can the county planning staff recommend a blatant violation of this ordinance in order to find that this issue of canopy road impacts has been resolved?

12. City of Brooksville Utility Service Area. Five hundred eighteen residents and property owners in the City of Brooksville have signed a petition opposing mining in this location. It was submitted into the record at a previous meeting along with other signed petitions from county residents, just the tip of the iceberg of those opposed to the new mine. Many organizations and individuals have gone on record opposing this. The public comment record contains 897 pages of written comments and studies that have been submitted since last spring. 27 individuals spoke out at the Hernando County Planning Commission meeting in July, 2014, and 35 individuals spoke out at the December 9th , 2014 Hernando County Commission meeting. Each hearing lasted for over four hours.

• 10 Organizations have filed Statements of opposition:
• About 50 Individuals & Businesses Have filed Written Comments Opposing it:
• Petitions opposing the CEMEX mine proposal were signed by 1,169 people and presented
• Over a dozen professional studies have been submitted into the record by speakers.

Many Brooksville residents are concerned with the health issues from the chronic atmospheric dust generated by open pit industrial mining if allowed for the next 20 years at the doorstep to the city. The dust can release a variety of heavy metals, silica dust—a known carcinogen, and aspergillis fungus that can be absorbed into lung tissue, causing severe health problems. Asthma rates for Hernando County are higher than in other counties due in part to past mining activities. The leading federal study on health impacts of silica dust is part of the record. The toxicology report from CEMEX fails to consider that over 20 years, low levels of pollution become chronic. This pollution will affect every resident of Brooksville for a period of 20 years, leading to health impacts such as asthma that are preventable if we don’t allow this mine to be located at this site.

All of the lime rock at the new mine will be processed at the CEMEX cement plant that has been fined over two million dollars by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection for violating air quality standards through mercury and dioxin emissions. Instead of replacing the obsolete coal burning plant, CEMEX is now burning wood to bring down the harmful emissions. Brooksville’s 7,100 residents would be downwind of this chronic pollution and it would endanger public health. Who would knowingly choose to inhale polluted air?

A second major concern of citizens is the economic impact of mining at this location. For too long, Hernando has been economically depressed; mining has been good for only a select few. It’s time to do better. This project would create no new jobs for 20 years, while CEMEX and the land owners would be greatly enriched. It is a bad deal for the county and for the City of Brooksville. The business corridor along Cortez Boulevard would be compromised by the presence of an open pit industrial mine, discouraging other businesses from moving into this area and spurring economic development.

As anticipated in the land use plan, it’s time for Hernando County—part of the Nature Coast– to move beyond the stone age to a sustainable future. The county is investing in economic growth via tourism, thanks to our abundant natural and historical resources but you can’t have it both ways. Savvy tourists seeking a Nature Coast experience are not drawn to a mining town. Don’t compromise your economic development efforts.

13. Reclamation and redevelopment strategies. To consider 20 years of mining as an interim use defies logic in this instance. The highly damaging ecological effects of open pit industrial mining will permanently impact the future use of this land and greatly reduces the potential to achieve an integrated development plan later.
After 20 years of mining, CEMEX will be responsible for reclaiming the area which will encompass a huge excavated pit. This is a false hope.

Hernando County’s past history of successful reclamation is questionable and negligible at best and provides no confidence that this site will be adequately reclaimed, even if a bond is posted to fund it. Under the best of situations, reclamation is a far cry from restoration. It generally means slope it to prevent sliding, get rid of invasive exotics, and plant some trees. The complex composition of the plant communities and wildlife habitats never returns, precisely because it cannot under the conditions left from the mining. There are better and higher uses for this land.

The current plan for commercial and residential should remain as it is. CEMEX has not demonstrated a need for more mining at this location and in fact, has other sites further north that are already permitted. According to the annual mining report released last year, Hernando County had 431.5 acres of land being actively mined in the past year. CEMEX had 218 of those acres in 7 locations throughout Hernando. There are other sites where CEMEX can mine; this is just the wrong location. CEMEX has not submitted evidence demonstrating the need to mine at this site. In fact, the mining report that is part of the record shows one of their many sites in Hernando is not active and they are selling off stockpiles of accumulated products, indicating that there is no shortage of lime rock at this time nor increasing demand. Overall, Hernando is not a critical provider of lime rock in the state, where the Lake Belt region of Miami-Dade dominates the market according to the State DOT Aggregates Study provided into the record in lieu of an economic impact study. CEMEX has not met the burden of establishing a need to mine at this location nor a capacity to insure that it can be adequately reclaimed within a 25 year window.

Conclusion:
The Planning Commission was correct when it voted down this comprehensive land use plan amendment by a vote of 4-1 in July, 2014. It fails the test of being sustainable under each of the three pillars of sustainability (environmental, economic and social).

CEMEX has not met the burden of demonstrating that it is compatible with the current land use plan. There are many unresolved issues concerning existing adjacent uses that include a hospital, 150 nearby residents in rural/residentially-zoned homes, the Cortez Boulevard business corridor, the City of Brooksville, the historic African American Spring Hill Cemetery, the valuable canopy forest habitat that is home to many threatened and endangered species and species of special concern, and Fort Dade Avenue—the county-protected canopy road. There is no justification for allowing this to be an interim use.

It fails to create even one new job over 20 years, reduces tax revenues for Hernando County and diminishes our efforts to create sustainable green jobs promoting the Nature Coast tourist experience. It fails to protect the health, safety and welfare of the people of Hernando County by extending the life of a coal burning plant and allowing the carcinogenic silica dust of the actual excavation to diminish public health near a major population center over an extended period of time.

The impacts to adjacent uses and public roads are major obstacles that cannot be adequately mitigated. The proposed amendment is inconsistent with several chapters, policies and objectives of the existing comprehensive land use plan as noted in earlier comments and herein. It defers for another twenty years the goals of Chapter 14: Economic Development by allowing mining for another 20 years in a new, inappropriate location that is earmarked for commercial/residential. If this application is denied, the county would be in a stronger position to successfully diversify the local economy, produce jobs and bring economic growth based on tourism. The location of a mine at this site would discourage that type of beneficial growth and development, in addition to consideration of the potential growth of new jobs if the parcel were developed for commercial/residential within the next 20 years as it now stands.

We hope the county staff report reflects these concerns presented to you by the many constituents who have stepped up to provide you with reputable studies, information and perspectives for this important decision that will have a great bearing on our future growth and prosperity.

 

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