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Controversial county mining amendments approved

By Staff | Jun 20, 2019

Lee County has amended its rules on how limerock mines are approved.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners voted 3-1 Wednesday to remove limerock zoning Map 14 and a supply/demand component that required there be a need for additional limerock mines to receive approval by county staff and commissioners.

Before voting on the amendments adoption, commissioners heard more than three hours of public comment on the county’s staff plan, which asked for the elimination a zoning map restrictions governing where mines can operate and the requirement for supply/demand studies that needed to show a need for new mines.

More than 50 members of the public voiced their opinions, mostly objections, to the proposed changes to the current comp plan for limerock mining.

Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass was critical of some of those who spoke in opposition to the changes, saying the majority of comments were politically driven.

He said he felt confident the changes would not “deregulate” limerock mining.

“For the last few months my questions were answered as to whether this will increase mining or deregulate mining, the answer is no, no, no. If it did take away regulations and it did increase mining, then I couldn’t support it,” Pendergrass said.

The final decision as whether to support the amendments or not came when Commissioner John Manning, who had expressed reservations previously, decided to vote in favor with Pendergrass and Brian Hamman.

Commissioner Frank Mann, who served on the board when the limerock mining rules were adopted, remained opposed to the changes and voted against the amendments.

Mann reminded the current board as to why the prior board made these decisions in regards to mining rules.

“Our own staff strongly recommended the language we adopted, our attorneys were perfectly happy with the language that we adopted. We even hired outside consultants that strongly supported the language we are now about to change,” Mann said.

Opposition was heavy.

Among those opposed were elected officials and representatives of conservation groups.

Julianne Thomas from the Nature Conservancy of Southwest Florida, said that while not surprised, the group hoped that Manning might have changed his mind, because he was reluctant to second the motion during the transmittal hearing.

“I don’t know how the county can say it will not affect the future of limerock mines now that Map 14 is gone. For example, Troyer Brothers mine had a comp plan amendment that was already transmitted to the state and up for adoption review. Now that can’t happen because you can’t adopt to a plan that no longer exist,” Thomas stated.

According to Thomas, Troyer had asked for four extensions to postpone their comp plan amendment and now they no longer have to go through a comp plan adoption hearing.

Another change that the elimination of Map 14 brings about is limitation of the public’s opportunity to petition and be involved in the comp plan process.

“Here in Lee County people are prohibited from speaking to the commissioners on zoning matters. This is not a common thing in other parts of Florida. In our view, it’s important that the public be involved in matters of zoning,” Thomas said.

According to Thomas, the Nature Conservancy had a chance to meet with the county commissioners prior to the hearings and suggested that they consider looking into an independent report prior to accepting the changes.

“We asked that they not just follow the comp plan amendments their staff was suggesting and instead take some time to research it,” said Thomas. “I really feel the county missed a great opportunity to have the public more involved with the limerock mining zone process and it could have been beneficial to have everyone’s input going forward on what’s best for Lee County.”

Following the adoption of the amendments, there will be a 30 day period for special interest groups and citizens to challenge the county’s decision at a state level.