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Mining law negotiations halted again

The county's proposed mining ordinance is stalled once again.

Brooksville lawyer Doug Bevins, representing citizen activists, has pulled out of negotiations. In so doing, he sharply criticized both the mining industry and the County Commission, saying their interest was long on political posturing and short on substance.

"I'm tired of playing that game, and I'm not going to play it anymore," Bevins said. "If the commission was serious it would have had that ordinance a year ago."

Commissioners answered his charges Tuesday by trying to patch together the negotiations and by restating their commitment to the ordinance.

"We need to get going on this," Commissioner Ginny Brown-Waite said.

Commission Chairman John Richardson said he would like to see the matter on the agenda next week. He also asked that all the main players be there: Bevins, who represents Citizens Alliance for a Responsible Mining Ordinance; Grant Tolbert, the manager of the county's development department; and Tallahassee lawyer Jake Varn, who is representing the Hernando County Mining Association.

If Varn cannot be there _ and he recently sent the county a memo saying he would be tied up with work on another matter _ Richardson said the mines should send someone else.

"I want this on next week's agenda," Richardson said.

Bevins said he will agree to go back to the table if it is clear there is a real commitment to the ordinance. His frustration with the sluggish progress of the proposal, he said, has been building since the planning department wrote the first draft last November.

Mine officials, citizen activists and county commissioners agreed that a clearer ordinance was needed, and the matter was addressed at nearly a dozen workshops and meetings.

Then, in the first public hearing in July, with a decision imminent, the commission voted to re-assign the ordinance from the planning department to the development department and set up the committee of Bevins, Varn and Tolbert.

But the issue that finally made him decide to quit, Bevins said, was mine officials' slow response to a call for their site plans. At the first meeting of the three in July, it was agreed to establish specific rules for each mining area. At the Sept. 3 meeting, Varn agreed to request plans from all the mines, and said he would have them the following month.

But at a meeting Sept. 20, according to Bevins, Charlie Price, plant manager of Vulcan/ICA Distribution Corp., said he was not aware that he needed to provide plans.

Price "acted like he had never heard about it," Bevins said. "Grant (Tolbert) said, "I thought we had a deal.' "

Varn had told Price he would need to produce the maps of his operation, Price said. Price said he was aware of the need, but it was harder to provide the documents than Bevins or Varn realized.

"We said that would be very hard to come up with before the next meeting," Price said.

His commitment to come up with the plans, and the mining association's commitment to the new ordinance, are unchanged, Price said.

"We want a clear, concise document that would benefit everyone," he said.