Wednesday, April 25, 2018
News Roundup

Despite homeowner complaints, Pasco okays limerock mine amid rural homes

NEW PORT RICHEY — Roy and Grace Waggoner didn’t get the usual "welcome to the neighborhood’’ greeting when they purchased their Mahoney Drive home earlier this year.

Instead, their new neighbor asked, "Why did you buy here?’’

It’s a question they keep asking themselves. The Waggoners closed on their home, barn and nearly 13-acre parcel in the Shady Acres neighborhood in February, not knowing they were moving to ground zero in the battle over limerock mining in north-central Pasco.

"We moved from Kentucky for this?’’ Grace Waggoner said.

Her husband shared part of their story with Pasco commissioners Tuesday, disputing a claim that a new limerock mine wouldn’t be detrimental to residential property values. The couple already filed a complaint with the state Department of Professional Regulation and said the local board of realtors plans an ethics hearing against the seller’s real estate agent, who failed to disclose the existence of the nearby Lago Verde mine.

Despite statements from Roy Waggoner and the sometimes-emotional testimony from nearly two dozen others who said limerock blasting rattled houses, cracked tiles and walls, sent a fearful autistic child into fits and rekindled images of enemy attacks in a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder, commissioners authorized a new limerock mine west of U.S. 41, about three miles south of the Hernando County line.

It will sit adjacent to the Lago Verde limerock mine, which won commission approval in 2013.

‘‘You are destroying our community and our way of life and it needs to stop,’’ said Stefanie Schatzman of Scanio Drive.

The new application came from Seven Diamonds LLC., a firm tied to Dr. James Gills, a prominent eye surgeon and developer whose companies are frequent campaign contributors in commission races.

Seven Diamonds plans to excavate 15 million cubic yards of limestone from about a quarter of the 285 acres it owns over the next 25 years. Initially, it will mine about 7 million cubic yards of sand before using explosives to retrieve the subterranean limerock from as far as down as 90 feet below the water table. Limerock is a raw material used in road construction and to make cement for construction of cinder-block homes and buildings.

"You can’t have growth without cement. You can’t have cement without stone,’’ said Thomas Lang, general manager of Seven Diamonds mine operations.

The commission approval, with Commissioner Jack Mariano dissenting, came even though the earlier decision allowing the Lago Verde mine is still being litigated by neighbors who said it violated the county’s own comprehensive land-use plan.

A nearly five-hour hearing Tuesday brought many of the same arguments, including conflicting testimony about the county’s land-use rules which allows mining in land zoned for agricultural use.

Opponents said lime rock blasts equate to heavy industrial use next to residential property, diminishing their quality of life. They pointed to the plan’s specific goals to protect residential neighborhoods to ensure long-term housing viability and to stem "sensory intrusions of adjacent users.’’

"The people have suffered through this for several years, quite frankly, ... those vibrations are going to continue to happen,’’ Mariano told the rest of the board.

"I’m frankly uncomfortable with a lot of stuff we were told tonight,’’ said Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who nonetheless voted to grant operating and conditional use permits to the mine owners.

Though much of the testimony focused on potential environmental damage to public water supplies and residential wells, Seven Diamonds already received permission to operate from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Commissioner Mike Moore wondered why nobody disputed the state permit. Bob Howell, one of the plaintiffs suing the county over the Lago Verde decision, said the legal expense and likely lack of success discouraged a challenge to the DEP.

Howell and Myles Friedland, who own commercial property fronting on U.S. 41, have said they also plan a legal challenge in the Seven Diamonds case.

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