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Cemex and Hernando residents set for showdown over proposed mine

BROOKSVILLE — Residents say the mine will ruin the environment, create noise pollution and push people out of Hernando County.

Cemex officials say most of those claims are dramatized and some are just plain not true.

On Monday, the two parties will go head to head at the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, when Cemex representatives will try to persuade the board to recommend that the County Commission rezone the proposed mine site west of Brooksville, which was leased to Cemex by a handful of Brooksville land owners. Residents will be there as well to show their opposition and attempt to quash the project in its earliest stage.

"I can't say I remember as many folks getting worked up about something like this," said Roger Sims, the lawyer representing Cemex.

Community members organized forces and voiced their concerns last month at a Neighbors Against Mining meeting. Many fear the mine would interrupt the business corridor along Cortez Boulevard on the south side of the property and scenic Fort Dade Avenue, which lines the parcel on the west and north. Others are concerned about sound and noise pollution, especially for neighboring houses and nearby Bayfront Health Brooksville.

"Responsible communities are hoping to reduce their carbon footprint," opposition leader DeeVon Quirolo said at the meeting. "Here we are in Hernando County going back to mining."

Cemex tells a different story.

During a tour of the company's current mining and processing facilities just north of the proposed site in early July, company officials explained to the Times why they believe many of the residents' concerns are exaggerated.

The tall containers and conveyor belts that make up the lime rock processing operation would stay at Cemex's existing plant, said Travis Wellman, vice president of aggregates operations. The rock from the proposed site would be transported via conveyor belt through a tunnel underneath Fort Dade Avenue so traffic wouldn't be clogged by the front-end loaders that normally carry materials.

Concerning the noise pollution, Wellman said a new mining technique introduced in 2007 means blasting would be necessary on only about 35 percent of the land. The remainder would be mined using excavators — trucks with large, clawed scoops.

"If we can get away with not blasting at all, we will," Wellman said, adding that mining permits prohibit blasts that disturb nearby structures.

The nearest homes are about a football field away, and the noise would have less impact than a door slamming, said Sara Engdahl, Cemex communications director. Residents can sign up for a blast call list, so they know when to expect noise.

The mine also would be hidden from the roads, said James Morris, land asset manager. It would be separated by what's called a visual berm — a raised piece of land planted with shrubbery and trees.

In addition, Morris emphasized that the mine would not disturb the historic Spring Hill Cemetery. In fact, Morris said Cemex offered to update the cemetery's fence and road and work on a preservation plan to archive those buried there.

Alice Walker, who runs the cemetery, has not returned calls, Morris said. At the Neighbors Against Mining meeting, Quirolo spoke out against the plan on behalf of Walker, who was unable to attend.

During the tour, hydrology and mining consultant Mark Stephens stood atop a hill and addressed another concern from residents: dust pollution.

"What a clear day," he said, looking out over Cemex's 10,000-acre property.

Stephens explained that the mine takes many steps to prevent dust from clogging the air. Vehicles are hosed off multiple times before they leave the plant. And trucks circle the property spraying water to suppress dust.

He added that the only water usage on the proposed property would come from a standard domestic well to fill the dust suppression trucks, addressing a worry many residents have voiced regarding the water table.

Residents also have questioned whether the new mine would create jobs.

Engdahl said no, but assured that current employees would have job security for an additional 20 years if the rezoning is approved. Cemex employs 110 people at its cement plant and 80 at its quarry, she said.

As for the economic impact on the community, Engdahl said Cemex expects to pay about $50 million in property taxes over the next 20 years.

Quirolo wasn't impressed. The bottom line, she said, is that a mine doesn't match up with what she and many other residents consider to be Hernando's future.

She cited a section of the county's comprehensive plan dealing with economic development: "As mining decreases, the county will develop strategies to utilize its economic development efforts to recruit and retain primary industries."

For Quirolo and others, that means focusing on Hernando's nature and history to draw visitors and create jobs.

"You can't go back to mining and think you're going to go forward with clean, sustainable growth," she said, "because they're just not compatible."

Contact Kathryn Varn at (352)754-6114 or kvarn@tampabay.com. Follow @kathrynvarn.

Cemex and Hernando residents set for showdown over proposed mine 07/12/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 14, 2014 12:57am]
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