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‘Mystery memo’ unnoticed until it was too late

A recent invitation to county commissioners to offer comments or objections to one of two pending sand mining proposals being considered by state regulatory agencies expired weeks before commissioners even knew about it.

The offer was extended in a memorandum dated January 22 from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which asked for written comments concerning applicant E.R. Jahna Industries Inc. to be returned to DEP headquarters in Tallahassee within 30 days.

“This is your agency’s opportunity to provide comments on and/or to concur with or object to the proposed project,” stated the memo from DEP’s Mining and Mitigation Program office.

During a board meeting on March 5, county commissioners wanted to know why they had not heard about the memo, which listed County Manager C.J. Thompson as one of its intended recipients, until it was too late to respond.

“I got a copy (of the memo) yesterday from somebody in the audience,” Commissioner Adam Giddens said. “I don’t like that. We need to all be on the same page and know what’s going on.”

He said he immediately called the county manager’s office to inquire about the matter.

 

“He (Mr. Thompson) said, ‘What memo?’,” Mr. Giddens said. “In C.J.’s defense he didn’t even know anything about it.”

Mr. Thompson said that he was not part of a plot to withhold the “mystery document.” He said he discovered that someone at the DEP office had simply made a mistake when typing in his email address and he never received it.

“They left the period out before my name,” he said. “It was a typographical error. It wasn’t a conspiracy. Obviously, that is something we would have shared with the board. It was just a fluke.”

Commissioner James Croft is the one who initiated the discussion about the mining proposals and the DEP memo last week when he said he had obtained a copy of the document in late February. He later said he got a copy from the county planning department, which had received its copy from DEP in January.

Mr. Croft said the county commission basically has two roles in the sand mining controversy. It should function as a court-like body that weighs the evidence before rendering a verdict while simultaneously representing constituents who have banded together to kill the mining proposals citing environmental concerns.

“We serve a quasi-judicial role, but we’re also citizens,” Mr. Croft said. “We’ve got to balance our quasi-judicial role and our role as citizens. We have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of the citizens.”

The time to intervene, he said, “would be in the permitting process.” But raising objections on environmental grounds would require expensive experts to do the scientific research, he added.

Commissioners could also wait and see if permits are issued and, if so, decide whether to grant zoning exceptions to allow sand mining in agricultural areas. Mr. Croft said on March 12 he didn’t particularly care for that option, either.

“My fear,” he said, “is that if we wait until it becomes a zoning issue, have we waited too late?”

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