A 112-acre expansion of the E.R. Jahna Industries rock mine in Ridge Manor got a nod of approval from the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission on Wednesday.
Neighbors urged that the project be rejected, citing fears about additional disruption of their rural neighborhood by blasting and even more damage to homes and businesses than what they've already attributed to the company.
If approved by the County Commission next month, the expansion approval would complete the first phase of permits and approvals necessary to continue Jahna's mining operation on land north of its current 660-acre site.
Jahna has been mining in the area since 1979 and plans to expand without increasing its current mining production, according to attorney Darryl Johnston.
Homeowner Paul Clark has 500 feet abutting on the property line of the proposed mining site. He told planning commission members he worried about blasting and the potential impact on the water supply in his neighborhood.
"We all have wells,'' Clark said.
Others worried about their animals being spooked by the blasts, the sounds of mining machinery early in the morning and late at night, the impact on local wildlife, increasing sinkhole activity and ongoing issues with cracked floors, ceilings and driveways.
The blasting is a continuing issue with those who live in Whispering Oaks, according to Nancy Frizelle, president of the community's homeowners association.
She noted that, before the association asked for notification of blasting, the operation caused problems for some of the residents who are veterans and who were startled by the sound.
But Frizelle said that simply knowing when the blasts are going to occur doesn't diminish the impact on homeowners.
"When you sit in your house and it shakes, it's just scary,'' she said.
Vicki Balogh, whose family has owned land near the mine for years, said there are cracks in walls and sinkholes on the property. But she said a commercial building she owns on the south side of State Road 50 has sustained worse damage, including tiles that popped up on the floor and shingles from the roof that went flying.
She said she is facing the possibility of no coverage from her insurance and asked what the county would do about issues with wells going bad, sinkholes and properties that cannot be insured.
Another resident in the area, Thomas West, asked why, if the mine is complying with all blasting rules, damage is still occurring. He questioned whether the blasting standards are stringent enough.
Pamela Horwath said her home and driveway are cracking, her horses are scared and her dogs hide when the blasts occur.
"Every time there's a blast,'' Horwath said, "it feels like an earthquake.''
Johnston, representing the mining company, said all blasts are carefully monitored to ensure they meet standards. They are set back the required distance from structures, he said. And he noted that sinkholes and cracks in buildings are common throughout the area, not just near mines.
He expressed a willingness to add anyone to the notification list who wanted to know when blasting was going to take place. And he reminded members of the planning commission that their advisory vote on Wednesday was just a land-use change, a zoning change to allow mining in an area already designated for mining on the county's future land use map.
Issues related to mining operations are covered in another phase of approvals that will be required before mining on the property can take place. Johnston predicted that final approvals and the start of mining in the new area could take two years.
Concerns about sinkholes and water quality do not apply to the Jahna operation because the mining doesn't draw water out of the ground, Johnston said. Jahna's mining is actually conducted underwater.
Several planning commission members expressed doubts about whether all of the damage they heard homeowners describe could be attributed to the mining operation.
Jon Jouben, an assistant county attorney, told the residents that if a mining operation causes damage to private property, settling the issue is between the resident and the mining company.
Planning commission member Denis Riley suggested to the mining officials that they might want to work harder at educating the community about what they do. Not only would that give residents more knowledge; it also would convey that Jahna is making an effort to be a better neighbor.
Planning commission members voted unanimously to recommend that the County Commission approve the rezoning. The County Commission is set to hear the case on Dec. 11.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.