July 14, 2014
The Hernando County Planning Commission denied the CEMEX application for a comprehensive land use amendment in a 4-1 vote today. They found mining to be inconsistent with the current plan and trasmitted that message to the county commission. Commissioner John Scharch was the lone No vote. The county commission will consider the application and their recommendations on August 12th.
The room was packed with attendants, including CEMEX employees who arrived early and took up half the seating. But there were lots of opponents there as well, and the overflow attendance was directed to an area of the lobby and a grand jury room where they watched the hearing on television until seats opened up in the hearing room. CEMEX attorney Darryl Johnston brought on five experts who testified on various aspects of the issue from blasting impacts and tremors, property values, sinkholes, water use, reclamation.
Twenty-seven citizens spoke out in opposition to the proposal on a range of issues. Chairman Widmar invited Neighbors Against Mining representative DeeVon Quirolo to open the public comment period. She reviewed the five adjacent uses and listed 7 chapters of the comp plan that were all inconsistent with the application and recommended that the commission also find it inconsistent. Tina Henize addressed the value of the upland hardwood forest habitat and the endangered species that depend upon it. Jill Graddy addressed property values, citing four studies that show they will be negatively affected. Mary Ellen Urban spoke as an adjacent neighbor on the impacts to residents. Evelyn and Joe Pijanowski spoke about the impact mining would have on their rental properties. Rosemarie Grubba addressed the need to protect the Fort Dade Avenue canopy and pressed for details on where a tunnel to deliver the lime rock to reach the CEMEX property further north would be built without affecting the road. Dave Curtis addressed the economic needs of Brooksville and the value of supporting nature tourism. Cynthia Dietrich described the health impacts of the air pollution that silica dust causes. Joe Lemieux questioned the need for mining at that location and showed how lime rock is available throughout the county, state and country and there is less demand now.
Trustee Alyce Walker spoke passionately about her opposition on behalf of disturbing the African American Spring Hill Cemetary and named early Hernando County leaders and family members as well as World War I veterans who are buried there. Vienesse Black cited many veterans who are buried there and demanded that the cemetary be protected. Stephen Davey was concerned about the impact on his fresh water well and his health from the air pollution. Vera B-Wells spoke about the blasts causing cracked windows at her home on Sam C Road. Buford White, a former miner, spoke about how the noise and dust impacts his life. Anita Stewart spoke to the need to protect the Peck Sink Watershed and the Floridan Aquifer from contamination. Diane Oriza spoke about how she works at home and has many teleconferences that would be disturbing if blasting were occurring nearby.
Paul Douglas, representing the NAACP, promised a “game changing” report from the national office that would be against the mining as well. Doug Ponticos, who has studied the ancient Brooksville Ridge as a doctoral student at USF, said this area of the Brooksville Ridge has been used since before the Seminoles were here for agriculture; it is valuable rich hammock land meant for people, not to be excavated. Jennifer Sullivan reported that the air pollution from the mining was a major concern; we don’t need a Chemical Mountain here.
Nancy Good testified that her property is on Cortez Boulevard and she believes both it and the hospital are too close by the proposed mining site. Brian Moore spoke of his concerns of the impacts to the natural world if excavation were allowed and supported tourism efforts instead of mining. Michael Wells also spoke as a nearby resident who has experienced cracked windows from the mining blasts and said he’s a nurse and concerned with the atmospheric pollution as well. There were other speakers as well, including one who supplied CEMEX with tires and a few CEMEX employees who supported more mining.
Neighbors Against Mining attorney Ralf Brookes took the long view and discussed the residential/business corridor and how it was appropriately sited between Spring Hill and Brooksville and should not be compromised. He reminded the commissioners that since there is no state oversight any more, the decision was theirs to recommend denying transmittal and keep this area largely residential.
Staff attorney Joe Di Novo explained that the role of the commission is to weigh the economics, compatibility with adjacent uses, and conservation issues as well other factors brought up against the current land use plan for consistency.
Commissioner Riley asked about the truck traffic and was concerned with the 20 year impact on the economy. Vice Chair Communale asked what is best for the citizens and raised lots of questions, including wanting a geologist to answer some of them, which CEMEX provided on the spot. He also asked about available reserves of lime rock in the county, but CEMEX refused to provide that information, citing it as proprietary and added that opinions of experts are just that–opinions.
Commissioner Cohen felt that the applicant hadn’t met the burden of proof and that property values would decrease and impact both the hospital and residents.
Chairman Widmar asked whether what is good for CEMEX is good for Hernando and said that they did not need that land to mine. “If you could, you’d mine under the city of Brooksville.” He recommended that the land swap with the county go through regardless of his application rather than be dependant upon it and noted that with all the staff issues raised, and the dust problems, it was not compatible. He suggested that the land would make a great greenway.
Commissioner Scharch was a true supporter of the mining and peppered the hearing with questions meant to elicit favorable responses from CEMEX and then tried to introduce a motion to approve the mining but needed help from staff to frame it correctly. It died for lack of a second.
Cohen then moved to find the application not consistent and it was seconded by both Communal and Riley and passed with only Scharch voting no. Now the application will be heard before the Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday, August 12th, 2014. Mark your calendars now to be there and speak out!
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