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Residents say mining boom supplants their peace and quiet

A dump truck emerges at the Lago Verde sand mine in Spring Hill. At a recent meeting, about 50 neighbors objected to a proposed expansion of mining, fearing their quality of life will decline.
A dump truck emerges at the Lago Verde sand mine in Spring Hill. At a recent meeting, about 50 neighbors objected to a proposed expansion of mining, fearing their quality of life will decline.
Published Jan. 21, 2016

SPRING HILL — Arlen Black and her late husband, James, moved from Tampa to their 142-acre homestead in northern Pasco County 13 years ago for a simple reason — peace and quiet.

It hasn't worked out. Her husband died several years ago, and the hoped-for peace and quiet disappeared after nearby land morphed from agriculture to lime rock mining, which has neighbors complaining about the blasting.

That mine, initially rejected but later approved in 2013 by Pasco County, is Lago Verde and sits on the west side of U.S. 41 about 4 miles north of State Road 52 in the largely rural area of Pasco's northern tier, but close to about 200 homes. A second mine, the Equis Reserve Borrow Pit, now operates across the street. And Seven Diamonds LLC, a 2-year-old company affiliated with developer and eye surgeon Dr. James Gills, is now seeking permission to operate a 143-acre sand and lime rock mine north and west of Lago Verde.

"This proliferation is exactly what we feared would happen," neighbor Stephanie Schatzman said. "The county has failed us big time."

Lawsuits over county approval of the Lago Verde mine and the administration of an escrow account to cover property damages are pending. In the meantime, about 50 neighbors came to a community meeting Tuesday night at New Beginnings Family Church on Michigan Lane, mostly to object to the proposed expansion of mining. Black was accompanied by her Tampa attorney, Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner.

"Of course, we have concerns, a lot of concerns, about the potential impacts on lifestyle and property values," Turanchik said.

There was no formal public hearing on the Seven Diamonds proposal. But people still shared stories about their disdain for the County Commission and Lago Verde and expressed fears that their quality of life is about to get worse from another mine.

"The last blast shook the rafters in the attic," said Nita Mehnert, who lives on Bakersfield Drive.

She said her husband, retired Air Force Col. A.E. Mehnert, has Alzheimer's and post-traumatic stress disorder, and her chore after the blasts is "to convince him he's still in Florida and not back in Vietnam."

Real estate agent Cheri Pasterchek of Pasco Lake Trailer Estates said she won't do business in Pasco County.

"I don't want to be party to subjecting anyone to the disrespect the County Commission has shown the residents of this area."

"It's really not right," said Mary Wilson, also of Bakersfield Drive. "People go home to their peace and quite, and instead, we get this. It's like an earthquake."

The influence of Gills, whose companies developed Trinity, and one of his top officers, Seven Diamonds president Lew Friedland on the Pasco Economic Development Council's board of directors, hasn't escaped the neighbors' attention.

Other corporate entities overseen by Friedland have contributed more than $20,000 to the current or the most recent campaigns of the five sitting county commissioners.

"The owners of this company are people who have been in Pasco County and been developing in Pasco County a long time. We're not shy to say that," Friedland said. "We build good projects. We meet all the requirements.

"(Lime rock) is a resource. You can't build roads and other construction projects without it, and the resource happens to be here."

Three public hearings will be held in the future. Seven Diamonds needs conditional use and mining permits approved by Pasco's Development Review Committee, the Planning Commission and finally the County Commission before operations can begin.