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Rock mining is digging to the bottom of the barrel for economic recovery

Maybe you've heard about the next innovative, exciting chapter of economic development in Hernando:

Rock Mining!

Yep, nothing can enhance the county's curb appeal like dynamite and bulldozers gobbling up our famous ridges. For attracting new investment and well-to-do, forward-thinking residents, you just can't beat tearing away topsoil, grass and trees — the nasty "overburden" that gets in the way of digging out rock.

Maybe you don't see what the big deal is. Maybe, like a lot of people around here, you never noticed the mines. That's because they're in areas of the county that were remote after World War II, when the industry really got going here. With the land stripped of life, no surprise, it's still remote.

But now there's a plan for a mine along State Road 50, just a few miles west of Brooksville — one of the main gateways to the city and one of the county's main commercial corridors. In fact, it's just across SR 50 from Brooksville Regional Hospital.

As reported by Times writer Barbara Behrendt on Thursday, members of Brooksville's business elite — Tommy Bronson, Jim Kimbrough, Joe Mason and Robert Buckner — have long owned most of this 730 acres of woods and pasture, which was previously designated for residential use and a regional mall.

They propose moving the mall site slightly to the west and have asked the county for permission to allow Mexico-based Cemex to remove the rock over the next 20 years. According to Bronson, there's still demand for hard rock, which is now very rare in Florida. If we don't mine it here, he said, we'll have to import it from outside the state or country.

The landowners or their families will still want to develop it once the rock is gone, he said, and will make sure the land is left in good enough shape to market. The mining property that fronts SR 50 is covered with dense woods that should block views of the operation without requiring a high, unsightly berm. And, finally, we desperately need the jobs.

No doubt about that. Still, when it comes to economic development, I can't help but think this is the bottom of the barrel.

Profits will go to a large, multinational corporation, not to local owners who might spend them here. I've heard of good examples of reclamation in the county, but when I toured the Florida Rock Industries mine a few years ago, I saw unreclaimed moonscape next to supposedly reclaimed land — which was basically a moonscape with a few rows of dying saplings.

The best rock is in the highest land, so the hills will be gone forever. In other words, degradation is unavoidable with rock mining, no matter how many loads of soil are trucked in.

That's a long-term consequence. In the short term, think about the hope surrounding the hospital, the way it was supposed to be a hub for the health care industry, the only part of the economy showing steady growth. The city of Brooksville was so excited about the prospects for this part of the county, it ran water lines to it. What will the mine do for this potentially high-quality development? Nothing good, I'd say.

One other question: What happens when owners of truly innovative businesses come looking for someplace to expand — someplace clean and attractive? They'll see the mine on our doorstep and think we're stuck in the 1950s.

Rock mining is digging to the bottom of the barrel for economic recovery 05/26/11 [Last modified: Thursday, May 26, 2011 8:00pm]

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