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Keystone protests borrow pit plan

KEYSTONE - The idea of a borrow pit across the street from Charles Wagner's Copeland Road home just leaves him cold. "It's going to be a constant dust bowl," he said. "It's going to be a mess and ruin our lifestyle."

Wagner isn't the only person in this rural community to cry foul over a developer's proposed borrow pit.

Residents say the pit is just the kind of thing that the community can't use.

They cite arguments by environmentalists against pits, saying the huge holes could damage the local ecosystem. They also say they don't want caravans of dump trucks hauling dirt from the pit clogging local roads.

Hillsborough County Commissioners turned down an application for a borrow pit on the site in December. Michael Cone, president of Cone Constructors, had proposed digging the 32-acre pit on a 46-acre parcel north of Copeland Road and east of Gunn Highway.

The land is owned by William C. Blake Jr. Cone, who once owned the rights to buy the land, has sold those rights to James Guyer, who said he is a consultant for Cone.

Guyer has asked the commission to reconsider the permit application. Commissioners will decide Feb. 27 whether to hear the case again.

According to Cone's application, the construction company will be able to take 1-million cubic feet of dirt from the pit. The dirt can then be sold - one cubic foot of dirt is worth about $1.50 undelivered - for anything from road building to construction projects.

Ted Taub, Cone's attorney, said at a Dec. 14 commission meeting that the dirt would be used for a number of road projects in the area, including the improvements of streets near the Citrus Park Mall on Sheldon Road and Gunn Highway.

The fact that the dirt would be hauled only a short distance also should help lower the cost of building the Northwest Expressway, a 17-mile toll road that is planned for the community, Taub told commissioners.

Once dug out, the pit would be filled with water and its shores would have 29 lakefront homes, according to the company's pit application.

To build the homes, the property would have to then be rezoned for residential use.

Homes or no homes, Nathan Hart is not happy about the plans.

"They're going to effectively turn our community into a mining community," said Hart, who heads the Keystone Civic Association's borrow pit committee.

Wagner and Hart say they don't want caravans of dump trucks filled with dirt traveling the community's rural roads.

"We're going to meet them every morning and every evening and all during the day," Hart said. "These dump trucks will kill us."

Neither Cone nor Blake could be reached for comment. Taub and Guyer refused to comment on the application.

Environmentalists say borrow pits can damage environmentally sensitive areas, such as the Keystone/Odessa community. The pits disturb the delicate balance between the low-lying wetlands and the Floridan aquifer, an underground river that provides Hillsborough and Pinellas residents with drinking water, environmentalists say.

"It's a very important ecosystem, and it should not be damaged by borrow pits," said Jan Platt, a county commissioner who voted against the original plan. "We don't need to create problems for ourselves."

Natural lakes in the area tend to be 10 to 15 feet deep, says Craig Dye, environmental section manager for the Southwest Florida Water Management District. Borrow pits, on the other hand, average depths of 25 feet in Hillsborough County, according to David Kennedy, a land excavation inspector for the county.

Water drains into the deep pits and evaporates. Because most of the water never seeps into the ground, it does not replenish groundwater supplies that keep the aquifer healthy, according to Dye.

County Planning Commission officials say they may study sometime next year where borrow pits should be located.

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