An administrative hearing backs county commission’s vote to open up more DR/GR land to limerock mining, further weakening protections to environmentally sensitive lands.
Originally published by Bill Smith in the News-Press on June 30, 2020
An effort to overturn a key part of Lee County’s approval of limerock mining at the Troyer Brothers potato farm off State Road 82 has been rejected by a state administrative law judge.
Judge Francine Ffolkes has turned aside a request by Sakata Seed Inc. that she recommend that the state Department of Economic Opportunity reject a vote by Lee County commissioners to change zoning rules.
The changes were needed to allow mining for rock on property owned by Troyer Brothers Inc., which operates a large potato farm on the property.
The key issue was the commission vote to eliminate a requirement that limited rock mining to a specific zoning category in part of southeastern Lee County, called Map 14.
“It is what it is,” said Randy Johnson, manager of the Sakata operation in Lee County. “We’re looking at some options. As far as her cancellation of Map 14, I think that’s over with.”
Map 14 was created several years ago in response to a court decision overturning a mining permit.
While the Troyer Brothers property includes 1,732 acres, Ffolkes ruled that the overall size of the property is less important than the area in which the mines would be dug.
While approval of a limerock mine might “encompass several thousand acres, mining generally occurred in smaller phases consisting of five to twenty acres over an extended period of time,” she said in a 24-page decision. “In a typical year, a limerock mine would excavate 20-25 acres.”
The land “went through a normal progression of vacant or agriculture use, then active excavation, then to an open waterbody, and potentially to some other use such as residential or conservation,” Ffolkes ruled. “The only permanent industrial use and activity are the rock crushing and processing” areas.
Sakata Seed had opposed the project based on the changes that the “natural progression” seen by Ffolkes would mean to its operations.
The seed farm adjacent to the Troyer property is used primarily to develop new strains of fruits and vegetables such as watermelons and cucumbers.
The company claimed that disruption to water flow, the presence of heavy machinery near its rows of experimental crops and other factors associated with mining would disrupt its operations.
No appeal of the administrative law judge’s ruling was filed by a deadline last Friday.
A lawsuit is still pending in Lee Circuit Court, but Johnson said he expects the company would no longer pursue the zoning issue in the ongoing court case.