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Cemex works to ease fears about new mine

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Published:   |   Updated: July 13, 2014 at 11:42 AM

— Worries about loud booms, vibrations shaking homes and rock trucks thundering along tree-lined Fort Dade Avenue all are unfounded.

That is what representatives of Cemex Construction Materials Florida told Hernando Today during a recent stop at the newspaper office to delineate the extent of the proposed mining expansion up for consideration by planning and zoning commissioners Monday.

Cemex will ask the commissioners for a recommendation to amend the county's future land-use map to expand mining operations on 730 acres fronting State Road 50 and Fort Dade Avenue, across from Bayfront Health in Brooksville.

That requires a change in zoning from residential and commercial to mining and commercial.

Regardless of the planning and zoning commissioners' decision Monday, the request goes before Hernando County commissioners the following month.

And despite Cemex's assertions to the contrary, critics remain unconvinced and are united in their efforts to block the expansion. They have started a social media campaign to pack the commission's chambers Monday.

Their concerns include the possibility of detrimental environmental effects, contamination of drinking water, loud blasting noises, a loss of trees and devaluation of nearby properties. Some have said it will cause sinkholes to open up in the area.

“It's being blown up way out of proportion, probably due to misinformation,” said Roger Sims, a partner with Holland & Knight, which represents Cemex.

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James Morris, regional environmental manager with Cemex, said the operation will be controlled and coordinated so that nearby residents and businesses will not experience ill effects.

Of the 730 total acres included in the request, 573 acres will be designated for mining. Of those 573, about 330 acres actually will be mined, he said.

Cemex plans to use the property during the next 20 years for mining activities that will include blasting and removal of some of the existing pine forest adjacent to the historic Spring Hill Cemetery. That, too, has angered residents.

The mining would be done in phases. Once completed, owners of the property along that stretch plan a commercial/residential development in the mining pit.

Bayfront Health Brooksville, which is directly across from the proposed mining site, got on board with the plan after company representatives convinced the medical facility there would be more noise emanating from vehicles traveling along State Road 50 than from the mining.

Morris said the closest structure to any blasting would be 250 feet away, and a larger-than-required perimeter also will help block noise.

Critics fear large 10-wheeled trucks will haul rock from the property over or beneath Fort Dade Avenue to the plant.

But Morris said Cemex plans to install a conveyor belt leading from the new area to Cemex's existing processing plant three miles away, north of Fort Dade. No rock-hauling trucks will travel State Road 50 or Fort Dade Avenue, he said.

The proposed process is known as “dry mining.” The area's water table will not be affected, Morris said, and therefore existing water quality will remain as-is. Additionally, he said, such operations do not cause sinkholes.

He anticipates blasting would occur once or twice weekly, with the blasting site shifting as resources are exhausted.

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Morris said 65 percent of the mining would be done via excavating and haul trucks, and the remaining 35 percent will be by blasting. And thanks to new technology, blasting noise is considerably lessened, he said.

Hernando Today contacted the Department of Environmental Protection and the Florida Fire Marshal's office, but neither agency was familiar with any new technology designed to lessen the noise of blasting.

Cemex would alert residents when blasting was scheduled to take place so they would not be surprised by any sudden noises, Morris said. And neither homeowners nor businesses people would sense vibrations, he said.

Even if there were complaints during the blasting, Cemex would visit those homeowners and find a solution, Morris said. Also, Cemex is offering to have an independent contractor come into a person's home before mining begins to do a visual inspection of the contents. The company would fix any damage done by mining.

“We take blasting complaints seriously,” he said. “We would take care of it.”

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Some people have complained that the mining would affect the nearby historic Spring Hill Cemetery. But Morris said the cemetery, already in disarray and subject to vandalism, will be improved. He said Cemex has offered to repair it, has consulted with an archeologist and perhaps might help get it on the historic register.

Sara Engdahl, director of communications for Cemex, said the expansion project would not create new jobs but would preserve the jobs of 215 employees now working at the Fort Dade plant.

Because almost all the rock on the Brooksville Ridge has been removed, Engdahl said, it is imperative Cemex secure new resources to prevent a “negative impact to our operations,” including jobs of existing employees.

Engdahl said the expansion also would benefit businesses associated with the mining operation, including suppliers and truckers.

Engdahl said the tree canopy along Fort Dade Avenue would not be touched. Motorists on State Road 50 wouldn't see any trees felled for the project because most of those that would be removed are at least 1,000 feet away from the road, she said.

And blasting levels, she said, will be below the threshold that would cause any structural damage to nearby homes.

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Meanwhile, a group of county residents and property owners calling themselves Neighbors Against Mining (NAM) have mobilized to oppose the Cemex expansion.

“The mining activities have the potential to damage property in the area from cracks in homes to sinkholes from the percussion of the blasts, in addition to degrading our quality of life from the perpetual noise that will be heard in downtown Brooksville for the next 20 years,” according to a Neighbors Against Mining news release.

The proposed project will lower property values and “reduce the kind of environmentally sustainable growth that Brooksville desperately needs,” the group states.

DeeVon Quirolo, a member of NAM, said Thursday the expansion would discourage tourists from coming to Hernando County.

“People don't come to mining communities to enjoy nature,” Quirolo said.

Quirolo said she can hear the blasting from the existing Cemex plant from her home in Brooksville when the window is open. She said she is not convinced new technology will lessen the noise.

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If Cemex is successful in getting the county to amend its future land use map, it would be one of the biggest mining expansions in years, said Paul Wieczorek, county senior planner.

The map change is the first step in the operation. Before mining takes place, Cemex would have to revise its application and return it to the planning department for review before moving forward to planning and zoning commissioners and the county commission.

Then the project would have to go before state review agencies before again going back to county commissioners.

Cemex tried to expand its operations in 2011, getting as far as bringing the proposal before the planning and zoning commission, which directed the company to hold a public workshop to gauge reaction.

The project was placed on hold until now, mainly because of resident complaints and issues with the property's owners.

Sara Engdahl, Cemex director of communications, said past concerns have been worked out and people need not worry.

“Blasting is an understandable concern from the neighbors and surrounding businesses,” Engdahl said. “But blasting would take place at levels that would not cause structural damage, and it is strictly enforced by federal and state agencies.”

Vibrations emanating from the site will be minimal and below levels that would cause any damage to water wells, she said.

Engdahl said the original proposal from 2011 is essentially identical and — if approved — mining operations would begin in 2019 and continue for 20 years.

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According to the applicant's original narrative, Cemex mines have been in continuous operation in the area for more than 75 years, “serving as a source of employment for the county and providing a product (rock aggregate and cement) to support growth in the local and regional areas of Florida.”

The land along the State Road 50 tract contains viable deposits of Suwannee limestone, the principal source of hard rock aggregate material, according to Cemex.

Only three other areas in Florida have such a grade of aggregate; those are found in Dade, Lee and Sumter counties, the report said.

“The source of material from Hernando County serves a regional need for acceptable road building aggregate,” the Cemex narrative said. “In addition, limerock is used as a basic component in the production of cement.”

Rather than come out with a clear approval or denial of the expansion, a county planning staffers' report recommends the planning and zoning commission review the proposed amendment to the future land-use map, conduct a public hearing and determine whether to recommend it to the county commission, which then would send it off to the appropriate state agencies for review.

Cemex hired the consulting firm of Fishkind & Associates to do a fiscal and economic study of the mining company's Hernando County operations.

That report, released in June, found Cemex generated the following revenue for Hernando County:

♦ Cemex has contributed $50.5 million to the Hernando County budget over the last 20 years.

♦ The present net value of Cemex's fiscal benefit to the county is $21 million.

♦ Cemex's property tax payments to the county during the next 20 years is expected to total $48.6 million.

♦ Cemex's property taxes for schools should total $48.9 million during the next 20 years.

♦ Cemex's total economic output for Hernando County is $59.1 million per year, with wages of $12.5 million from 294 jobs.

The planning and zoning meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Monday at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St. in downtown Brooksville.

To view the entire agenda, visit http://hernandocountyfl.iqm2 .com/citizens/

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