BROOKSVILLE — State environmental regulators have announced they intend to issue a permit granting Cemex Construction Materials Florida a 25 percent increase in capacity for its newest cement kiln.
The notice by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which was published last week, details how kiln number two at the Cemex South Brooksville Cement Plant, with a 2,800-tons-per-day capacity, would expand to 3,500 tons per day.
The application comes on the heels of Cemex seeking a permit to burn alternative fuels and an application to change Hernando County's future land use map to designate 573 acres between Cortez Boulevard and Fort Dave Avenue from residential use into the mining category.
The flurry of expansion activity comes just weeks after Cemex successfully argued that business was so slow that its equipment was less valuable and therefore the company deserved a tax break.
The resulting determination by the Value Adjustment Board stripped $160 million in property value off Hernando County's tax rolls and will mean the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars in property tax revenue.
Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek said he plans to challenge the value drop in Circuit Court. He opposed the value reduction because Cemex did not provide sufficient documentation to prove such a dramatic decrease.
In 2010, Cemex had the highest taxable value in Hernando County at $359 million, more than 4 percent of the county's overall taxable value, according to the property appraiser. After the adjustment, that value dropped by $160 million, giving the top spot to the Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative at $264 million.
According to the latest permit for the kiln capacity expansion, Cemex closed the two kilns at its Brooksville North facility in 2008 citing economic reasons. The kiln that is the subject of the latest application began operation in November 2008.
DEP reported that Cemex "has provided reasonable assurance that the operation of the proposed equipment will not adversely impact air quality.''
Late last year, DEP fined Cemex $525,000 for emitting mercury at amounts as high as 10 times the allowable limit. The company has since implemented a series of changes in the kilns to bring the levels into compliance.
The efforts to increase kiln capacity and increase the area for mining "are intended to increase capacity and mining reserves at the site,'' according to Cemex spokeswoman Sara Engdahl. They "are not related to an increase in sales at the facility. Production at the facility is down from 2010.''
She said the increased capacity for kiln No. 2 is not intended to increase volume at this time.
"Currently, Cemex owns four cement kilns in the greater Brooksville area. Two kilns are shut down. One is idle and the other is operating only two thirds of the time due to current market conditions,'' Engdahl said in an e-mail. "Cemex has applied for a permit to increase production capacity on the operating kiln.
"The permit will bring the operating kiln to the capacity that the kiln was originally designed to handle. The process rate increase for the kiln will allow the existing equipment to produce at a higher production rate which will give us a more efficient operation,'' Engdahl said.
She called the current efforts "a long-term plan.''
"Because the application process for increasing capacity at a kiln is lengthy and complex, Cemex is taking appropriate measures to ensure our Brooksville facility is prepared for when the market returns to more favorable conditions,'' she said.
As for the expanded mining land, she said the company wants to build up its reserves of raw materials and extend the length of the mining operation.
"The mining expansion will not result in an increase of volume, but rather restock our reserve,'' she said.
County Commissioner John Druzbick said he had questions about the drop in the Cemex value when he heard the case as a member of the Value Adjustment Board last month. He initially voted against the value decrease but later reversed himself after legal advice that the board couldn't go against the recommendations of a special magistrate.
He said that he could play devil's advocate for the company's recent efforts to expand cement production. The debate was for last year's value, not the current amount.
"They were fighting not for what they are doing this year but how bad they were last year,'' Druzbick said. "Values are always a year behind.''
The Cemex application to expand the mining area does not hint at any economic downturn for the industry but instead cites the "strong demand and need for product, both aggregate and cement.''
The application notes, "the countries which have exported cement to Florida are now using their own product, thus limiting what is available to Florida consumers.
"As a result, existing cement mills in Florida are required to maximize production to meet demand, and it is imperative the limestone which is used as raw feed to produce cement be properly permitted for economic extraction.''
The Planning and Zoning Commission will hear the application to expand the mining land later this month with a County Commission hearing to follow.
On the capacity expansion the DEP is preparing to permit, the public has 30 days from the date of the publication notice to comment on the project and request a public meeting. The DEP may call such a meeting if there is sufficient interest.
People whose "substantial interests are affected'' by the capacity expansion can also petition the DEP for an administrative hearing within 14 days of the publication of the notice.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.