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Owner of proposed Pasco mine uninterested in preservation pitch

Neighbors are interested, but the owner isn't. So Pasco County will not be preserving the site of a proposed mine as ecologically sensitive land.

The owner's response came last week during a meeting between Lew Friedland of Seven Diamonds LLC and Keith Wiley, Pasco County's natural resources manager. Nearby resident Bob Howell had nominated the 143 acres, targeted by Seven Diamonds as a lime-rock mine, to become a candidate for preservation under the county's Environmental Lands Acquisition and Management Program.

"They are not interested at this time. Without consent from the property (owner) to conduct the site inspection, the nomination cannot be processed,'' Wiley said in a May 3 email to Howell.

The rejection came nearly two months after Howell, former Hernando Commissioner Diane Rowden, DeeVon Quirolo of Brooksville, Pasco resident Arlen Black and her attorney, Ed Turanchik, asked the Pasco County Commission to preserve the land, which sits on the west side of U.S. 41 and 5.5 miles north of State Road 52.

They used the catchphrase "Preserve nature. It's mine-less'' and contended another lime-rock mine contradicted the county's own land-use plan for the area.

"I'm not terribly surprised they said no,'' Turanchik said last week about the rebuffed ELAMP request. "It's a shame, because it would be a win-win for the county and the citizens and the environment.''

Seven Diamonds is a 4-year-old company affiliated with eye surgeon Dr. James Gills, whose companies developed Trinity in west Pasco, Seven Hills in Hernando and other large-scale projects. The proposed mine is north and west of an existing mine, Lago Verde, which is the subject of litigation by Howell and others, who say the county illegally granted a mining permit for the project.

Seven Diamonds also needs a county conditional-use permit before it can actively mine its property. It applied for the permit in 2015 and held a community meeting in 2016, but has not yet had a public hearing before the Development Review Committee, Planning Commission or County Commission.

The proposed mine is near the Tampa Bay Water Cross Bar well field, sits east of Crews Lake, is within the Weeki Wachee Spring shed and contains portions of the county's designated ecological wildlife corridor.

"The ELAMP nomination stands on its own merits, but it also stands to highlight the ecologically significant value of this land,'' said Turanchik. "It just doesn't make sense to create a massive new mine, dynamiting and processing, next to the county's major ecological corridor. These things just don't make sense.''