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Residents challenge Pasco approval of 7 Diamonds limerock mine

By C.T. Bowen
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times (2013) Residents are challenging Pasco County commission approval of a new limerock mine for Seven Diamonds LLC . The new mine is adjacent to the Lago Verde mine, shown here, west of U.S. 41, which also is subject of pending litigation. The mines are about three miles south of Hernando County.

NEW PORT RICHEY — A mining operation in north-central Pasco defies the county’s own land-planning rules by failing to protect nearby agricultural, residential and environmentally-sensitive property, two residents charge in a pair of newly filed lawsuits against Pasco County.

"A limerock mine using heavy explosives up to three times per month for 25 years is not a condition that can coexist in relative proximity to residential uses’’ without negatively affecting the residents, states a lawsuit challenging Pasco County’s Nov. 28 approval for the Seven Diamonds mine located on the west side of U.S. 41, three miles south of the Hernando County line.

Attorney Jane West of St. Augustine filed the suits Dec. 28 on behalf of Robert Howell, who lives near the mine in the Shady Acres neighborhood, and Myles Friedland, a physicist who said he conducts experiments and sensitive measurements on his property along U.S. 41. Howell and Friedland also are the plaintiffs in a pending suit challenging the county’s 2013 approval of another mine, Lago Verde, directly adjoining the Seven Diamonds site.

The second suit filed Dec. 28 is called a request for writ of certiorari. In it, Howell and Friedland ask the circuit court to act as an appeals court and overturn the Seven Diamonds decision since the commission acted in a quasi-judicial manner.

David Goldstein, chief assistant county attorney, said Tuesday the county would have no comment because it had not been served with the litigation.

Seven Diamonds LLC is a firm tied to Dr. James Gills, prominent eye surgeon and developer whose companies are frequent campaign contributors in commission races. After a nearly five-hour hearing Nov. 28, the company won approval, with only Commissioner Jack Mariano dissenting, to excavate 15 million cubic yards of limestone from about a quarter of its 285-acre site.

After mining about 7 million cubic yards of sand, the company plans to use explosives to retrieve subterranean limerock from as far down as 90 feet below the water table. Limerock is a raw material used in road construction and other concrete construction.

The hearing featured sometimes-emotional testimony from almost two dozen people who said Lago Verde’s limerock blasting rattled their homes, cracked tiles and walls and provoked fearful fits among an autistic child and a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. They challenged Seven Diamonds’ experts who testified the mine operation would not lower property values nor affect the residents’ quality of life.

"It is an incompatible use with surrounding areas, is inconsistent with the comp plan – which is supposed to protect the rural characteristics of the neighborhood – and is inconsistent in the most flagrant way possible,’’ West said in an interview.

The lawsuit contends the commission approved a heavy industrial use on agricultural land while ignoring the potential impact on nearby homeowners or on the county’s own efforts to establish a protected wildlife corridor amid environmentally sensitive land.

Last year, Seven Diamonds rejected overtures from Pasco to acquire its property through the county’s Environmental Land Acquisition and Management Program.

PAST COVERAGE: Pasco okays limerock mine.

PAST COVERAGE: Proposed mine owners reject preservation pitch.