DADE CITY —The controversial Seven Diamonds LLC mine in northern Pasco is growing larger, and public opposition is shrinking smaller.
The mine is growing by one-fifth to 345 acres, after it acquired the neighboring 60 acres for $684,000 in October 2016. The transaction closed after Seven Diamond had applied for a permit to mine its original 285 acres on the west side of U.S. 41, about 3 miles south of the Hernando County line.
Last week, with no public objections, the Pasco Planning Commission, as part of its consent agenda, recommended an amended permit for the mine to operate on the larger site until 2043. The approval came five days after the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said that it, too, intended to issue a permit to Seven Diamonds.
The lack of public protests may have signaled a white flag of surrender from neighbors who had opposed Seven Diamonds, and before that an adjoining mine called Lago Verde, for the past seven years. A county-mandated community meeting in July drew just 13 people, a quarter.of the attendance at a similar meeting in 2016 when Seven Diamonds applied for its original permit.
“The people are at the point where they think ‘what can I do?’ You can protest, but it’s like throwing rocks at a tank,’’ said Robert J. Howell of the nearby Shady Acres neighborhood.
Howell and Myles Friedland of Land O’Lakes had been plaintiffs in lawsuits against the county, Seven Diamonds and the owners of Lago Verde. They said the limerock mining and accompanying explosive blasts violated the county’s land-use plan by putting heavy industry in an agricultural and residential district that also had county-owned environmentally sensitive property in the vicinity.
They dropped their suits in June, however, just before Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill requiring losing parties in comprehensive plan challenges to pay the opposing party’s legal bills. That provision was a late-in-the session addition to HB 7103 that drew no legislative debate nor public testimony before legislators approved it.
Seven Diamonds LLC is affiliated with developer and eye surgeon Dr. James P. Gills, who was honored last week by the Pasco Economic Development Council with its 2019 leadership award hours after the Planning Commission approved the expanded mine permit.
Other companies tied to Gills, the developer of Trinity in southwest Pasco, have bundled $5,000 in contributions to the 2020 re-election campaigns of Pasco Commission Chairman Ron Oakley and Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
The application for the amended mining permit for Seven Diamonds is scheduled to be considered by Pasco County commissioners at a public hearing on Oct. 7 in Dade City.
Howell doesn’t expect a different outcome.
“They feel nothing’s going to change,’’ Howell said. “They feel they’ve never been heard on this, and they won’t be heard in the future.’’