Planning commission recommends approval of Cemex mine rezoning

Heavy equipment works at the Cemex Construction Materials site in Brooksville. Soon the company will be expanding to new areas south of Fort Dade Avenue to continue lime-rock mining activities. Times file
Heavy equipment works at the Cemex Construction Materials site in Brooksville. Soon the company will be expanding to new areas south of Fort Dade Avenue to continue lime-rock mining activities. Times file
Published August 13

BROOKSVILLE — Expanded lime-rock mining by Cemex Construction Materials Florida cleared another hurdle this week when the Hernando County Planning and Zoning Commission recommended approval for the rezoning of 573 acres of land north of Cortez Boulevard in Brooksville.

County commissioners will take up the rezoning next month, along with several other approvals related to the connecting road system, a conservation easement and a so-called "good neighbor" plan to ensure nearby residents do not suffer water well or structural impacts from the mining activity.

Cemex has fought for the mining expansion for eight years against some of the strongest public opposition to any project in recent history. The site, sandwiched between Cortez Boulevard and Fort Dade Avenue west of Cobb Road, would expand and extend for 20 years mining operations that are now north of Fort Dade.

Nearby residents packed meetings, hired experts and lawyers and made emotional pleas to county officials. They succeeded in getting the application pulled and delayed until the county commission approved it last year.

A legal challenge supported by the Neighbors Against Mining, filed by an adjacent property owner, again delayed the process until May when an administrative law judge ruled in favor of Cemex.

The only opposition present at Monday's Planning and Zoning Commission hearing was Mary Ellen Urban, who lives near the site. She said she knows that the mining will happen despite all of the opposition, and she hoped the company will keep neighbors informed of what is happening and limit the negative impacts on the community.

Her questions about traffic accessing the property and road configuration changes were pushed to a County Commission hearing next month.

The road changes were subject to controversy in 2013 when the County Commission voted to spend $1 million to buy four acres of land represented by politically influential realtor Gary Schraut. It would provide a new right-of-way to extend California Street north of Cortez Boulevard to Citrus Way.

There was public debate about the purchase price, which was higher than county appraisals for the parcel.

Under the new plan, the road right-of-way would be swapped for a county-owned road known as the Lykes Cutoff, which runs through the middle of the new mining area.

Both Urban and Alia Qureshi, chairwoman of the planning commission, also asked for more details about the proposed conveyor belt that will transport mined rock over and through the protected tree canopy on Fort Dade Avenue.

James Morris, regional environmental manager for Cemex, said the belt would be "Disney-esque.'' Cemex has received advice from theme park designers, he said, and would be about 40 foot in the air, securely enclosed so rock material will not fall out and located in an area where pines are more prevalent than the scenic oaks. It would not have any negative impact on the tree canopy, he said.

The design will be part of the continuing approval process for any mining operation, officials explained.

Even after the County Commission hearing, the company must go through additional permitting. Among the county requirements is that when mining is done in 20 years, the land will be developed into a mixed-use residential community.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

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