Politics & Government

Rock mining oversight may get harder

- Regulating rock mines in Florida could get a lot tougher for city and county governments.

A new bill in the state Legislature - created because of the "critical need" for rock and aggregate materials for the construction of state roads - would prevent local governments from enforcing ordinances prohibiting mining on property that is already zoned for such uses as of March 1.

But some elected officials and residents living near mining operations are concerned the bill could also tie local governments' hands when it comes to the regulation of the hours of operations at a mine, the noise and traffic level of the mining trucks.

Lakewood Ranch resident Don Malko, who lives in the Siena Loop neighborhood, wants the Manatee County Commission to ban the mining truck traffic to Schroeder-Manatee Ranch on Lorraine Road. He fears the state is trying to flex its muscle.

"We had a situation last week where trucks were running beyond the permitted hours. When we investigated that, we discovered the state issued the permits to allow the trucking beyond the regular hours," Malko said. "Those trucks ran for a week and a half between 10:30 p.m. and 5 a.m. when they are supposed to be operating 7 a.m. to 3 p.m."

Even without the proposed legislation, Malko said the Manatee County Commission doesn't appear to have the will to do anything to stop the trucks. In February, the county commission denied the residents' request to ban the truck traffic on Lorraine Road.

"This bill takes the power away from the local commissioners to raise any concerns or cry out about the mining operations," Malko said. "But to be honest with you, it's been frustrating even dealing with the Manatee County Commission."

Dick Coleman, also a Lakewood Ranch resident, said the bill is a perfect example of poor legislation. It was approved by the House's Environment and Natural Resources Council this week.

"I think that anything that is going on in the cities and counties should be controlled by the cities and counties, because they are more aware of the issues and the problems that might arise," Coleman said.

State Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, serves on the Environment and Natural Resources Council and supports the bill.

"It has always gotten to me that people would move next to an airport and then complain about airport noise," Allen said. "When they were buying the house, you know, 'Hey, I'm moving next to an airport, the noise is part of the deal.' Same with mining."

The purpose of the bill is protect the rights of the mining operations so they can continue to produce materials required for construction, Allen said.

"Where the mining interests have had long-term property ownership and zoning to do their business, we didn't want local ordinances to infringe upon that right because of new growth," Allen said. "As a state, we normally don't get into those issues. But because of the statewide importance of aggregate materials used in all facets of our building roads, we didn't want to see that industry unduly driven down or out because all of a sudden the local government decides to permit houses next door to a mining company."

State Rep. Ron Reagan, R-Bradenton, said he plans to research the bill next week to decide whether it would be positive for Florida.

"We have got to have this mining to build our roads," Reagan said. "But it is something I need to look into because I'm not familiar with the bill."

SMR Aggregates, the shell-mining arm of SMR, is also looking at the legislation.

"We are studying it right now," said Sondra Guffey, spokeswoman for Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.

Sarasota County Commissioner Jon Thaxton said the proposed bill goes way beyond addressing the need for aggregate materials.

"It seems to be a continuation of the mind-set to move city hall to Tallahassee," said Thaxton. "We have a lot of active mines here and they all are working under existing permitted conditions, but I think clearly this is a move to remove some of the more strict environmental covenants that local government may impose upon these industries rather than those that would imposed by the state government."

The Florida Association of Counties has been highly critical of the bill, Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson said. "I'm very concerned whenever a conversation like this comes up at the Legislature as to what the real agenda is behind it all," Patterson said, adding that she questions the reason for the bill is a lack of aggregate materials. "The state just needs to recognize that it costs three times as much as it did five years ago to build a road. And if they don't provide even twice as much money, we are going to keep falling behind. And it just doesn't matter how much they slap local government on the head."