BROOKSVILLE — Nearly three dozen neighbors met with Cemex officials this week to ask a few important questions, such as who will pay for any damage to their drinking water or homes if the company expands its mining operation.
They also questioned the company's record in the community, the need for more mining land and the timing of future mining activities.
Officials with Cemex Construction Materials Florida responded to the concerns during Thursday evening's community meeting on their plan to add hundreds of acres to their inventory of properties to mine, but seemingly failed to win over many in the audience.
One resident called the session "a dog and pony show,'' while another said he did not want to see the land behind his home destroyed.
"I'd still prefer to have a subdivision behind my house instead of great big pits and holes,'' Steve Davey said.
Last month, the Planning and Zoning Commission ordered Cemex to meet with residents after listening to complaints during a planning hearing in which the company sought a change in Hernando's future land use map that would switch 730 acres from residential and commercial designation to mining and commercial overlay.
The parcel in mind is bordered on the north and west by Fort Dade Avenue and by Cortez Boulevard on the south. The east border is west of Cobb Road. Within that boundary, 573 acres is slated for a change to mining.
The planning hearing was continued but a new date has not been set. County planning staff will do that after reviewing the Cemex summary of Thursday's community meeting, Paul Wieczorek, senior county planner, said Friday.
On Thursday, in the community room of the newly opened Hernando County Mining Association Enrichment Center, James Morris, regional environmental manager for Cemex, and Mark Stephens, the firm's engineering and environmental consultant, described details of the planned expansion.
The mined aggregate hard rock would be hauled to the Cemex property north of Fort Dade Avenue and trucked three and a half miles to the processing area, Morris explained.
About 328 acres will be mined inside the approved mining zone creating a buffer far wider than the required 100 feet, he said.
The land, now vacant, consists of nine parcels owned by some of the community's most prominent business people: Tommy Bronson, Jim Kimbrough, Robert Buckner, Joe Mason and Zeneda Partners Limited Partnership.
The work will be done in phases, the officials explained. Topsoil would be removed and mounded at the digging sites so that it could abate the mining noise and be used for reclamation when the mining is finished.
Morris explained that new technology means Cemex can limit its blasting. Over the past five years, it has blasted locally only a quarter of the times that it has in the past, he said. And during that time, he said, there have been no complaints.
"Blasting is a nuisance. We do understand,'' Morris said noting that residents can sign up for a "calling list'' to warn them when blasting would occur.
Stephens demonstrated how that would work by banging his hand suddenly on a chair. Then he pointed out that, "it's not as shocking'' when he announced he was going to hit the chair a second time, then banged on it.
He noted that Cemex will operate truck traffic only where it runs now and the company will keep as many trees as possible on the site.
"It will be hard to see'' the active mining because so many trees will remain, Stephens added.
As for impacts on the environment, wetlands destroyed will be replaced with more productive wetlands, gopher tortoises on site will be moved and other wildlife such as deer and turkeys won't be impacted, he said.
"Mining doesn't affect them very much because you're not mining the whole property,'' Stephens said.
The company representatives also tried to soothe residents' concerns by saying that they will not affect the water supply and that the Brooksville Regional Hospital, which is across the road from the site, and the caretaker of the Spring Hill Cemetery, which is adjacent to the site, have no complaints about the plan.
Fort Dade Avenue resident Cynthia Dietrich had a series of questions ranging from what to do about cracking walls in her home to what kinds of chemicals would be used on site.
She also asked how many new employees the expansion would bring.
None, Morris answered.
He added, however, that the 260 workers at the Cemex complex now would get some job security because the expansion would extend the timeline of mining in the area.
Dietrich also asked why most of her neighbors had not been informed of Thursday's community meeting. Morris said county staff provided Cemex with the mailing list that the company used.
"Everybody deserves a letter,'' Dietrich said, noting that the firm should communicate better. Otherwise, she said, "People think you're trying to sneak something in on them.''
One resident wanted to know who would pay if the mining damaged her home or her well or caused sinkholes.
Morris said Cemex would pay for any damage it caused.
But neighbor Becky Davey pointed out that someone would have to prove the case in court and pay for a lawyer while fighting an international company worth billions of dollars.
Others questioned when Cemex would begin mining nearly 600 acres the county approved for mining in 2009 off Yontz Road.
Cemex officials said those lands would be mined after the 20-year lease on this new proposed mining area expired.
That riled several in the audience who wondered about the timing. But Morris stressed that the company was trying to keep its employees working and keep the mining operation going as long as possible.
Others asked: Why expand now when the housing market is down?
Morris said this was the first step of a process that could take three to five years. "We need to start the process now to be ready when the time comes,'' he said.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.