The Hernando County Commission should think more about the future than the past today when it considers whether to recommend changing the county's comprehensive plan to allow rock mining on more than 500 acres of desirable land just off a key business corridor. The county has a long history of using rock mining to create jobs, but its future is in residential communities, ecotourism and smarter commercial development. The commission should reject the land-use change and stand up to the pressure from well-connected landowners.
Cemex, which is based in Mexico and is the world's largest rock mining company, is seeking the land-use change to allow the mining and to adjust a commercial development proposed for part of a 730-acre parcel. The company would lease the land from several Brooksville business power brokers and argues that the new mine would be a natural extension of its existing mining operations in Hernando. Officials say the mine would be out of sight to most visitors, and the county would require a 400-foot buffer between well-traveled State Road 50 and an earthen berm around the mine.
Adding another large mining operation, particularly at this location, would not benefit Hernando County. Cemex acknowledges the new mine would not create additional jobs in a county where the unemployment rate remains stubbornly high at 7.7 percent compared with the statewide rate of 5.8 percent. The company says it would create no additional truck traffic and the rock would be carried by conveyor to its nearby operation. But generally keeping the new mine out of sight does not mean it should be out of mind.
This new mine would be across from Bayfront Health Brooksville, and it raises concerns about noise and air quality. Cemex says there would be no impact on ground water because all of the mining would take place above the water table, but a geologist hired by neighbors advises more study. What is not in dispute is that hundreds of acres of hardwood forest would be lost. Moving ahead with the land-use change could lead to a mining operation that would tie up this well-positioned property for at least two decades.
Hernando's Planning and Zoning Commission rejected the land-use plan change by a 4-1 vote in July. That board recommended that the land, which is zoned for agriculture now, be marked for future residential development. It also concluded opponents had raised reasonable questions about declining home values, noise and air pollution, and potential sinkholes. The County Commission should recognize the same concerns and look toward the future.
While mining has been a key part of Hernando County's economy for decades, the future holds a different promise. The corridor along State Road 50, Cortez Boulevard, has the potential to be a vibrant, attractive gateway leading into Brooksville from the Suncoast Parkway. While supporting a land-use change today to allow the mine would trigger state studies and not be the final word, there is no need to move forward on this, and county commissioners should reject it. To endorse the destruction of hundreds of acres of woodlands for a new mine that would create no new jobs when there is so much more potential would be shortsighted.