On Sept. 16, Lee County Commissioners approved unanimously an application by representatives for Bell Mine, presently a dirt mine on S.R. 82, to become a lime rock mine with blasting and much deeper mining. They voted to approve DESPITE their own county staff recommending that the application be denied and DESPITE prior decisions by the Hearing Examiner that the mine should be a fill dirt mine only, and DESPITE the applicant having bypassed the usual review and comment process for such requests.
When they voted to weaken mining location protections — i.e., deleting Map 14 — county commissioners said that the public shouldn’t worry. They said there were plenty of other protections left in place. Well, that worked out well, didn’t it? They ignored the protections that supposedly kicked in, overrode them against the advice of their own staff, and green lighted Bell’s mine application.
Below is a link to the Conservancy’s letter opposing the application, a link to the staff report recommending denial, and News-Press coverage of the hearing.
Published in the News-Press on Sept. 17 by Bill Smith
More limerock trucks to roll on State Road 82
In a unanimous vote, Lee County commissioners this week approved changes in the permits for a mine on State Road 82 that clears the way for the mine owners to sell the limerock it digs up in its search for dirt.
Commissioners grappled with the idea that owners of a mine dug to get fill dirt out of the ground cannot sell the limerock dug from the same operation.
The decision overturned a county rule that allowed limerock taken from a mining pit while digging for dirt to be removed and processed but never sold.
Ultimately, commissioners decided there was no difference between the two resources removed from the pit, and gave approval for the owner of the Bell Road Mine to sell limerock.
The decision for the Bell Street mine came two days after what could be the final decision in a long battle over a rock mine on a nearby site.
An administrative law judge dismissed an appeal aimed at blocking permits the commission approved for the Troyer Bros. mine, a short distance away on S.R. 82.
Bell Road mine owners wanted a five-year extension of its permit to 2034 and a change in what it was allowed to do with earthen product dug from 40-foot deep pits.
“It’s not the normal formal zoning action,” said Community Development Director David Loveland. “This is purely a discretionary decision by the board. You can accept it, deny it, you can do what you consider appropriate.”
Debate came down to whether the Bell Road Mine is an aggregate mine or a simple dirt mine where limestone is only removed to reach the fill dirt.
“The difference is the definition,” Loveland said. “The difference is you aren’t able to sell it. They can process it and get it out of the way, but they can’t sell it.”
Consultant engineer Carl Barraco, who was hired by the Inge interests, provided a more inclusive definition from an engineering reference publication used by the Florida Department of Transportation.
“Bell Road mine has historically and continues to produce fine aggregate, the sand you have been talking about, and also the limerock you’ve talked about,” Barraco said.
The mine owner, a company fronted by local land use consultant Ron Inge, said that if the company could sell limerock, a key component in roadbuilding, it might reduce costs of rebuilding S.R. 82 because the cost of hauling rocks would be less from the Bell Road mine.
Speaking out against the mine permit change was Meredith Budd of the Florida Wildlife Foundation who said the change didn’t receive enough public input.
Randy Johnson, who heads the nearby Sakata Seed Company west of the Bell Mine also objected.
“The change from fill pit to rock mine will create unacceptable impacts to our operation,” Johnson said. “Adding blasting, the ‘b word’ left out of this, will directly impact us and countless owners of property in Lehigh Acres north of State Road 82.”
Sakata bitterly opposed the mining permits granted to Troyer Bros. potato farming business, also adjacent to the Sakata property.
On Monday, a final decision rejected a Sakata appeal of the changes in the county land use plan required for Troyer Bros. to receive a mining permit.
The state Department of Economic Opportunity upheld a decision by an administrative law judge that the county decision to allow mining at Troyer Bros. complies with state law.