BROOKSVILLE — Dozens of people packed planning and zoning commission chambers Monday to protest a local mining company’s plan to expand operations on 730 acres along State Road 50 and Fort Dade Avenue.
Three hours later, they left happy after winning the first round of a battle to block Cemex Construction Materials Florida from getting the necessary comprehensive plan amendment needed to begin the lengthy process of obtaining permits.
The board voted 4-1 in determining such a use by Cemex would be inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. The vote came despite expert testimony from Cemex officials and none from the residents’ side.
Planning and zoning chairman, Robert Widmar, reminded the audience that the matter now goes before county commissioners next month and they can overturn the planning and zoning recommendation of denial.
But for now, the critics are pleased with the opening victory.
“I don’t care what they (say), I don’t want Cemex anywhere near Hernando County,” said resident Viennessee Black, who worried about the fate of the historic Spring Hill Cemetery situated next to land proposed for mining.
Steve Davey, who has lived 35 years off tree-lined Fort Dade Avenue, was convinced that toxins released from mining so close to his home would affect his health and that his water well would be contaminated.
“You have to weigh what is in the best interests of this entire county,” Davey told commission members.
Widmar thanked Cemex for its presentation and parade of “experts” saying that mining operations would not affect the health, safety or welfare of the citizens. But he didn’t buy the company’s argument that it needed to expand to remain economically viable for the next 20 years.
“As far as economics go, you don’t need that land,” Widmar told company representatives.
Widmar said Cemex gave the same argument two years ago when it attempted to amend the county’s land use map but then dropped the plan. If Cemex had its way, it would mine under the city of Brooksville to get at the limestone, he said.
“You have not proved that mining is the best use of this property,” Widmar said.
Planning member Thomas Comunale said he would have liked to see more expert testimony backing up people’s claims but added that sometimes experts even have differences of opinion and cited the large scientific divide over the controversial global warming theory.
Only one planning and zoning member, John Scharch, voted for the land use change and recommended the Cemex application. But even he was lukewarm about that decision.
“To say that I’m incredibly conflicted would be an understatement,” he said.
But Scharch said the planning staff provided enough safeguards in a list of standards for the expansion so as to protect residents.
Several people feared the blasting would drive them crazy and that the vibrations would be so intense that their homes would shake. Others said they didn’t want to see the destruction of animal habitat and trees and that once word gets out that mining is increasing, tourists would stay away in droves from Hernando County. Some feared that mining would release dangerous toxins into the air that could cause health problems.
Cemex officials said residents’ fears are groundless and gave a lengthy presentation defending the project.
Attorney Darryl Johnston, representing Cemex, reminded the board it must look at fact and scientific evidence when making its decision. He also shot down several of the residents’ concerns, such as getting sick from the mines or trying to find another place to mine or that tourism would grind to a halt.
“We’re still going to be the Nature Coast when mining continues,” he said.
Johnston said this community has a rich heritage in mining activity and he said it was “disingenuous” for some residents to suggest that the county change just because they moved here.
Joseph Dinovo, assistant county attorney, also told the board that its decision must be consistent with the county’s comprehensive plan. Cemex was seeking a change in zoning from residential and commercial overlay to mining and commercial overlay.