|LPA okays twin sand mine plans|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Thursday, 03 May 2012 16:27|
The Baker County Commission will soon consider two long-term sand mining projects after both received favorable recommendations from the county’s Land Planning Agency last week.
Sand mining is not permitted in the agriculturally zoning districts where both mines are located, unless the county grants a special exception.
The proposed sites, one northeast of the Walmart Distribution Center and another on the DuPont mining tract east of SR 228 in the southern county, encompass hundreds of acres and could be mined for decades to come.
Some 50 people packed the Land Planning Agency’s [LPA] meeting to consider the special exception applications the evening of April 28, though about a dozen attendees were there representing the two companies proposing the mining operations.
County commissioners are scheduled to consider the special exception requests from E.R. Jahna, Inc. and Old Castle Southern Group on May 21.
The first applicant to appear before the five-member Land Planning Agency board was E.R. Jahna Industries, Inc., an independent family-owned company based in Lake Wales, FL.
The firm leases 960 acres owned by TerraPoint, LLC, a subsidiary of Rayonier, immediately north of three residential subdivisions on US 90.
Today it’s used for timber production.
Jahna plans to mine course sand from two sites on the eastern side of the tract, using about 250 acres on the northwestern portion to store “tailings,” which are the by-product of processing the mined material to screen out clay and fine sands.
Course sand is used to make siding, concrete blocks, stucco and other products. Jahna has a handful of sand mines, most of them in the central part of the state.
The mining sites proposed here measure about 120 acres on the northeastern portion of the 960 acres plus another 155 acres on the southeastern section of the property. Buffers are planned between the two mining sites to shield a creek on the tract from adverse impacts.
A 100-foot buffer — half trees and vegetation and half a low-berm — is also envisioned along the project’s southern boundary.
At the center of the property, the company wants to build a processing plant of no more than 60 feet tall and install two wells. One well at some 600 feet deep would pump out water for hydraulically dredging the soil. A shallow well would be drilled for potable water.
Jahna representatives said the company intends to pump 2.2 million gallons per day from the site during the first two years of the project, after which the existing water supply will be reused in a “closed loop” system unless equipment breaks down and additional water is needed to continue operations during the projected 25-year life of the mine.
Eight long-term jobs are expected from the project.
The hydraulic dredge would mine at a depth of 60 to 70 feet below the land’s natural elevation and cover 5-10 acres a year, or more should the market demand additional dirt.
Tailings will be returned to the mining sites following dredging and the property will eventually become “a future amenity” with large lakes and trees, said David Settles, a geologist with Rayonier.
“We hold our responsibility to the environment in the highest regard ... We will not tolerate anything less,” he said.
But when the board took comments from the public later in the meeting, some residents questioned the environmental friendliness of sand mining.
Dennis Whelan, whose wife owns land in the vicinity, noted the county seal hanging behind board members and its words: “Preparing our future. Preserving our past.”
“You can’t grow anything in tailings,” Mr. Whelan told the panel. “There will never be anything else on that land.”
A geologist on Jahna’s project team, Wink Winkler, later responded, saying the company’s former mining sites, after reclamation, have been used for pine tree planting, pastures and homes.
Jahna representatives, which also included water resource consultants, a traffic engineer and lawyer, held an open house with neighboring residents prior to the public hearing.
Doug Rillstone, a Tallahassee attorney representing Jahna, said most of the concerns heard at the open house involved the project’s environmental impacts and adding more industrial traffic to the area. Citizens and board members at last week’s LPA hearing voiced many of the same concerns.
Board member Jim Smith asked whether radon, a toxic colorless gas, would be released into the air during the mining process and whether the company had tested for it at its other mining sites.
Mr. Winkler said the company has not tested for the radioactive gas elsewhere and that it’s never been an issue in the past. Still, he said, the company would perform the necessary tests, should the county mandate it as a condition of approval.
An attorney for another applicant on the LPA’s agenda that evening, Wyman Duggan, addressed the concerns about radon later.
He said radon can become dangerous in certain homes and other structures where the gas is trapped and builds up. When released into the atmosphere, he said, the naturally-occurring gas is not harmful.
Resident Marcus Rhoden was more concerned about the amount of water Jahna’s mine would use — 2.2 million gallons a day for up to two years — and what the withdrawals could mean for the local water supply.
“That’s 480 million gallons a year,” he said. “How can it not effect the water wells and water table here ... We just need to be mindful and careful of this project.”
The mining is also expected to draw 75 to 100 trucks a day to pick up sand from the site and haul it away. But because the company anticipates most of the demand to come from the Jacksonville area, Mr. Rillstone said only 4 percent of the traffic should head west on US 90.
Furthermore, he said, trucks that travel through Macclenny will be instructed not to turn north on SR 121 to reach the interstate.
“These are not our truck drivers, but we’ll hand out pamphlets to encourage drivers to get on I-10 in Sanderson,” said the attorney.
Later in the meeting, Mr. Smith, the board member, expressed his doubts about drivers choosing to travel east on US 90 once they’ve been stuck at the railroad tracks in Baldwin for 30 minutes or more.
“The likelihood of hitting that train is pretty high,” he said.
The county’s approval of the project would be contingent on a series of regulatory approvals from regional, state and federal agencies like the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, US Army Corps of Engineers and St. Johns River Water Management District, the agency charged with controlling water withdrawals.
Robert Kirkner, a hydro geologist with the project team, said the company would be required to mitigate any harm to residents’ wells or water supply at the company’s expense, including the drilling of new wells.
Still, company representatives said, it’s very unlikely the amount of water to be withdrawn would affect residential wells in the area.
Old Castle Southern sand mine
LPA board members voted 4-1 to send county commissioners a favorable recommendation for the project, with Mr. Smith casting the lone no vote.
All of the board members said they met individually with representatives of both Jahna and the second company to propose a sand mining plan that evening, Old Castle Southern Group, prior to the LPA’s public hearings.
The previous meetings were purely informational, board chair Pat Collier noted while disclosing that the meetings took place.
The Land Planning Agency unanimously recommended approval for the sand mining project proposed by Old Castle Southern Group, a construction materials company operating in the southeastern US, the evening of April 26.
Old Castle Southern is the Tampa-based parent company for APAC-Southeast, a road paving company, Preferred Materials, Inc., which supplies concrete, and the materials transportation company Conrad Yelvington Distributors, Inc.
Old Castle’s plan to hydraulically dredge is much like Jahna’s, but the mining will progress slower and follow the footprint of DuPont’s hydraulic mining for titanium in the southeastern county.
The company expects to initially mine some 193 acres of a 437-acre tract it leases from DuPont about two miles south of Interstate 10 on the east side of SR 228.
But, Old Castle’s Jacksonville attorney Wyman Duggan explained, his client has a contract to buy another 700 acres, which could extend the life of the mine to 50 years.
In addition to the three areas the company expects to dredge on the western side of the property, its site plan shows a 10-acre area for the processing plant, which will stand no more than 40 feet tall, and conservation and wetlands areas on the eastern side of the tract that will be off limits to mining.
The Old Castle sand mine is expected to generate 75 to 150 truck loads of dirt per day and the company intends to pave a 100-foot entrance way off SR 228. Most of the trucks will likely travel north to I-10 and head east to Jacksonville.
A buffer is planned along a three-mile stretch of the roadway as well.
Like Jahna, Old Castle’s representatives also pledged to restore the mining site once operations conclude.
“These will not look like retention ponds, they’ll look like lakes,” said Mr. Duggan. “And we’ll make sure of that.”
He said the company hopes to begin construction this year and begin mining in early 2013.
The sand mine is projected to generate 50 construction jobs, up to eight permanent positions and some $8 million in capital investment, said Mr. Duggan.
He said there would be “no off-site noise or lighting impacts,” though there are very few homes nearby. Mitigating environmental impacts will be the major concern, the attorney said.
At the recommendation of the St. Johns Water Management District, Old Castle intends to drill down more than 1200 feet to the lower aquifer to withdraw 2-3 million gallons per day for the first five years of the project, said company consultant Mark Stephens, a geologist and engineer.
Should the company get approval from county commissioners next month, it will be conditioned on Old Castle clearing other regulatory hurdles from regional, state and federal agencies.
|Last Updated on Friday, 04 May 2012 11:48|