Tampa Bay Times: Regional planning council to study impact of Cemex mining expansion near Brooksville

February 25, 2015

http://www.tampabay.com/news/localgovernment/regional-planning-council-to-study-impact-of-cemex-mining-expansion-near/2218928

Barbara BehrendtBarbara Behrendt, Times Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 24, 2015 4:22pm
BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Commission, which previously had been deeply divided on the issue, agreed unanimously Tuesday to pay for a study to answer questions about how the proposed Cemex mining expansion will affect the county’s economy.
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There were several key differences, however, from what had been discussed earlier by the commission.

Rather than spending tens of thousands on the economic impact study, this report will cost $2,500. And instead of it being done by someone known for doing a study in Levy County that recommended against mining, or one that focused on the need to mine lime rock, this time the work will be done by the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Commission.

“I don’t want a debate on a bias on one side or the other,” said commission Chairman Nick Nicholson. “I believe this is the best alternative.”

The discussion about the need for an economic impact study has been going on for the last couple of months. The study was first encouraged by residents opposed to changing the county’s comprehensive plan to allow mining for 20 years on 573 acres currently designated for residential use between Fort Dade Avenue and Cortez Boulevard, just west of Brooksville.

Commissioner Diane Rowden took up the cause at the Dec. 9 commission hearing, when she cast the sole vote against transmitting the mining proposal to the state for review — the first of several steps that are required before a final vote on the change is taken by the commission.

On Tuesday, Bruce Day, planning director for the Withlacoochee Regional Planning Council, and planner Lauren Yeatter explained how they could put together a report for about $2,500 that would look at a variety of factors that would help define the long-term impacts of a decision to expand mining adjacent to the existing Cemex Construction Materials Florida mine on land owned by some of the county’s most influential business leaders.

Some of the factors that could be considered include the direct or indirect creation of jobs, the amount of capital investment that would go into mining and the gross county product produced. Rowden said it was important that questions also focus on how the mine would affect tourism and what impact it might have on the county’s ability to attract business.

Mining opponents have pointed out that having a mining operation on the expanded site could deter commercial interests from wanting to build on the commercial strip planned to front on Cortez. Others have said that there should be consideration given to the quality of life, the mine’s impact on the health of Hernando residents and the potential for property values to decline.

Former Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bob Widmar told commissioners that having an economic impact study wasn’t “a nicety,” but rather a requirement of the county’s comprehensive plan. He was a sitting planning commissioner when the advisory board heard the Cemex application and recommended that the County Commission deny it.

DeeVon Quirolo, who has headed up efforts by a group known as Neighbors Against Mining, said what the commission needs is a true cost/benefit analysis that focuses on “the best economic plan for the county, not for Cemex.”

The county has received responses from several state agencies regarding the Cemex application to change the comprehensive plan. None identified any significant issues with the expansion proposal. That set in motion a clock now ticking down to a final decision by the County Commission.

Assistant county administrator for development Ron Pianta said that the planning council has said it can meet a target date of March 27 to complete the economic study. A mitigation plan that county officials have been negotiating with Cemex should also be done by that date.

The county has tentatively set the final public hearing on the proposed land-use change for April 28.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com

Regional planning council to study impact of Cemex mining expansion near Brooksville 02/24/15 [Last modified: Tuesday, February 24, 2015 4:21pm]

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