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Owner of Keystone dirt excavation site wins two, loses two

KEYSTONE — Dirt pit owner Stephen Dibbs can haul in peat dug up from wetlands, but dump trucks leaving his land still cannot head west on Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

That's the decision Tuesday from county land use hearing officer James Scarola, who considered Dibbs' latest request to change the conditions on his dirt-excavating operation near the Suncoast Parkway.

The decision is a mixed bag for both Dibbs and residents who opposed his requests.

"I'm obviously going to pass this around to a bunch of other people," said Gary Anderson, who lives in Ivy Lake Estates, which is immediately north of Dibbs' property in Pasco County. "I am just real concerned about what material he's bringing on site."

In his 15-page report, Scarola said Dibbs can now bring in partly decayed plant matter from construction sites that receive the dirt hauled from his 320 acres on Lutz-Lake Fern Road.

Dibbs' special-use approval from the county had banned him from bringing anything not excavated from the site onto his land.

Dibbs expects the peat to decompose into topsoil and mulch, helping to reclaim land disturbed by the removal of up to 2.5 million cubic yards of dirt. Neighbors worry that it could smell and be polluted.

In response, Scarola ordered that a biologist or environmental professional must certify that the peat comes from sites untainted by toxic wastes that would threaten the area's groundwater or ecosystems.

The county will decide what's acceptable in the way of certification, Scarola ruled. Dibbs must pay for it.

Dibbs also won approval to operate the dirt-excavation business an additional two years, until 2020.

In two other areas, however, Dibbs did not get what he wants.

He wanted dirt-filled dump trucks leaving his site for construction projects in Pinellas or Pasco counties to be allowed to go west on Lutz-Lake Fern Road. As it stands, they have to go east to the Suncoast Parkway, then take a county-approved truck route like Van Dyke Road.

Going west on Lutz-Lake Fern makes for a shorter, cheaper haul, but it's not a county-approved truck route. Residents say dump trucks would disrupt their neighborhoods and grind Lutz-Lake Fern Road to pieces.

Scarola said Dibbs' application did not address the issues adequately and left the ban on westbound trucks in place.

Dibbs also wanted to change a requirement that forces him to hire an off-duty sheriff's deputy to direct traffic at the entrance to the site during rush hour. Scarola said hiring a deputy is "an important safety consideration."

Meanwhile, a county official said Scarola's decision would not affect a notice of violation sent to Dibbs this month.

On Sept. 2, a county official watched two large trucks dumping mulch mixed with dirt on Dibbs' property, according to two notice-of-violation letters to Dibbs and Keene Brothers Inc. of Land O'Lakes.

But Dibbs said in an e-mail to the county that "we are not in violation of anything." He referred to a county-issued natural resources permit dated March 12 that gave him permission to bring in some mulch. That permit authorized the excavation and removal of 9,998 cubic yards of dirt and the placement of 9,800 cubic yards of "organic mulch materials."

"We need this material for a number of very good reasons," Dibbs wrote, including stabilizing the haul road and helping with the berms around the property. "It is ridiculous that you are making an issue of 14 truckloads anyway, especially since no one can even see this material."

The natural resources permit is different than the special-use permit that was the subject of Scarola's decision, county natural resources manager John Schrecengost said.

The special-use permit governs the removal of more than 10,000 cubic yards of dirt. A natural resources permit, which Dibbs applied for separately, is for the removal of less than 10,000 cubic yards.

But Schrecengost said the natural resources permit was for a specific purpose, to bring in mulch for berms, which he said was done. This month the mulch was brought in for other purposes, he said. In the notices, the county told Dibbs to stop bringing in the mulch and remove what's there.

Richard Danielson can be reached at danielson@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3403.

Owner of Keystone dirt excavation site wins two, loses two 09/16/10 [Last modified: Thursday, September 16, 2010 4:30am]
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