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Neighbors fight permit for firm that raises dust

Every morning Carol Lawrence wakes up to the sound of rumbling that she says comes from the Conrad Yelvington Distributors facility behind her house, off of Ashland Drive. A white film appears on her Mercedes.

Lawrence and other residents of the Northview Hills Civic Association are worried about the Conrad facility's effect on their health and their neighborhood. The civic association held a news conference Saturday to raise objections to a decision by the Hillsborough County Environmental Protection Commission to grant Conrad a permit to increase the amount of rock and gravel it handles on the site from 540,000 tons to up to a million tons.

The association has complained to the county in the past about noise and possible health concerns regarding Conrad, and has never gotten an answer, said Frank Reddick, president of the association. He said members are also concerned about the welfare of the children in the area who have to walk to the three elementary schools nearby.

"We feel ignored," Reddick said.

The association is preparing to challenge the decision to grant a permit, and has been granted an extension to file the appeal.

"The EPC is supposed to be an agency that protects its citizens," Reddick said. "However, its actions show different in this case."

Representatives from Conrad could not be reached for comment on Saturday, but Jerry Campbell, director of the air and management division of the EPC, said Conrad generally meets the county environmental standard, and is not expecting to exceed it while doubling the business. The rule limits the time dust can visibly come off a source to a duration of no longer than six minutes.

According to the EPC, Conrad's Tampa facility, 4800 Cone Road, sells rock and gravel to other companies for use in roads and building materials. Conrad receives the rock and gravel from other sources by rail, then it distributes it to other places by truck.

In the process, the rock and gravel is unloaded from the trains and kept in piles, then reloaded onto trucks.

Residents of the area say the loading and unloading create dust, which causes health problems.

"We don't know what we are breathing. We can't open our windows and we can't enjoy our living (in this neighborhood)," Lawrence said.

Engineers from the EPC have met with the civic association at least once, Campbell said, and heard the complaints about noise and health concerns.

While the EPC does have noise regulations, Conrad by and large has met those standards.

In the past and with this permit, the EPC has asked the plant to take precautions to minimize dust and noise, and those precautions have generally been adopted, Campbell said.

"We feel it's a fairly good permit," Campbell said. "This is considered a minor source of air pollution."

However, residents like Kathy Escalante said something needs to be done, because she has to carry around a face mask for protection.

"For the past three years I have taken every kind of medicine and the doctors keep telling me it's allergies, but it hasn't gone away," Escalante said.