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Commission vote blocks Florida Rock from mining

Mary Ellen Shoemaker arrived with a stack of technical data and more than 120 complaints from residents to back her stand that the County Commission should not allow mining to resume at the Storey mine.

As it turned out, she did not need any of it.

Before an overflow crowd at the commission chambers, the board Tuesday unanimously rejected a proposed settlement from Florida Rock Industries that would have opened the door for mining to begin.

Commissioner Jim Fowler, who lives off County Road 581, about 200 feet from the mine, excused himself from the vote.

"It's a nice way of resolving things," said Shoemaker, secretary of the Heatherwood Community Homeowners Association. "We were prepared, but I guess we didn't have to be."

In its settlement offer, Florida Rock agreed to drop its suit and mine the site for five years, extracting only the most valuable deposits of soft lime rock.

Clark Stillwell, attorney for Florida Rock, said if the company wins in court, it may mine a larger part of the site for as long as 25 years.

"Now, we file the legal briefs," Stillwell said. "If Florida Rock prevails, the county will have a more long-term mining operation on its hands."

Stillwell has said in letters to county officials that recent court decisions have bolstered Florida Rock's argument that it has vested rights to mine the property.

Florida Rock filed its suit in 1992 after the county rezoned the Storey mine site from extractive to rural-residential. Attempts at mediation have failed, Stillwell said, because Heatherwood residents have refused to accept any mining proposal.

The sticking point for county officials, who spent barely five minutes discussing the proposal, was Florida Rock's plan to haul rock through the Withlacoochee State Forest to its processing plant in Brooksville. Commissioners soundly rejected the haul road proposal in 1992.

"It's something we already voted on, and I see nothing in this proposal that gives me the inclination to change my mind," said Commissioner Gary Bartell.

Stillwell said the only other option for transporting the rock would have been to use County Road 581. Doing that, he said, would have had "four times the impact on residents because of the traffic alone."

"I honestly don't think the commissioners understand what the haul road means," he said. "It doesn't make any sense. We proposed a quick, efficient way to mine the rock with very little impact."

In other business, the county commission:

Agreed to take over the water and sewage system of the Meadows subdivision, which was being abandoned by its owners, Bonnie Jean Turaniczo and Jonnie Greer, of Pinellas County. Stillwell, representing the two women, who were willed the land by their father, developer John Wilson, explained that the sisters simply did not have the money to continue operating the system. State law requires the county to assume operation of the system, which Stillwell said needs $30,000 to $40,000 in repairs.

Approved an emergency amendment to the county's occupational license fee ordinance, which gives businesses the opportunity to apply for an exemption to the $20 surcharge for small-quantity generators of hazardous waste. The county had to approve the amendment, which also changes the definition of a small-quantity generator, to comply with new state Department of Environmental Regulation requirements and have the ordinance in effect when tax bills are mailed in July.