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Plans for dirt mine unearth neighborhood opposition

Fliers warn of a proposal for years of around-the-clock hauling along Elam Road. Wesley Chapel residents are asked to join a petition drive.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 29, 2000


WESLEY CHAPEL -- "Can you imagine 250 trucks hauling dirt every day over Elam Road for the next five years?"

So begins the flier, replicated by the dozens, that appeared Tuesday on the front porches, fences and mailboxes of homes surrounding Boyette Road in Wesley Chapel.

A month after Safety Harbor Capital Corp. announced plans to open a dirt mine on 274 acres near their homes, neighbors have mobilized to defeat a proposal they fear will bring a constant rumble of dump trucks and clouds of choking dust.

Jerry Haxton, a retiree living on Fussell Road who printed and distributed the fliers, vows to gather a crowd of neighbors to attend an April 10 Planning Commission meeting in New Port Richey. He's also started a petition with a target of 500 signatures.

"We're trying to get everyone in on it," said Haxton, who taped up fliers from the driver's seat of his blue Mercury Tuesday afternoon. "I hope to reach at least 100 families."

Most alarming to Haxton was the landowner's request to haul as many as 250 truckloads of dirt a day from the property, now a tree farm, southeast of the intersection of Boyette and Overpass roads.

Safety Harbor Capital, based in Clearwater, wants to open 64 acres of the site to mining, cutting down about 15,800 slash pines and 744 wax myrtles.

An Orlando mining company, Bishop and Buttney Inc., proposes spending up to three years removing 1.5-million cubic yards of dirt to a depth of 18 feet.

The dirt would supply road contractors such as those building State Road 56 several miles to the south. Depending on the demands of the customers, Bishop and Buttney wants to haul dirt 24 hours a day. The county proposes trucks drive north on Boyette, turn east on Elam Road and then head south on Curley Road. Safety Harbor said it is trying to cut a deal to take trucks across private property to reach Curley Road.

Such traffic is anathema to neighbors such as Randall Wainio, whose Boyette Road residence abuts the barbed-wire fence of the proposed mining site.

"I don't want these trucks running around here," Wainio said after receiving a flier on his stoop Monday. "How are people going to sleep?"

County staffers, who have recommended giving Safety Harbor the permits it needs to start mining, vowed to keep neighborhood disruptions to a minimum.

Cindy Jolly, Pasco's development director, said the demands of the road-building industry required the mine be able to operate around the clock.

"But they would have to keep noise meters running and keep us informed of what they are doing," Jolly said.

The company will also have to spray an anti-dust chemical on Elam Road, which is mostly unpaved, and pay for damage caused by dump trucks on Curley Road, Jolly said.

After the mine closes -- the county suggests a cap of three years (not five years as critics contend) on dirt digging -- Safety Harbor proposes building a subdivision of 790 single-family homes on the property.

But Haxton, who complains about dirt miners taking advantage of his mostly rural community, hopes the company never has a chance to break ground.

After the April 10 Planning Commission meeting, which begins at 1:30 p.m. at the West Pasco Government Center, county commissioners will have a chance to vote on the proposal.

"I don't understand the Pasco County commissioners. They seem to think they control the whole world," Haxton said. "We don't seem to have a say in what happens in the county."

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