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Letter to the Editor – Fort Myers News-Press - April 9, 2008
On a recent local radio program, State Representative Trudi Williams was interviewed about a proposed bill related to limerock mining which she is sponsoring through the Environmental and Natural Resources Council – (PCB ENRC 08-13). That bill, along with two others from the Senate, seeks to remove local government control over land-use decisions about mining and transfer it to the state.
The controversial issue is not a new one in Tallahassee. Several preemptive mining bills were introduced by a powerful rock mining lobby during last year’s legislative session and fortunately all were unsuccessful. One positive outcome of the failed attempt was the creation of a Strategic Aggregates Review Task Force which was convened to consider competing interests and make recommendations for improvements in policy and investment related to the supply of aggregate. The Task Force was charged with evaluating the availability and disposition of limerock and consisted representatives from the mining, construction, and transportation industries, elected officials, environmental groups, and the Florida Departments of Transportation, Community Affairs, and Environmental Protection.
During the radio interview, Rep. Williams made a number of statements which suggest that she is misinformed about the facts surrounding the mining debate. The basic foundation of her defense of this bill is that there is a “critical shortage” in the availability of rock. But the Task Force found that the facts do not support any claim of a supply crisis. Last year’s ruling by a Federal Judge which temporarily limited mining in a fraction of the Miami-Dade Lakebelt district has had little to no impact on the amount of rock extracted there. Further, FDOT staff acknowledged that there is currently no data to compare the future demand for rock to the statewide supply already permitted for extraction. And the current temporary Lee DR/GR mining moratorium has not in any way restricted existing mines from operating here to supply the SW Florida region. Lee County continues to be the second largest producer of construction aggregate products in the state.
Rep. Williams went on to suggest that landowners seeking approvals for mines along Corkscrew Road have some intrinsic “right” to mine their property because mining is among the allowable land uses in the DR/GR. What this logic fails to acknowledge is that these industrial zoning cases must consider the environmental and human impacts of the mining activity in accordance with the Lee Plan. There are places in the DR/GR where these tests can be met, and other places where they can’t. Landowners have every right to ask for zoning, but no right to approval. The “asking” part is expensive for both sides, largely because the current DR/GR land use plan fails to recognize and address the conflicts that exist there. Hence the moratorium while the county works on improving the plan.
The Strategic Aggregates Review Task Force did well to recognize the conflicts. Task Force members were mostly representatives of the mining industry, or other industries that are largely dependent on mining, yet they showed great respect for the need to balance competing interests as they considered the issues in a deliberate, thoughtful and informed manner. Their final report includes consensus recommendations like an assessment of the actual supply of rock reserves, better agency coordination, increased use of recycled and alternative materials, and public/private investment in improved rail and port infrastructure. But these recommendations are largely ignored in the proposed bills. For the state legislature to dismiss the time and efforts of the Task Force only serves to undermine the integrity of the public policy decision making process.
On a local level, Lee County has begun a comprehensive land use planning effort for the southeast DR/GR. It has invested in highly regarded planning consultants and appointed a 15 member steering committee with representation from all stakeholder groups. We are working diligently to strike a balance in the DR/GR and craft land-use planning solutions which will resolve conflicts, ensure protection of important natural resources, and accommodate all uses, including mining.
In light of these important and earnest efforts, there is no justification for the State Legislature to intervene and silence local governments and citizens.
Kevin U. Hill
Corkscrew Rural Community
Lee County DR/GR Steering Committee
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