Commissioner Ray Sandelli Fails First Test

On Wednesday, August 21st, the Lee County Commission approved the Troyer Brothers Mine despite residents’ concern and opposition. In his first critical vote on the BoCC, new Commissioner Ray Sandelli voted yes on all three votes needed to approve the mine. Lee Future was among the 20 organizations and citizens to testify in opposition of the mining proposal. We are greatly disappointed by this decision and concerned for the negative impacts it will have on Lee County’s quality of life. Below, we’ve included the News Press’s report on what happened at the hearing.

Originally Published on The News-Press
Written by Bill Smith

In a series of votes over nearly six hours of public hearing, Lee County commissioners approved a new 907-acre rock mine on the Troyer Brothers potato farm between State Road 82 and Corkscrew Road.

The decision to allow rock mining at the property in southeast Lee County came after repeated claims from Troyer’s hired consultants that the mining operation would not damage the environment and would be better for water quality than potato farming. 

Residents responded with sometimes emotional statements reflecting fears that their homes, the environment and their lifestyles would suffer.

“When you approve the Troyer mine, my wife and I will become sacrificial lambs for the county,” said Arvo Rahe, who lives near the site. “The obnoxious noise, dust and especially blasting will negatively impact our quality of life for the time we have left on this earth.”

Troyer’s case for the mine was based, in part, on its claims that mining was better for the environment because it would allow for new wildlife corridors, end a water flow disrupted by decades of farming and would lead to more efficient recharge of water supply tables.

Presenting the case for approval of the mine, Tina Ekblad, planning director for Troyer’s consultant Morris-Depew Engineering, told commissioners decades of growing potatoes had already “highly disturbed” the water flow.

She argued that mining would improve the recharging of water supplies beneath the limerock layer.

“Four separate groundwater models show groundwater will improve, with greater recharge rates, with mining than with existing conditions,” Ekbladsaid. 

Opponents, including neighbors, environmentalists and the operator of an experimental seed station next to Troyer’s property, argued that another mine is not needed to meet the area’s need for limerock over the next two decades.

Troyer used limerock needs forecasts through 2040, while opponents used 2030 for the outside date. Troyer claimed more rock is needed, opponents countered there is plenty in the pipeline and no need to dig up more.

“There is no real benefit to Lee County residents, just to the Troyers,” said Amber Crooks of The Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “There is actually no hard reason to add the Troyer properties to Map 14.”

Map 14 is the county zoning map that dictates where rock mines can be located. The commission abolished Map 14 this year, but an appeal of the decision was filed with an administrative law judge, keeping the old rules alive until a final decision is made in that case.

New County Commissioner Ray Sandelli joined pro-development colleagues in approving the mine, voting with Brian Hamman, Cecil Pendergrass and John Manning on the crucial vote to rezone the property for use as a limerock mine. 

Manning was absent for the preliminary votes taken before a lunch break due to a medical appointment. Frank Mann voted no on all three votes needed to give Troyer authority for the mine. He was the lone no vote in a 4-1 vote for final approval. 

In a rarity in zoning cases that pit citizens against corporate landowners, opponents of the mine had well-heeled support. 

Sakata Seed America hired local attorney Matt Uhle to oppose the request and engineer Greg Stuart to provide technical arguments against the need for mine rock.

Sakata operates an experimental seed farm next to Troyer, creating more disease and drought resistant varieties of broccoli, watermelon, peppers and other crops. 

The impact of trucks laden with limerock driving on a Troyer haul road adjacent to the Sakata property was seen as a threat to Sakata’s ongoing business. 

“In essence, what you are being asked to do is approve a rezoning request for a resource that will not be needed until the year 2052 and at expense of basically the long-term destruction of Sakata Seeds,” Stuart told commissioners.

He added that changes in the water table would hurt the “stable baseline” the company needs in water flow and quality to properly test its seeds. 

Troyer representatives said during the hearing that the company would connect to public roads only on SR 82 and not through its frontage on Corkscrew Road.

Uhle said an expected more than 1,000 daily mine rock trips using the SR 82 entrance would pose a significant safety issue.

“It’s easy to say it’s (the Florida Department of Transportation) problem but it’s not because it’s a problem tied to the use,” Uhle said.

“If you approve this particular use, you are going to create a safety problem.”

Limerock is used to make concrete building materials and underlayment for new roads.

A good portion of the debate focused on environmental concerns, including the impact on wildlife and water flow over land that has seen mainly agricultural use for a half-century.  

A final vote was delayed to allow for 11th hour negotiations between the county and Troyer’s hired planners over recommendations from Chief Hearing Examiner Donna Marie Collins, including a request for a larger buffer from blasting operations to protect neighboring Corkscrew Estates.

Collins recommended 2,640 feet, Troyer’s consultant David Depew asked the commission to reduce that to 1,280 feet because the additional distance would be a substantial impediment to mining. 

A recess in the hearing was called while last-minute talks between the county and Troyer representatives and then discussions among county staffers resulted in recommending that Collins’ recommendation be discarded. 


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3 Comments

  1. Jim Lytell on August 28, 2019 at 11:25 am

    Could we make a legal challenge to the county commission vote in lieu hearing EX conclusions and
    Public testimony,outcry

  2. John Gatti Jr on August 28, 2019 at 11:51 am

    This was a done deal from the start. A year ago the head of the Estero Council of Community Leaders stared there would be a deviation to approve mining. He was right.

    Unfortunately, the highly paid Estero Manager, Village Engineer who says he lacks resources that inhibits his ability to do his job, Elected Council Members, Toothless Planning Board who solely act like any developers dream, and dysfunctional Design Review Board all saw this coming and did not put together an all out campaign to mobilize the citizenry.

    The promised Estero Village Government Experiment continues to fail in allowing any zoning, bad storm water designs, and carnival colors for some developers

    Perhaps, the elected and appointed politicos are afraid to speak up or stand up after watching the Commissioners attack treatment of the sincere Don Eslick who only advocates the best for Estero. Watching Commissioner Pendergast intimate citizens at meetings or exercising their free speech rights may be too much work and rather say nothing or do nothing.

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