Tarmac moves ahead on mine permit

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Planning commission meets Sept. 13

By Lou Elliott Jones

The zoning application came with $1,600 and eight cases of paperwork. The cover letter summed it up: "Tarmac America LLC is pleased to submit the King Road Limestone Mine Special Exception Application #3 ... This submittal is for the actual operation of the mine site which is +/- 4,750 acres," Tarmac executive Albert W. Townsend wrote to the Levy County Development Department. The letter was dated June 13, but it was not delivered to Levy County Building Official Rob Corbitt at his Bronson office until Aug. 3.  Townsend wrote that the mining operation will be done on about 4,750 acres, transforming about 1.439 acres into lakes and leaving  about 2,299 acres at their current use — pine tree farming. Another 852 acres, more or less, will be used as a conservation easement to protect environmentally sensitive lands on the mine site, and an approximately 4,526 acres will be enhanced and restored. The last parcel, located by the Waccasassa Bay State Preserve, will be deeded over to the Florida Forever program. Corbitt, who received the five complete applications, said his office sending notices to various agencies about the application seeking comments by Sept. 1 so the information can be included in a staff report for the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission's public hearing on the application will be held Sept. 13 at 6:30 p.m. in Courtroom A in the Levy County Courthouse in Bronson.  Townsend refers to the current application as No. 3 because the site received a prior Special Exception permit in 2005 to excavate a test pit — something that has become a bone of contention with opponents of the mine; and a second Special Exception permit for the location, storage and assembly of a drag line to be used in the mining operation. The one acre test pit was dug to determine if the pit contained the gray limerock that Tarmac is interested in digging out for use in roadbuilding, foundations for large structures and other construction uses. The company has left the water-filled test pit open, Manager Jeff Harris said, because it intends to start mining operations on the site. But a group of residents from Yankeetown, led by Councilman Jack Schoenfeld, has protested leaving the test pit open, contending it should have been refilled. County Attorney Anne Bast Brown has advised the Levy County Commission that the critics complaints are moot. The group has most recently claimed the company failed to pay tangible taxes on the drag line kept at the site, but the company cited a state statute that exempts articles not used in revenue-production from the tax.  The application presented to Corbitt last week has followed a winding road. In 2004 the company initially began working to do studies and obtain the necessary approvals for the mine from local, state and federal agencies with a say int he permitting process. Since then one application has been withdrawn, the special exception permits have been granted, the test pit dug, and construction of the business was delayed from 2010 to 2011, meaning the opening of the mining operation was also pushed back to 2013. The company has said the construction phase will provide 60 jobs and the mining operation will employ 35. But a financial impact study by the company estimates there will be 200 spinoff jobs created by the operation. The company also said it expected to spend $100 million on permitting and construction.  But Schoenfeld has disputed those estimates and is expected to present his own information rebutting the study.  "It is great to see Tarmac hand out $500 here and there as a goodwill gesture but all citizens need to be educated  to the negative impact this project may bring to our county and the actual direct additional revenues the county  will receive is minimal at least,"  Schofield write in a July 14 email. "Property taxes will not increase, sales taxes on sales of aggregate will be minimal since the state of Florida and municipalities using this material do not pay a sales tax. A lot to think about to be sure that whatever is decided it is in the best interest of the citizens of Levy County." Dr. Richard Weisskoff, an economist, has written a report for Schoenfeld's group and concludes, "The 35 new jobs in industrial and mining 'development' will cost the county dearly in terms of the environmentally-sensitive and highly-decentralized recreation, hunting, fishing, and tourist economy." He argues in the report that Levy County would be better served to pursue tourism based on hunting and fishing and its unique ecology and not endangers it unique envornment and it aquaculture industry in Cedar Key with the mining operation and its effects.