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Citrus to look at mining settlement

A proposed settlement to an ongoing mining controversy pitting Florida Rock Industries Inc. against Citrus County would allow the company to mine and blast on a section of the 750-acre Storey Mine.

In return, the county would be released from all pending or threatened litigation.

The proposed settlement is on the agenda for Tuesday's County Commission meeting even though the only reference to Florida Rock is a consent agenda item to set a date for discussion between board members and their special lawyer in the case, Thomas Pelham.

Essentially, the commission will not be voting on the proposal next week.

Florida Rock and the county entered into negotiations in late March after Circuit Judge Jack Springstead ruled the county had violated the company's vested rights to the limestone-rich mine. The commissioners may decide to appeal the ruling, but county attorneys warned board members the ruling could pave the way for a multimillion-dollar claims settlement in favor of Florida Rock.

The county has been fighting Florida Rock's claims since the early 1990s, propelled by opposition from residents living near the mine, which is located within the southeast corner of the Withlacoochee State Forest. Upon receiving the company's application for additional mining, the county rezoned the area from industrial use to rural residential, a category that forbids mining.

Florida Rock already has put the county on notice that it is ready to sue for nearly $20-million in lost revenues.

Neither County Attorney Larry Haag nor Assistant County Richard Wesch could be reached for comment. Florida Rock lawyer Clark Stillwell could not be reached for comment. Mary Ellen Shoemaker, who lives in the Heatherwood subdivision and represents the neighborhood in talks with Florida Rock, declined to comment on the proposed settlement. "I don't know why they've attached that," she said of the company's offer. "All they're saying on the consent agenda is, "Let's talk about it.' "

This proposal is different from the one Florida Rock offered the county about five years ago. Had that been accepted, the company would have been close to restoring the property, Stillwell said recently.

Under the current proposal, Florida Rock would:

+ Take up to 10 years to prepare, mine and restore the property.

+ Restrict blasting to 500 feet from residential structures. Rip mining could take place up to the setbacks.

+ Set specific hours of operation. Mining would end at 4:30 p.m. on weekdays. No mining would take place on weekends.

+ Pay to monitor groundwater and noise levels.

+ Potentially remove the Rose Hill site from any vested rights order and zoned for rural residential.