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Group advocates for Pasco purchase of proposed mine site

The Lago Verde mine has been operating in north-central Pasco since 2013. Neighbors and others don’t want to see mining expand in the area and asked the county to purchase the neighboring site proposed as the Seven Diamonds mine.
The Lago Verde mine has been operating in north-central Pasco since 2013. Neighbors and others don’t want to see mining expand in the area and asked the county to purchase the neighboring site proposed as the Seven Diamonds mine.
Published Mar. 8, 2017

DADE CITY — Former brethren from other locales offered unsolicited land-use advice to Pasco County commissioners Tuesday: It's your county, but don't make it a mine.

Attorney Ed Turanchik, who served on the Hillsborough County Commission from 1990 to 1998, and former Hernando Commissioner Diane Rowden delivered that message during the public comment portion of Tuesday's commission meeting. They joined Pasco residents Arlen Black and Robert Howell, and DeeVon Quirolo of Brooksville, in seeking to stop the expansion of lime-rock mining in north-central Pasco.

"Preserve nature. It's mine-less'' is the catchphrase of their effort, which seeks county purchase, using its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program, of a proposed 143-acre mine site on the west side of U.S. 41, about 51/2 miles north of State Road 52. The mine proposal comes from Seven Diamonds LLC, a 4-year-old company affiliated with eye surgeon and developer Dr. James Gills.

It is just north and west of an existing mine, Lago Verde, which is the subject of a pending lawsuit from nearby property owners who say the mine violates the county's comprehensive land-use plan. Pasco County approved the mining permit for the project, originally called Outlaw Ridge, in 2013 as part of a mediated settlement of a suit from the mine owners after the commission initially denied the permit application in 2012.

Since, residents in the Shady Acres neighborhood just south of the Lago Verde site have complained about the noise and reverberations from the mining blasts, the potential for sinkholes and diminished property values.

"Lago Verde is already an environmental disaster for these communities,'' said Quirolo, president of Nature Coast Conservation Inc.

But the focus Tuesday was the proposal from Seven Diamonds. Turanchik, who represents Black, presented commissioners with a position paper noting that the county's comprehensive plan for the region north of SR 52 in central Pasco "states unambiguously that 'development shall be of an ecological form with mixed land uses concentrated in nodes or clusters that promote higher residential densities integrated with employment, retail and mutually supportive uses.' ''

"Lime-rock mining is heavy industrial use. This is not passive, ecological use. This is heavy industrialization,'' Turanchik said.

The area is next to the Tampa Bay Water Cross Bar well field, just east of Crews Lake, sits within the Weeki Wachee spring shed and contains portions of the county's designated ecological corridor. In September, the county acquired 127 acres from Black and Black Oak Trust to add to the corridor, using the Penny for Pasco-financed ELAMP.

On Tuesday, Black and the other speakers advocated that the county do likewise for the Seven Diamonds property. Gills bought the land in 1981 for $44,000 and later transferred ownership to a family trust. Seven Diamonds became the listed owner in 2015.

ELAMP is a voluntary program requiring a willing seller. No nominating application had been submitted to the county as of Tuesday afternoon, said natural resources manager Keith Wiley,

Efforts by the Times to reach Seven Diamonds representatives for comment were unsuccessful.

Commissioners did not comment on the ELAMP idea, nor on the Seven Diamonds mining application, during their public meeting. In interviews afterward, Commissioner Ron Oakley and commission Chairman Mike Moore both said they needed more information on costs and other factors before deciding on the merits of the acquisition.

Commissioner Jack Mariano, however, wasn't shy about endorsing the plan.

"I've been a supporter from way back,'' said Mariano, who suggested previously that the county try to acquire the Largo Verde site.

Seven Diamonds applied for its county mining permit in 2015 and held a community meeting in January 2016.

At the time, Seven Diamonds president Lew Friedland noted the Gills companies' record of high-end developments like Trinity.

"We build good products. We meet all the requirements,'' Friedland said. "(Lime rock) is a resource. You can't build roads and other construction projects without it, and the resource happens to be here.''

Seven Diamonds needs conditional-use and mining permits approved by the Pasco Development Review Committee, Planning Commission and County Commission before it can proceed.

Howell, one of the plaintiffs in the suit against the county over the Lago Verde permit, urged the commission not to authorize more mining.

"This is something you should not extend in this area in Pasco County," he said. "These people came for peace and quiet.''