|Officials: neighbors of sand mines are content|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Wednesday, 16 May 2012 11:27|
County officials ventured to Central Florida this week to visit mining sites in preparation for the Baker County Commission’s upcoming vote on a pair proposed sand mining plans here.
County Commissioner Michael Crews was joined by County Manager C.J. Thompson and Chamber of Commerce Director Darryl Register for tours of both active sand mines and those undergoing reclamation southeast of Orlando on May 14.
Some of the mines were operated by E.R. Jahna, Inc. of Lake Wales, the same company with plans to use hydraulic dredging to extract course sand from a 960-acre property it leases northeast of the Walmart Distribution Center and directly north of three residential subdivisions on US 90.
Its proposal includes mining about 275 acres of the tract for some 25 years and using an estimated 2.2 million gallons of groundwater per day for the first two years. After that, the previously withdrawn water can be reused to continue operations.
The company also intends to backfill the mined land using leftover material, like clay and fine sands, that would be stored on the property. Then the reclamation process would begin, which usually entails seeding for grass and planting trees and other vegetation.
“It was interesting just to see everything. It’s always helpful to see it in person and draw your own conclusions,” Mr. Thompson said a day after visiting the Central Florida mines.
Mr. Thompson said he asked a property owner, who leased his land for mining and now oversees its reclamation, if he regretted letting the mining take place.
“He said no. He thought it improved the value of his property. He had some absolutely gorgeous lakes where the property had been reclaimed. They’re clear and full of fish. Now he wants to build a cabin by them,” Mr. Thompson said.
The county manager said fears that sand mining will leave the land here barren and useless are unfounded.
“On recently reclaimed land, he baled hay off it the first year,” said Mr. Thompson, adding that trees and vegetation were visible. “I had to ask him about different sections of the property because you couldn’t tell the difference between what was mined and what wasn’t.”
Other former mining sites, Commissioner Crews said, today grow fruit trees and timber and serve as pasture land for cows. He said yet other sites have been sold to developers for shopping centers and apartment complexes.
The officials spent more than six hours touring mining sites, including one operated by Vulcan Materials Company of Birmingham, Alabama.
Mr. Thompson said the former manager of that site, Dennis McCelland, now works for Old Castle Southern Group, the company with plans to mine 193 acres of a 437-acre tract owned by DuPont east of SR 228 in the southern county.
Old Castle Southern’s methods would be similar to those of E.R. Jahna, except that additional land may be leased to extend the life of the mine to 50 years. The company also anticipates digging deeper wells to supply its water at the direction of regulators.
Mr. Thompson said the group didn’t go door-to-door to speak with neighboring residents living in condos and homes, but that Mr. Crews intended to talk with elected officials about the mines’ impacts on the area.
Mr. Crews, however, said he did visit with a few residents, in some cases living within 50-feet of the mining activities.
“I heard not one complaint from those neighbors,” he said. “The few I spoke to, said, ‘Hey, it’s their land. It’s not affecting anything around here.”
The commissioner envisioned the trip as a fact-finding mission and sought out indications of noise or dust nuisances and negative water quality or quantity impacts.
“When I walked around there, the first thing that struck me was how quiet it was,” said Mr. Crews, noting that the dredges ran on electricity, not louder diesel engines. “I stood in the loudest portion of the mine and carried on a conversation just like me and you are having on the phone.”
Excessive dust at the mining was not apparent during his visit, Mr. Crews said, and at least one resident with a well adjacent to a mine reported no issues with his water supply.
“Within a 50-mile radius there were 12 active mines, and the people that live there say they’ve experienced no water problems, no dust problems, and there’s numerous lakes that showed no effects beyond your typical drought conditions,” said the commissioner.
County commissioners were scheduled to meet May 21 on two special exception applications from Old Castle Southern and E.R. Jahna to operate mines on lands zoned agriculture, which generally prohibits the activity. The meeting has been delayed at the request of the Macclenny city commissioners who want time to get more information about sand mining and the projects. A date has not been set to reschedule the hearing as of now.
Still, Mr. Crews is not ready to vote in favor of the proposed sand mines here.
“I have not made up my mind. I have many family and friends adamantly opposed to it,” he said, adding that he wants to meet and talk with them as well public officials in Central Florida before taking a position.
He remains concerned about increased truck traffic from the proposed mining location north of US 90 and the adverse affect it could have on traffic flow in the Macclenny area.
The project is expected to add 75 to 100 trucks per day to local roads.
“There was a lot of truck traffic,” Mr. Crews said of the existing mines. He said the solution would be building an alternate route to the interstate to keep trucks off the city’s major arteries.
“But I don’t think Baker County can afford to do that,” he said. “The answer is a partnership with FDOT [Florida Department of Transportation] ... We need their help in doing it. And for these companies, it’s not financially feasible to do it.”
|Last Updated on Thursday, 17 May 2012 14:00|