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County to tackle uproar over phosphate mining

Rules governing phosphate mining in Hillsborough County will take center stage tonight when the County Commission holds a public hearing on revising its land development code.

County officials have identified several areas where changes in phosphate regulations might be needed, said Tom Drexhage, the county's senior hydrologist.

Everything from mosquito control and flood zones to how far back phosphate mining must be from homes will be on the agenda.

The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the commission chambers in the courthouse at 419 E Pierce St.

Most of the issues are controversial, but standards for how much radiation can come from reclaimed mining sites are so controversial that a separate public hearing will be held, Drexhage said. That hearing will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the commission's chambers.

Sierra Club officials say they will be out in force at both hearings.

"The heart of the subject which we are concerned with is simply that we hold the County Commission responsible and obligated to look out for the health of our citizenry," said Jeffrey Edwards, chairman of the Tampa Bay Sierra Club's mining subcommittee. "We want a medical professional to review these proposals."

Tonight, the issue most likely to have residents up in arms is the required distance between mines and homes. County planners have proposed leaving residential setbacks at their current distances _ 500 feet from homes _ but they want to define more clearly what is meant by a residential use.

For example, a small home at the edge of a large parcel of land may be nowhere near mining. Yet a phosphate company might be prohibited from mining because the mining would not be 500 feet from the property line, Drexhage said.

Mining companies have raised their own objections to the rule changes. Among them is a provision for setting aside money to guarantee that any land mined will be reclaimed, Drexhage said.

The question of stream setbacks and flood zones is one area where all sides have reached agreement, Drexhage said.

Edwards said he's pleased because current regulations don't protect the tributaries and headwaters of the Little Manatee River, while the new proposals would.