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County hearing examiner rules in favor of Troyer Mine

July 10, 2019
By MELISSA BILL ( , Lehigh Acres Citizen

A rezoning request that would allow a mining operation off S.R. 82 gained traction last week when a hearing examiner recommended approval.

On July 3, Lee County's Chief Hearing Examiner, Donna Marie Collins rendered a recommendation to approve the rezoning request made on case number DCl2016-00025, Troyer Brothers Mine subject to conditions and deviations. This recommendation comes just a few weeks after Lee County's adoption of its limerock mine comp plan amendments, including removing Map 14.

The request is to rezone 1,732.75 acres from Agriculture to Mine Excavation Planned Development, a mining operation and excavation area of 781 acres, which is projected to yield approximately 120 million tons of fill sand and limestone.

If approved by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, the proposed mine depth would be a maximum of 110 feet and would remain in operation up to 35 years.

Many residents, business owners, local representative and community groups including the Florida Wildlife Federation, came to speak in opposition during the public forum portion of the rezoning case, which spanned multiple days including: June 26, 27, 28, 31 and Aug. 28, 2018.

According to a statement given from Randy Johnson, Florida Research station branch manager and plant pathologist for Sakata Seed America, the approval of this rezoning request could come at a great cost to nearby residents, businesses and the environment.

In his statement Johnson said, "We are disappointed to learn of the hearing examiner's ruling and stand by our position that the rezoning is not compatible with neighboring land use. We believe our concerns about the water table, environment, dust impacts, and a dangerous traffic situation being proposed on S.R. 82 were not acknowledged by the hearing examiner. Our research facility on S.R. 82 focuses on non-GMO breeding improvements for local, national, and world markets. We breed fruit and vegetable varieties capable of producing greater yields and increased horticultural quality as well as disease resistance in a variety of markets worldwide. Our operation alone directly accounts for millions of dollars each year that enhance the local economy."

Johnson said a natural balance already exists between agriculture and the local environment.

"Agricultural operations across the region provide jobs and steady income for residents of this community, and modern farming practices are compatible with wildlife and the environment. The majority of farming irrigation water finds its way back into aquifers, whereas each time the earth's crust gets blasted open during mining, the water table is altered and exposed to sun-fueled evaporation. Eastern Lee County is the last frontier for many natural resources, including farmland and our drinking water," Johnson stated.

Nearby residents were not happy.

"I attended several days of the hearing to speak, but it just appeared from the beginning that the county was jumping over hoops for the applicant. I feel it was a done deal from the start. I moved to the area because it's a rural area with wildlife and beautiful blossoms blooming during this time of the year. We were looking for the rural setting and preserves, not to live next to a mine. I grew up in mining town, so I know the affects it has on a community. They are minimizing what this will do to us residents. Plus, Troyer Brothers contributed to at least two commission candidates during this last election, so how can that not affect their decision making?" resident Kathy Dobash said.

The hearing examiner pointed out in her remarks that the county must weigh out and balance the importance of limerock, a vital limited resource, with the enduring impacts of mining.

"After careful consideration of the testimony and evidence submitted during six days of hearing, the Hearing Examiner recommends approval of the request, subject to conditions to protect established and ongoing residential development patterns southeast of the property," Collins wrote.

Collins also stated that the approval of the request on rezoning will provide opportunities to achieve significant environmental benefits.

"These benefits include reconnecting historical flow ways, restoration of wetlands impacted by agriculture, and long-term management of environmentally sensitive uplands and wetlands. Onsite preservation of uplands and wetlands will provide three wildlife corridors as well as long-term wildlife habitat. These benefits are not available if the property remains in agricultural use," Collins wrote.

The Zoning Section of the Department of Community Development will schedule a final hearing before the board in the coming weeks. If the board adopts the hearing examiner's recommendation, Troyer Brothers would need to make revisions to the mine plan including modifications to the mine footprint and setbacks from Corkscrew Estates.

For more information on the case, visit Lee County Community Development's website at, or call 239-533-8945?.



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