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Mining measure addresses road work

Published Sep. 27, 2005

Rep. Kelley Smith, whose staff drafted the amendment, said he backed it to keep from slowing state road projects.

The little-noticed mining amendment put into a bill during the closing hour of this year's Legislature was designed to help the state get an adequate supply of construction materials, House Transportation Chairman Kelley Smith says.

Smith, a Palatka Democrat who is leaving the House this year because of term limits, said he had his staff draft the amendment after seeing a copy of a letter Transportation Secretary Tom Barry wrote to Miami-Dade Commissioner Gwen Margolis.

The amendment, buried inside a routine bill (Senate Bill 772) and approved without discussion or debate, wipes out the ability of local governments to regulate blasting associated with mining commercial rock products.

The provision is a sore subject in several areas, including the North Suncoast, where homeowners have objected to vibrations from blasting that repeatedly shake houses. The bill, which includes a measure to eliminate emissions testing in six Florida counties, is waiting to be acted on by Gov. Jeb Bush, who has not indicated whether he will sign or veto it.

Smith said he didn't know whether any lobbyist had a hand in getting the amendment through.

"I heard some from the department and read some articles that just showed up on my desk," Smith said. "I don't really know if there was a lobbyist working on it."

But Doug Bruce, a lobbyist for Rinker Materials Corp., one of the mine owners, says Smith's staff asked him to write an amendment. He said he and other lobbyists gave the DOT letter and other materials to Smith and Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Dan Webster.

"We did the first draft and kind of left it in the hands of the gods," Bruce said Thursday.

Bruce said he didn't know the amendment had been tucked inside a Senate transportation bill until the session ended.

Bruce said he and other lobbyists for construction material companies were worried that the issue was caught up in Miami-Dade politics. They wanted to find a way to help the state maintain a supply of rock that will be needed even more with a multimillion-dollar road building plan approved by legislators this year.

One proposal being considered in Miami-Dade would have cut the rock supply so badly that the state wouldn't have enough to cover work in Miami-Dade alone, Bruce said.

Barry's letter to Margolis, written March 21, urges the county not to take action that would limit the supply of limestone aggregate used in road building projects.

"The department and other construction industries throughout Central and South Florida depend heavily on aggregates from the Miami-Dade County Lake Belt sources," Barry wrote. "Almost 50 percent of the aggregates used throughout Florida come from the Lake Belt area."

Smith said the amendment was never part of another bill and never considered by a legislative committee.

"It was just an issue we were aware of," he said. "We decided we needed it unless we wanted to slow down the road-paving business in Florida."

Senators were caught off guard by the amendment, which Smith added to a Senate bill in the House. The bill slipped through the Senate in its final hour at a time when computers were down and few copies of the amendment were available.

Miami-Dade officials say the issue should have been aired in a committee meeting and have asked Bush to veto the bill.