How Many Mines does Lee County Need?

Lee County already is the second biggest supplier of construction aggregate in Florida and has long provided about 70% of all of this essential road and building material for all 7 southwest Florida counties from Sarasota to Collier.

Lee Future opposes the approval of unnecessary additional mines, and the erosion of the protections in the Comprehensive Plan. We encourage residents to attend the BoCC meeting Wednesday and wear red.

What’s at Stake:
Approval of another lime rock mine east of Estero by Lee County Board of County Commissioners.

Wednesday, November 6 at 9:00 a.m.

Commissioners’ Meeting Room, 2120 Main Street, Fort Myers (map)

What You Can Do: 
Attend and Wear Red to support the Hearing Examiner’s denial of this application

Originally Published in the News-Press on November 3, 2019

Seven months after Lee County’s chief hearing examiner recommended denying it, a mining permit for the 4,200-acre Old Corkscrew Plantation in southeast Lee County is set to come up for a vote.

Lee County Commissioners have scheduled a public hearing on the mining proposal at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Old County Courthouse in downtown Fort Myers.

A vote would come some 20 months after hearings on the mining proposal began in March 2018.

In recommending that the county commission deny the Old Corkscrew Plantation mine, Chief Hearing Examiner Donna Marie Collins said the proposed mining operation “is not compatible with long established and ongoing residential development patterns in the area.”

But Collins went on to state that balancing the need for lime rock with its impact on the community is “ultimately a policy decision for the board.”

The hearing examiner referenced three issues involving community impact raised during her hearing.

They include whether to accept or reject the permit request to operate 24 hours per day and whether the concentration of rock truck routes on a “central artery” within the complex could be moved away from the border with the nearby Wildcat development.

Another open policy question could be whether ambient noise that neighbors fear could result from mining operations can be muted or reduced.

Old Corkscrew Plantation has been controversial for more than a decade. A circuit court judge threw out the commission’s 2007 decision denying a permit and ordered the case reconsidered under county land use rules in effect at the time.

County planners were not permitted to respond to News-Press inquiries about potential modifications to the proposal reviewed by the hearing examiner.

A county spokesman said no alternatives had been “presented” to the county on behalf of Corkscrew.

The Corkscrew Plantation proposal does not have to comply with the new mining rules enacted by commissioners earlier this year. The rules did away with requirements for lime rock needs analysis and a special zoning map that restricted siting of new rock mines.

After Collins’ recommendation to deny the petition was issued, King Ranch said it intended to move forward with the proposal, but no hearing was scheduled for months; Old Corkscrew Plantation is owned by Corkscrew Grove Limited Partnership, an affiliate of Houston-based King Ranch Inc.

The company currently has citrus groves on the site, operating as Consolidated Citrus Inc. The mining application includes rezoning the property from its current agricultural use to an industrial development zone to allow mining.

Calls to Mitch Hutchcraft, vice president for real estate for King Ranch and its Consolidated Citrus subsidiary, and to the lead planner on the mine project were not returned.

“We feel very confident about the information we submitted and we want to make sure that it’s heard,” said Hutchcraft after Collins issued her recommendation several months ago.

Hutchcraft has said in the past that the company’s citrus operations have been battered by the destructive path taken by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and a series of diseases that have attacked citrus crops. King Ranch has found a significant decline in citrus production that threatens the crop’s viability.  Florida’s orange harvest is in its early stages and orange picking usually continues well into spring.

Old Corkscrew Plantation went through a series of owners prior to its acquisition by King Ranch, which bought the property from a U.S. affiliate of Bank of Montreal that took the property when a prior owner defaulted on its mortgage.

Planners and an attorney representing Corkscrew Grove Limited Partnership also did not return calls Friday.

Troyer mine in litigation

Old Corkscrew is not the only mine application getting attention in Lee County. Less than three months ago, the commission approved a mine permit for Troyer Brothers potato farm off State Road 82. That mining permit is the subject of two appeals to the state Division of Administrative Hearings and a suit filed in Lee County circuit court. A hearing on one of the appeals began last week. Sakata Seed Company, a neighbor of Troyer Brothers, asked for a hearing to overturn the zoning change approved for the Troyer mine. That hearing will resume at an as-yet undetermined date.

Another administrative hearing will be held in January in which Sakata seeks to overturn the county commission’s vote to abolish a zoning map created for mining operations.

Sakata also launched a challenge to the Troyer mine in Lee circuit court. No hearing dates have been set for that zoning challenge.

Talks held over tomato farmers’ mine

In yet another pending mining proposal, the county has been in talks with the proponents of a mine rejected a few years ago.

FFD Land Co. sued the county over denial of its application. Commissioner Brian Hamman has brokered talks between the owners of the proposed FFD Land Co. mine on 5,000 acres off Corkscrew Road.

Lobby logs show that Hamman arranged meetings between Jaime Weisinger, a member of the family that owns Lipman Family Farms, the owner of FFD Land. Immokalee- based Lipman is the largest grower of tomatoes in the country.

Hamman would not comment about the status of the negotiations.

Weisinger, attorney Richard Aiken of the Henderson Franklin law firm, County Attorney Richard Wesch and Deputy County Attorney Michael Jacob have met on the FFD proposal.

A circuit court judge has allowed a delay in the litigation over claims the county violated FFD Land’s rights by rejecting the mining proposal.

The parties requested the delay in order to discuss possible settlements.

The suit was brought under the state’s Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Act, which can force a government agency to compensate landowners when the value of their property is reduced due to a government action.

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