Lee County comp plan info session answers questions about impacts to limerock mining approval process
Residents with questions about a proposed Comprehensive Plan amendment that could impact how Lee County addresses limerock mining proposals turned out Wednesday for an open-house style informational session held at the county’s Public Works building.
The open house was called to answer questions and clear up misconceptions.
Over the past few months residents and some environmental groups have voiced concerns that the abolishment of Map 14 and the supply/demand portion of the county’s Comprehensive Plan would affect the future of limerock mining in southeast Lee County.
According to county planners, the proposed changes would not weaken the process, but streamline it by making it clearer and legally defensible.
“There has been some concern through activist channels who claim there will be negative effects through the passing of these amendments. We are here to talk about what they do and don’t do,” said Dave Loveland, Lee County Community Development director, on Wednesday.
Currently, Map 14 identifies approved limerock mining locations within the Southeast quadrant of Lee County.
“Even without Map 14, the DRGR (Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource) stays in place. This is part of deciding where limerock mining can occur,” said Loveland. “Plus, there is currently no criteria as to how you get on Map 14.”
The DRGR land-use category was incorporated into the Lee Plan back in 1990 during a Stipulated Settlement Agreement between Lee County and the Florida Department of Community Affairs. The settlement came as a way to prevent wetland destruction and potential density increases in the vital water resource area after rampant development in portions of the county.
Some still claim that the elimination of Map 14 would eliminate the rules in place to permit mines and limit public input.
Florida Wildlife Federation has been involved in the protection of the wildlife and resources here in Lee County.
“Taking away Map 14 eliminates the ability for the public to have a meaningful discussion with elected officials about new zoning mine issues. Without this portion of the comprehensive plan, there will be no way of publicly participating in the decision making process. It gives residents a three minute window to speak only during a zoning hearing,” said Meredith Budd, Florida Wildlife Federation.
According to Budd, back in 2011, Lee County, along with aid from Florida Wildlife Federation and other conservation agencies, fought to protect Map 14.
“Lee County was being sued by various proposed limework mining industry operations including Troyer Brothers, over Map 14. We intervened, along with other groups, to defend the county and Map 14. Our position on the necessity on Map 14 has not changed and we don’t see justification on the county’s recent stance to take away Map 14 after defending for so many years,” Budd sate.
Budd was not the only one from the community unconvinced of the benefit of eliminating Map 14 or the supply/demand study.
“I’m here to get a better understanding on what these amendments mean for us. Will they make it easier for new mines to open? We live in Woodbridge Reserve, a community close to the proposed Troyer Brothers mine. We are really concerned about blasting so close to our homes. This could potentially destroy our end paradise, which is why we bought our home here. This is not an industrial park, why do they need to allow a mining operation so close to 1,000 residential homes?” said resident Cheryl Croce.
According to county planners, the same regulations under Chapter 12, within the land development code, will remain in place to examine potential impacts on wildlife, water quality, traffic and zoning requirements.
The vote on the proposed Limerock Mining amendments by the Lee Board of County Commissioners will be held on April 17. The meeting will be held at 9:30 a.m. in Commission Chambers at the Old Courthouse, 2120 Main St., Fort Myers.
Members of the public will get three minutes to speak before the board.
Residents with questions still can obtain information before next week’s meeting.
In response to the concerns voiced by local groups and businesses in regards to the amendment and what it means, Lee County has created a landing page devoted to providing information about the limerock mining issue and proposed changes to the Lee County Comprehensive Plan.
The landing page at leegov.com/mining provides an overview, an FAQ and a link to join a county mailing list for future updates.
“We want people to understand that the proposed amendment would not make it easier or more difficult to get a limerock mining operation approved. The Troyer and Old Corkscrew proposed mining hearings are completely independent to the hearing on the 17th,” said Lee County spokesperson Betsty Clayton in a telephone interview.
She said the changes have been in the works for some time.
“For the last two or more years the county has been working on clearing up the language in the comprehensive plan in regards to how business is done. The action being considered on the 17th will not impact public safety, water quality, the environment or how traffic elements will be reviewed and evaluated. All the same safe guards for the consideration of a limerock mining will still exist,” Clayton said.
Those in the industry say the comp plan changes are needed.
They also say some of the fear of its impact is unfounded.
“Limerock is place-based resource. It is only found where God put it. It’s not artificially made,” said Tina Matte from Gravina, Smith, Matte & Arnold Public Relations, a consultant for Troyer Brothers. “The supply for the market is what makes sense and letting the market dictate how much limerock is mined and for how long.
“People opposed to mining in general probably don’t think about it in this way. Limerock is all around us no matter where you are, in church, at work, in school or on the road. If we don’t allow it to be derived from here, they will still have to pay almost double to get it trucked in from somewhere else,” said Matte.
The standard will remain pretty high, she added.
“Even without Map 14, there are strenuous requirements listed in Chapter 12. A high bar is set for limerock mines to get cleared by the county government. It’s a long and tedious process,” Matte said.
For more information visit leegov.com/mining