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County should consider Florida Rock compromise

It has been almost three years since the Citrus County Commission voted to rezone the land in the Heatherwood subdivision known as the Storey Pit from extractive to rural residential. At the time, commissioners were under the political gun from the neighborhood's residents, who opposed the proposed lime rock-mining plan, and the legal gun of the mining company, Florida Rock Industries.

Later that year Florida Rock, unable to reach an accord with the residents through court-ordered mediation, followed through on its vow to sue the commission over the rezoning decision. Since then the commission has continued to take a hard-nosed stance against Florida Rock, which holds the lease to the dormant mine.

Today the commission is scheduled to hear a compromise proposal from Florida Rock that would mean an end to the lawsuit and a put a five-year cap on mining activities at the Storey Pit.

Considering that Florida Rock does hold the lease to the land and that the county is facing an uphill court battle to justify the uncustomary amendment to its comprehensive plan, it is a proposal worth the commission's serious consideration.

Heatherwood residents banded together in 1992 and waged an admirable protest to convince the commissioners that Florida Rock had no business extracting lime rock from the Storey Pit, which has been dormant since before the neighborhood's homes were constructed. The residents are fearful of their water wells being ruined and the foundations of their homes being damaged by blasting or rumbling rock trucks.

It is worth noting that the commissioners' sympathetic ears may have been especially receptive to voters' complaints then because it was an election year. The commission now has four new members and this is not an election year, two factors that could work against the Heatherwood residents this time around.

Florida Rock has said since the beginning of this controversy that it would take the company 12 years to mine most of the lime rock in the 720-acre Storey Pit. The proposal Florida Rock will present today would put a time limit of five years on its mining operations and conclude the lawsuit, which has all the makings of an expensive legal fight the county can ill afford.

The Heatherwood residents, as has been their practice, want no part of a compromise. In fact, when the controversy swirled three years ago, those residents even refused to meet face to face with Florida Rock representatives. It appears nothing has changed on that front.

It now is up to the County Commission to act in the best interest of all county residents, not just an affected few with unsubstantiated fears, and reconsider its zoning ruling on the Storey Pit mine.

If the commissioners do as their predecessors did in July 1992 and cater to the crowd, they not only will risk a loss in court, they also may eliminate the Heatherwood residents' only chance to have some influence over Florida Rock's mining plans.