The day before Lee County Commissioners approved a new limerock mine in southeast Lee County, the board took the first step toward potentially agreeing to yet another mining operation in that environmentally sensitive area.
This one will likely come in through the back door, however – unlike the direct approval of a change in permit that turned the Bell Mine off State Road 82 from a fill-dirt mine to one allowed to produce limerock (which had been prohibited in its original approvals).
At a Sept. 15 public hearing, commissioners set an Oct. 6 executive session to “discuss settlement negotiations or strategy sessions” concerning a suit by FFD Land Co. At issue is the county’s 2013 denial of that company’s mining application for rezoning a 4,652-acre parcel (that’s more than seven square miles of land) to allow for mining on more than 4.5 square miles of the site.
The mine is south of Corkscrew Road and east of I-75, and the HEX report estimated it would have generated more than 2,500 two-way truck trips daily, all on Corkscrew… so a big mining operation putting a lot of stress on adjacent roadways in addition to its 100-foot-deep excavation and 50 years of operation.
Said denial eventually earned the county a $39 million inverse condemnation and Bert Harris lawsuit, which is winding its way to a local courtroom soon.
The county’s record on such suits has been weak, typically preferring to give land owners what they demand rather than stand behind past rulings and the Lee Plan in the face of large financial threats. This case is even more likely to be settled (which means giving in to another mine) for the very simple reason that the county abandoned the rules that lead to the denial in the first place.
Back in the original review of the application, county staff and the Hearing Examiner both concurred that the request should be denied because the property in question “is not located with the prescribed mining areas (on) Lee Plan Map 14, and is inconsistent with the numerous other provisions of the Lee Plan” (actually, almost 60 provisions, according to the report).
Map 14, launched in 2009 shortly after the original application was filed, designated which areas of the Density Reduction/Groundwater Recharge (DR/GR) area in southeast Lee County could be mined based on both anticipated need and existing infrastructure. The map stayed in place until last year, when commissioners removed Map 14 and other language related to mining from the county plan.
Since the map that was cited as a reason for denial is no more, it’s not much of a stretch to imagine that county’s legal strategy will boil down to “no map = no denial = another mine.”
But, wait… there’s more!
In the 2013 HEX report, it was noted that the applicant actually wanted the denial to be tied solely to Map 14… which tends to make one think that the map was in the bullseye from the very beginning. However, both the HEX and staff pushed back against that request, instead citing all the other places in the Lee Plan where this request stood in conflict with the language. While the map has been removed, it’s hard to imagine the ~60 other citations have been similarly nullified.
Whether that’s sufficient to encourage the county to keep fighting the FFD lawsuit is dubious. Given the county’s tendency to back down from legal land battles, it’s not likely. Guess we’ll know more at some point after the Oct. 6 executive session (which is not open to the public)… but hopefully before the bulldozers and the blasting gets going.