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Bill would ‘undermine’ Lee DR/GR committee
By CHARLIE WHITEHEAD
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Members of the Lee County Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource Committee said it might be time to move past that phase where they all get along.
At the end of the group’s Wednesday meeting, they did.
The committee was created by county commissioners to study the DR/GR area — at least the 80,000 acres of it in southeast Lee — and make recommendations on its future. So far, its work, not surprisingly, has centered on mining.
As the diverse group — representing residents, environmental groups, landowners and the mining industry — has educated itself over the first few meetings, the rancor level has been low. That was before Sen. Mike Bennett filed a bill that would make their deliberations moot.
They knew the bill was coming. The same bill was tried — and failed — last year, and Bennett voiced his concerns when commissioners implemented a one-year moratorium on mining permits in November.
The state considers the rock beneath southeast Lee a critical resource for road-building. District materials engineer Deborah Snyder told the committee the state used 147 million tons of aggregate in 2007, 119 million of it mined in Florida.
“It affects everybody,” she said. “The cost to build roads skyrockets and taxes to build the road skyrocket, or we don’t build the roads.”
Bennett’s bill, filed last week as the state legislature session began, would make mines legal anywhere the underlying use in the growth management plan allows it. That means the entire DR/GR, regardless of anything the committee comes up with.
Steven Brown is an environmental policy specialist for Conservancy of Southwest Florida and a committee member. He wanted the committee to take a stand against Bennett’s bill and ask county commissioners to do so, too.
“This legislation would render the work of the DR/GR committee superfluous, as the fate of the entire DR/GR will be predetermined,” he said.
Some committee members agreed with him. Exactly half of them, in fact.
“We knew this was coming,” east Corkscrew resident Kevin Hill said of the proposed bill. “It really undermines groups like this. It really threatens to undo the kind of work we’re trying to do here to strike a balance.”
Richard Friday is an executive for Youngquist Brothers mines and a committee member.
“We all have individual feelings on this,” he said. “I ask you not to support this. We are charged as a group of stakeholders. I’m uncomfortable being labeled one way or another by a vote.”
That vote was 6-6. There are 15 committee members, but three missed the Wednesday meeting.
“The legislature is only in session since last week,” said Committee Chairman Dennis Gilkey, a development consultant. “There are many bills out there. I think this is an over-reaction.”
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