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Blasting stops as land deal reached

The state will spend $23-million in an agreement that includes approval for a concrete plant.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 27, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- All mining and dynamiting at a controversial mine near the Ichetucknee River stopped Monday after state officials agreed to spend $23-million to buy the land.

The land purchase was narrowly approved by the governor and Cabinet in January. State Department of Environmental Control officials reached an agreement to buy the land Monday. The action is part of a controversial deal that will allow the construction of a concrete plant a few miles away from the river.

DEP Secretary David Struhs called the deal "a remarkable piece of good news for Florida's environment."

Struhs said the two appraisals he received Monday valued the 355-acre tract at $23,473,300 and $22,470,000. The land includes a lime rock mining operation that has been operating in the environmentally endangered area.

The purchase eliminates the risk that mining could destroy the water quality or dry up the underground river that supplies spring water to the Ichetucknee, Struhs said.

In addition to the purchase, the state will get a 21-acre gift of waterfront property on the Blackwater River in Santa Rosa County from Anderson Columbia.

Joe H. Anderson Jr., chairman emeritus of the paving company, called it "a tremendous bargain." He said appraisals ordered by the state found reserves of 49-million tons of lime rock valued at about $50-million.

Anderson said employees will begin disassembling and moving equipment at the mine -- called the Ichetucknee Trace Mine -- in the next 445 days.

Environmentalists have long opposed the deal, which included the land purchase, because it lets Suwannee Concrete, a subsidiary of Anderson Columbia, one of the state's biggest road paving companies, build the cement plant too close to the environmentally sensitive river.

"We felt we were being given a choice: Do you want to rape the Ichetucknee or murder it," said Kathy Cantwell, conservation chair for the Suwannee-St. Johns Sierra Club. "It's hard to say how much of a risk the mine is to the Ichetucknee."

Cantwell said environmentalists are worried that the state is seriously underestimating the threat of the cement plant and mining operations in the area. Another mine next to the Anderson Columbia mine is seeking a state permit to expand into an adjoining 80 acres.

"Here we are purchasing a mine because we think it is a risk to the Ichetucknee, but considering a permit to allow another one to expand," Cantwell said.

Gov. Jeb Bush and three members of the state Cabinet approved spending up to $27-million for the land in January despite complaints from Attorney General Bob Butterworth and Comptroller Bob Milligan.

Milligan suggested the state was being held hostage by Anderson Columbia, and Butterworth described it as "a poison pill" that allowed Anderson Columbia to "drive the train."

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