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Mining reprieve granted

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By The Staff

BRONSON-Manatee Springs won a reprieve in the legal battle by White Construction to operate a limestone mining operation within two miles of the springs, something prohibited by a 2002 Levy County ordinance.

And, at the same time, the county may recoup its legal fees in the case.

County Attorney Anne Bast Brown informed Levy County Commissioners on Tuesday that Judge David A. Glant of the Eighth Judicial Circuit had ruled in the county's favor in state court for their denial of a permit for the operation in March 2004.

While attorneys for both sides need to work out the final wording on the court order, Brown told commissioners they will be applying under the order to get court costs - which could run $80,000 to $100,000 - repaid to the county.

She also warned the commissioners that White could decide to file an appeal in the state system and reminded them that a related case filed by White is still open in federal court.

Glant's letter on his findings in the case says White failed to establish that mining was taking place at the location specified in the permit application on "the critical date of January 22, 1975" when the commission first started regulating mining in the county.

"Any minimal use of the limerock on the property was not part of a mining operation but in fact was an accessory use to the plaintiff's substantial agriculture operations," Glant said in the letter.

Glant said White's Manatee Pit operations were not continuous since 1975, and had a substantial period of interruption.

"White registered other mining operations with Federal mine regulatory authorities, but not this particular location, "Glant also noted in his findings.

Brown said the county and White relied on stereoscopic aerial photos taken in the area that were stored in salt domes to preserve them to buttress the county's claim that there was no mining operation on the property. White also presented evidence that there were signs of mining in the photos, but Glant rejected it.

White applied for a permit for the Manatee Pit lime rock mine, located on White Farms property off Manatee Springs Road in 2001. The application was later withdrawn after encountering a groundswell of opposition, according to a July 29, 2004, story in The Chiefland Citizen.

In 2002, the county passed an ordinance prohibiting mining activities with two miles of certain areas, including the Manatee Springs area. Supporters of the mine said the ordinance was targeted at the Manatee Pit.

The company in 2004 applied for a special exception permit under the 2002 ordinance for the Manatee Pit operation. The company planned to extract 14 million tons of lime rock over a 50-year period.

The county commissioners denied the permit in March 2004 after a public hearing at the Bronson High School Auditorium where opponents said the major mining operation would affect land values, heavy truck traffic and the effect of blasting on Manatee Springs.

The suit, filed in state court by White said the county's decision was "arbitrary, unreasonable, discriminatory, thus unconstitutional..."