After seven years of discussion and a mountain of opposition, Cemex Construction Materials Florida and the ownership group of 730 acres of undeveloped property west of Brooksville got the approval Tuesday for a major mining expansion.
Hernando County commissioners voted 4-0 to approve a change to the county’s comprehensive plan, designating the site north of Cortez Boulevard for mining and commercial uses rather than the residential and commercial uses designated for decades.
Not unexpectedly, the decision came before a standing-room-only crowd of opponents, plus a contingent of Cemex workers showing their support. The approval is expected to extend mining jobs in the area by 20 years.
Cemex would have a 20-year lease with the companies that own the land. Afterward, the mined land would be restored and potentially become a residential community, according to the plan presented to county officials.
Attorney Jane West, representing the opposition, detailed the commissioners’ considerations, based on their own comprehensive plan. They had to determine if mining was a compatible land use with residential and if the county was protecting historical resources, community health, property values, water quality and the habitat of protected wildlife.
"Is mining more compatible with residential than residential?’’ West asked.
Residents urged commissioners to put themselves in their shoes. One family built their home in the area, relying on the surrounding residential land designation, and now will have a mine next door. Another worried about the health of his water well. And another asked if any commissioner had experienced mine blasts near their home.
They voiced concern about protecting the historically significant Spring Hill Cemetery adjacent to the property, the impact on the nearby Bayfront Health Brooksville hospital, air quality and the impact on tourism with an active mine at the entrance to Brooksville.
Opponents questioned why commissioners ignored the Planning and Zoning Commission, which recommended denying the mine expansion, and a myriad of experts, organizations, petitions and public opposition from hundreds of residents over the past several years. Several suggested that the land owners included some of the most influential business leaders in Brooksville — retired mining executive Tommy Bronson, real estate broker Robert Buckner, banker Jim Kimbrough and lawyer Joe Mason.
Other than satisfying those important business leaders, "there is zero financial reason to approve this,’’ said resident Richard Ross.
Others questioned whether commissioners were motivated by Cemex’s generous campaign contributions.
Election records show that Cemex made campaign contributions to each of the sitting county commissioners over the past five years, including: $2,000 to John Allocco; $1,250 to Nick Nicholson, who voted for the expansion before his suspension from office; $1,000 to Steve Champion; $300 to Jeff Holcomb; and $250 to Wayne Dukes. The county Republican Executive Committee, led by Allocco, collected $33,725 from Cemex during that same period.
James Morris of Cemex said that while the approval won’t add new mining jobs, it will create jobs in related areas. He estimated the business’ economic impact at $50 million over the 20-year lease.
Cemex is the largest taxpayer in the county.
Champion said the county wants the employment that Cemex offers and said a number of his family members have worked for the mine.
Dukes said he never heard people complain about new restaurants that also displaced animals. He said he did not know of any argument that would convince him to vote against the mining expansion.
The next step is for Cemex to seek rezoning of the property.
Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.