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Opponents express joy after Cemex drops request to allow mining west of Brooksville

Cemex Construction Materials Florida pulled its application to expand on Tuesday, leaving the door open to apply again at a later time.
Published Apr. 29, 2015

BROOKSVILLE — The shrill shouts of joy that erupted in the back of the Hernando County Commission chambers Tuesday came from a group of residents who had fought for more than a year and had little belief they could win.

They were up against a big company with historical economic influence in the community and a handful of landowners who are among the most powerful and influential people in Hernando County.

But in the middle of the public hearing to change the county's comprehensive land use plan to allow expanded lime rock mining on 573 acres west of Brooksville, where residential development was envisioned, Commissioner Jim Adkins stopped the proceeding.

He did not plan to support the change, he said. No one had proven to him that there was a need for the mined material.

Changes in the comprehensive plan require four yes votes on the five-member commissioner andDiane Rowden already had made clear that she was not going to support the mining expansion, so Adkins' vote clinched the outcome.

Minutes later, Cemex Construction Materials Florida pulled its application, leaving the door open to apply again.

DeeVon Quirolo hopes that doesn't happen, as do the hundreds of people who signed petitions, held fundraisers, attended meetings and did research to mount their defense against the mining expansion.

While a Cemex spokeswoman said after the meeting the company would look at its options, Quirolo said, "We hope that they take a good hard look at what a bad location this is for a mine.''

She also expressed her gratitude to Adkins and Rowden "for standing up for the little people.''

Those people made up much of the standing-room-only crowd Tuesday. They spoke after Darryl Johnston, the attorney for Cemex and the landowners, gave a brief presentation about the issues that had not been addressed months ago when the commission voted 4-1 to send the application to the state for review and after the experts and attorney for Neighbors Against Mining explained their positions.

Seventeen spoke, only two in favor of the proposal, before Adkins made his statement.

Among the opponents was Robert Widmar, who was chairman of the county's Planning and Zoning Commission last year when that body voted to recommend denial of the application.

Widmar said that for the county to grow, there must be residential development, and the land proposed for the mine was ideal for that, which explains the land-use designation in the comprehensive plan.

"It's the wrong place for mining to go,'' he said. "This is no recipe for growth.''

Others spoke about the health dangers, the inequity in mitigating destroyed wildlife habitat, the danger of increased sinkholes, allegations of blasting rule infractions and destruction of the Fort Dade Avenue tree canopy.

Rowden took off on residents' concerns that mining along Cortez Boulevard, at the gateway to Brooksville, would hurt tourism by showing a tongue-in-cheek proposal for a new billboard, urging motorists on Interstate 75 to visit Hernando County.

Exit here, it said, "to be among the first to tour a working mine. Purchase an official mining hard hat. Dig a souvenir piece of Florida lime stone. Detonate a small charge. Zip-line over an open mining pit.''

Rowden said she knew from the start that the application was going to require careful scrutiny.

"When I first reviewed this application, I realized that I had to go beyond the influence of the applicants to consider the merits of a new mine at this location,'' she said. "And I realized that this was a bad deal for Hernando County. It's my job to look out for the future well-being, economic strength and health of everyone in Hernando, not just the select few.''

Quirolo said she believes the debate brought to the surface underlying concerns about the county's powerful and influential leaders and that the win empowered people who did not believe they could win.

She said she hoped that empowerment rolls over into next year's elections. Rowden's seat is on the ballot, and it is widely thought that she will run again and face strong Republican opposition since she is the board's only Democrat. Adkins, a Republican, has said he will not seek another term.

If the application for the land-use change is refiled by Cemex, Quirolo said, "the obvious factor is who is going to be sitting on the dais. . . . Who do you want sitting on the dais?"

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