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Business 2005

Mining, rock industries carve sizable roles

The state's continued construction growth allows for a proposed cement plant expansion and a favorable outlook.

Published February 13, 2005

With construction in Florida on a roll and demand for building materials high worldwide, Hernando's mining and rock industries are experiencing good times.

In December, Florida Crushed Stone, a division of Rinker Materials Corp. in West Palm Beach, announced a $150-million expansion of its Brooksville cement plant.

The new construction, which must be approved by state regulators, would nearly double Florida Crushed Stone's production capacity to 1.8-million tons of cement a year.

That's nearly a quarter of the cement consumed in Florida annually, according to a company news release.

Charles Allen, director of operations for Rinker's cement division, said the company had considered a plant expansion in 2000, but shelved the idea because economic conditions were not right.

But with soaring demand for cement-based products for the building industry - including concrete block, roof tiles, concrete pipe and stucco - leading to a brief period last year when the company could not fill customer orders, Allen said it was time to act.

"The demand just far outstrips the supply right now," he said. "As long as the world economy stays strong, we can see making the $150-million investment."

If the plant expansion takes place and is completed in about 21/2 years, as Allen hopes, the operation will not involve any new mining. Florida Crushed Stone, Allen said, is sitting on millions of tons of already excavated material that it can process into cement.

Precise figures are not available publicly, but local mining officials estimate that the industry provides some 600 Hernando residents with well-paying jobs and injects several million dollars into the local economy every year.

Mining officials interviewed by the St. Petersburg Times all described a healthy local industry that is riding the building boom to steady profit. Yet behind that story, they said, is one of an industry undergoing great change.

Hard-rock limestone, which is ground into aggregate and used to make asphalt and for gravel driveways, lies just below the surface in parts of Hernando. Below the hard rock lies soft-rock limestone, which is used as a base material for roads and to make cement.

Along with citrus and cattle ranching, mining was one of Hernando's chief industries for much of the county's history. And now the hard-rock reserves have largely been tapped out, while areas for new hard-rock operations are being gobbled up by developers.

"It has been depleted over the last several decades, and generally there is not much left," Allen said of the county's hard-rock reserves.

In about 20 years, Allen said, soft-rock mining will still be going on in Hernando, but hard-rock mining will have come to an end. Vast stretches of land where hard rock had been mined will be home to residential developments, he predicted.

Still, hard-rock operations are hanging on.

Alan Stotz is plant manager for Vulcan Materials, a hard-rock operation north of Brooksville. He is also vice president of the Hernando County Mining Association.

Last year, Stotz said that the company's hard-rock reserves would soon disappear and predicted a five- to six-year life-span for Vulcan's Hernando operations.

Then an analysis was done of the available reserves, and it was found that enough hard rock remained to allow mining to continue into the middle of the next decade.

"It looks like we are in a much better position than was previously thought," Stotz said.

Hernando County mining inspector Ron Aliff painted a similar picture as the industry insiders: gradual depletion of hard-rock reserves, and residential development squeezing out available mining land.

But for now, Aliff said, the construction wave has the local industry hot.

"I would say that mining is going to be booming," he said.

[Last modified February 8, 2005, 16:44:07]

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