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Sand pits are their headache

Neighbors of two Lecanto sand mines complain of damaged roads, speeding dump trucks and unsupervised burning.

By CATHERINE E. SHOICHET
Published June 4, 2006


LECANTO - As new houses pop up across the county, fresh sand lies at their foundations.

It comes from mines that are only miles away, but worlds apart from the paved roads and tree-lined streets of pricey subdivisions like Black Diamond and Pine Ridge.

Residents of the Frasure Hull Peach Orchards community live in that other world, on the flip side of the county's building boom. Their homes are scattered among three large sand mines in Lecanto, just south of the intersection of Homosassa Trail and Rock Crusher Road.

And lately, they say, two of the mines haven't been very good neighbors. The mines' owners don't do enough to maintain the community's private roads and often tear them up with their big trucks, residents allege. And they disregard county regulations at residents' expense.

"They just come in, use it, make money off it and don't care about people," said Jodie Nunziato, who has lived near the mines for 10 years. "I don't think that's fair. We've been here. This is our piece of heaven out here."

But owners of the mines say they comply with county codes and respect residents while conducting business. And they note that the mines were there long before homes popped up.

"We're not trying to be bad neighbors out there at all," said John Hanna, vice president of Dirt Boys Inc., which bought one of the mining operations in November. "They hate us. I don't know why."

Clashes between the pressures of development and existing homes are nothing new in Citrus.

In the last month, residents of a Beverly Hills subdivision went to court - with Assistant County Attorney Michele Lieberman on their side - to ask a judge to help stop dust from blowing from a cleared, 58-acre development site and into their neighborhood.

And residents who live near Citrus Mining and Timber's lime rock mines in northwest Citrus spoke out at several public meetings against plans to move mining operations closer to their homes.

Meanwhile, tension in Frasure Hull, a tightknit, 10-home neighborhood in Lecanto, has been rising for months, and now it's boiling over.

"There's a very high potential for a war," Robbie Anderson, who has lived on Race Avenue near the mines since 2003, told one county official.

At a recent Planning and Development Review Board meeting, officials caught a glimpse of the mounting rage as resident after resident came to the microphone.

They criticized Dirt Boys, which was seeking a permit to use a vegetative grinder on the company's 25-acre property. Past owners of the mine took good care of the roads, but they said Dirt Boys doesn't.

They argued that the company should be required to pave the road connecting the sand pit to the Homosassa Trail in order to receive the permit.

The board members agreed. But problems didn't stop there.

Dirt Boys has since removed the grinder from its property, because the company can't afford to pave the road, Hanna said.

Residents "want that road paved for nothing," he said. "I don't think that's fair."

But the residents tell a different story, of road washouts when it rains and excessive dust when it's dry. A new road is necessary not because of the residential traffic, but because of the abuse the road takes from the heavy dump trucks that drive over it daily.

"They're using our road but they don't have to pay for it," Anderson said.

Nunziato said that's only the tip of the iceberg. Dirt Boys' trucks drive dangerously on the road, she said. And some residents have also complained about unsupervised burning on the property.

Walter Horak, who lives on Cauthen Point near the Dirt Boys property, has gotten so riled that he grabs his video camera whenever he sees anything awry in the neighboring mines.

He screened the video for a group of neighbors last month.

"Set a fire like that in Pine Ridge and Sugarmill Woods and see what happens," Anderson said as he watched an image of burning vegetation pan across the TV screen. "It would hit the fan."

In an interview Friday, Hanna said all burning on the property has proper permits. And he said he put a stop to drivers going too fast.

But the complaints keep coming, and they don't stop at the borders of Dirt Boys' mining operations.

Another nearby mine operated by Precision Grading and Development also causes problems, residents say.

A berm surrounding the 100-acre sand pit does not meet standards required by the county, Nunziato said. And she said workers from the company recently ripped up a road without notifying area residents.

Bruce King, who supervises Precision's Lecanto pit operations, said his fleet uses a paved road to access the pit.

When Precision purchased the property last year, he said, the company did not know about the berm requirement. Now the county has said Precision must comply, and crews are "working on it."

"I've got roots in this county and I care about what's going on here, and we're going to try to make things right and get along with people," King said.

When it comes to getting help from county officials, residents say they keep running into dead ends.

Commissioner Gary Bartell, whose district includes the neighborhood, said he had not heard recently from anyone about problems there.

Code Enforcement Officer Kimberly Bruce said she has gotten many calls from Frasure Hull Peach Orchards residents in recent weeks. But she said there's not much the county can do.

Residents, she said, may have to take their fight to court.

Hanna, the Dirt Boys vice president, said he has tried to talk with his neighbors about the problems.

"I have no idea how to fix it," Hanna said.

--Catherine E. Shoichet can be reached at cshoichet@sptimes.com or 860-7309.

[Last modified June 4, 2006, 01:17:19]


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