Tampa Bay Times: Ex-planning official: Get true economic impact study on Cemex mining proposal

January 22, 2015

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/ex-planning-official-get-true-economic-impact-study-on-cemex-mining/2214719

Barbara BehrendtBarbara Behrendt, Times Staff Writer

Thursday, January 22, 2015 11:28am
BROOKSVILLE — From 2006 to 2014, as a member of the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission, Robert Widmar studied county land-use rules, weighed testimony and made recommendations to the County Commission regarding everything from rezonings to changes in the county’s comprehensive plan.

Old habits die hard.

Widmar’s term on the planning commission ended in December, but that didn’t stop him from penning a letter last week as a private citizen to the commission. He urged it to change direction and seek a true economic impact study before considering the pending mining expansion application from Cemex Construction Materials Florida.

Several weeks ago, the County Commission gave its consent to do an economic impact study to analyze whether mining more than 500 acres currently earmarked for residential development along Cortez Boulevard, just west of Brooksville, would be the best use of the land. But after the public discussion, behind the scenes, commissioners raised questions about the expert they were considering, stopping the study from moving forward.

Since that expert had done a similar study of mining in Levy County and reached the conclusion that leaving the land unspoiled for public recreational use would reap more financial benefits than allowing mining there, questions of bias arose.

So at the urging of county Commissioner Wayne Dukes, commissioners voted 4-1 to have the staff analyze whether a 2007 Strategic Aggregates Study for the Florida Department of Transportation could work as an economic impact study.

Widmar analyzed it, and his answer is a resounding no.

He explains in his three-page letter that the study identifies the need for crushed stone and details production and import of the materials over the last several years. He then summarizes the key points in the study and the recommendations.

Then, he notes that, while it “is a great commentary on the effect of aggregate mining to Florida’s economy,” it “is not germane to Hernando County’s proposed mining extensions.”

It does not address moving mining into areas not targeted in the county’s comprehensive plan and doesn’t address the impact of mining on the community, on taxes, on transit and on housing. Cemex officials, he notes, have said that no jobs would be created by the expansion and none lost if an expansion is not granted.

“The impact of extension on the community, economy, jobs, housing, transit and labor income is not clear,” he wrote. “The impact on Cemex’ bottom line is very clear.”

Widmar, who served as chairman of the commission when it recommended denying the mining expansion last year, says that mining in the proposed area is wrong and “deprives the county and city (of Brooksville) of potential upside in a recovering housing market for a period of at least 20 years.” It also erodes the possibility of a regional commercial center coming to the area, a marketplace that would produce revenue for the county, he said.

“Please consider supporting an economic study for expansion into potential urban land and not just a study of aggregate mining,” Widmar concluded.

“We’re grateful for him sharing his informed opinion,” said DeeVon Quirolo, who has been actively fighting the mining expansion along with Neighbors Against Mining. “He accurately points out the obvious, (that this study) is in no way comparable to an economic impact study for Hernando County.”

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

Ex-planning official: Get true economic impact study on Cemex mining proposal 01/22/15 [Last modified: Thursday, January 22, 2015 11:27am]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

doriza January 22, 2015 at 4:56 pm

County commissioners are not expected to be economic experts, so if they are going to rule on longterm changes to our comprehensive land use plan they should seek qualified, unbiased professional resources on our behalf. It’s likely a study such as that would uncover valuable data for us to use about the best path for everyone in the county, not just one side or the other.

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