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Bills target disputes over blasting damage in W. Broward and Dade

By David Fleshler
Staff Writer - Sun-Sentinel
Posted February 22 2003

Accused of damaging houses with powerful mining blasts, the limestone quarries of western Miami-Dade County soon may have to pay compensation to homeowners.

Bills in the state Legislature would set up a claims process for people who blame blasting for cracked floors, splintered walls and other damage to their homes. The bills would require mediation and allow claims to go before a state administrative law judge -- more practical options for homeowners than going to court.

Located along Florida's Turnpike, the huge limestone quarries supply the ingredients for cement, asphalt and other construction materials. They ship their products by truck and rail all over the state and employ about 7,000 people.

But the explosions used to break up limestone have infuriated homeowners in Miramar and western Miami-Dade County.

"Yesterday, we had a very strong blast again," said Trudy Sidlauskas, of the Silver Lakes section of Miramar. "Everything

rattled and shook in my house."

The Florida Construction Materials Mining Activities Act, which has bipartisan support, would require mining companies to post a bond of at least $100,000 before blasting. It would require damage claims to go first to a mediator to see whether they could be resolved quickly and informally. If that fails, it calls for both sides to go before a state administrative law hearing, where the strict rules of evidence would not apply.

"It's cheaper than court; it's faster than court," said Sen. Rod Smith, D-Gainesville, co-sponsor of the bill. "If your claim is less than $100,000, you get paid in 30 days."

Under current law, homeowners who have suffered damages have only the option of going to court -- a lengthy and expensive process.

The bills have provisions to which homeowners may object. If mediation fails and the case goes to an administrative hearing, the loser would have to pay the other side's costs, up to $15,000. The bills would do nothing to reduce the blasts' intensity. Since taking control of blasting from local governments in 2000, the state has allowed more powerful explosions, angering many homeowners.

"If you replace your tile floors, they're going to crack again, if the blasting continues at the high intensity," said Sidlauskas, who is trying to organize people in Miramar against the blasting. "The first thing you need to do is reduce the intensity of the blasts, and then we can get reimbursement."

The bills stand a good chance of passing. They have support from both sides, and one of the co-sponsors is powerful Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, chairman of the Senate budget committee.

Kerri Barsh, attorney for the four biggest mining companies, said the bill "represents a compromise between the desire for some of the citizens for a claims process vs. the desire of the industry to have such claims resolved more expeditiously and in a less costly, more streamlined manner."

Michael Pizzi, president of Citizens Against Blasting and a Miami Lakes city councilman, said the bill needed some work but would be a big improvement over the current situation.

"For the first time in history, it gives the homeowner some mechanism to try and be compensated. It provides a process where homeowners will get their claims adjudicated by an objective third party, where no process had previously existed."

David Fleshler can be reached at dfleshler@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4535.

 

 

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