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Limerock comp plan amendment approved by BOCC

By Staff | Apr 20, 2019

In the face of a packed chamber of vocal opposition, the Lee County Board of County Commissioners on April 17 agreed to transmit changes to limerock rules to the state.

The vote to transmit the changes to the county’s comprehensive plan was 3-1.

The final vote cast in favor was made by Commissioner John Manning who said he was “reluctant” to second the approval motion by Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass, who was in favor of the proposed changes prior to hearing the day’s worth of testimony.

Commissioner Frank Mann voted against moving forward on the amendment to the comp plan, and chose not to read his written comments.

“It has been a painful day, and one on which I will be on the losing side,” Mann said.

The proposed changes include eliminating Map 14, which designates certain areas in southeast Lee County for mine use and the requirement for a supply/demand study.

The hearing began at 9:30 a.m. with a courtroom packed with municipal representatives and residents opposed.

Commissioners heard from both Lee County planners and critics opposed to amending the current supply/demand requirements included in the comprehensive plan and on the deletion of Map 14.

County Commission Vice Chair Brian Hamman made opening remarks in regards to the recent debates over the proposed amendments.

Hamman then opened the hearing by asking that everyone participating act with civility throughout the proceedings.

County Manager Roger Desjarlais spoke first on behalf of the county by stating that staff would present the facts about the proposed amendments and their impacts.

One point of heated debate centered around the elimination of a county land-use plan requirement that requires an economic study to determine the necessity for limerock mining.

According to County Attorney Richard Wesch, the supply/demand study and Map 14 portion of the current Lee Comp Plan put a restraint on free-trade in regards to limerock mining.

“We believe that we should allow the free-market to dictate the need for limerock mines like we do other types of commodities. We don’t regulate the raising of melons or potatoes,” Wesch said.

Others who came to speak, including Estero City Councilman Nick Batos, argued that some industries must be regulated in interest of the public.

“Mining is such a disruptive land use and should require special requirements before being approved. We need the similar requirements like what’s imposed on other hazardous uses such as nuclear power plants,” Batos said.

Other local representatives against the proposed limerock mine amendments included Fort Myers Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda, City of Bonita Springs Mayor Peter Simmons, Sanibel City Councilmembers Jason R. Maughan and Mick Denham and Sanibel Mayor Kevin Ruane, Village of Estero Vice-Mayor Katy Errington and Mayor Bill Ribble, who read a letter written by Council Member Jim Boesch.

Ribble voiced the council’s disapproval of the elimination of Map 14 and asked commissioners to consider allowing a new supply/demand study be performed by FGCU prior to making their final decision.

“The study would be under the direction of FGCU President Dr. Martin and could provide an unbiased view. Let them weigh-in with their studies,” Ribble said.

Errington ended her three minutes to speak by asking county commissioners to “listen to their constituents who are in clear opposition of these amendment changes.”

Those in support of the limerock mine amendments included Henderson Franklin attorney Kaylee Tuck, who called the industry the “cornerstone” of the region’s economy.

“Locally sourced limestone mining provides cost-effective building materials and local jobs and is partially responsible for Lee County’s ability to sustain rapid growth. Local limestone mines are essential in Lee County,” Tuck said.

In the end, the majority of the residents who attended were disappointed in the outcome.

“They asked for the public’s input and a hundred percent of us who spoke were against it. Many of our local representatives worked with this board to create Map 14 and DR/GR planning. Very disappointed that they are backing the over-extraction of these minerals even though they know how it may affect our sensitive ecological system,” Cape resident Lane Jones said.