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What now? Will Oldcastle sue?

The grass roots campaign that led to the rejection of Oldcastle Southern Group’s plans to develop a sand mining operation southeast of Macclenny has been described as a “David and Goliath” type battle.

But in the Bible, the giant was killed on the spot. Oldcastle, a Tampa-based subsidiary of a worldwide conglomerate headquartered in Ireland, was not.

Despite a 5 ½-hour public hearing that ended with a 4-1 vote by county commissioners to deny the company’s application for a special zoning exception at 1:30 am on July 17, Oldcastle evidently has not yet abandoned its desire to extract millions of tons of sand out of Baker County.

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Oldcastle sand mine denied by board 4-1

oldcastle teamAfter a marathon public hearing in the county courthouse that began about 8 pm on July 16 and ended at 1:30 am the next day, county commissioners voted 4-1 to deny a request by Oldcastle Southern Group to mine sand in southeastern Baker County after dozens of people spoke for and against the plan.

The proposed sand mining operation “would not be advantageous to our community … and would not promote the general welfare,” said Commissioner James Croft, who moved to reject Oldcastle’s application for a special zoning exception for mining. Commissioner Adam Giddens cast the dissenting vote.

Mr. Croft and others said they did not believe that the county would benefit from the proposed mine nearly as much as Oldcastle would, despite the company’s claim that its recent agreement with the City of Macclenny to use city reclaimed water in the mining operation would spur economic development.

During the more than 5½ hours of testimony from dozens of people, some supported the proposal and said it would be an asset to the county, while many others urged the board to send Oldcastle officials packing.

Marcus Rhoden, who resides on West River Circle, presented commissioners a petition that he said contained over 2000 signatures of people from all over Baker County all opposed to sand mining.

Mark Broughton, representing the Baker County Conservation Coalition, urged commissioners to kill the proposal, which he said was a product of “one of the best jobs of corporate seduction I’ve ever seen.”

Despite Oldcastle’s statement that the company has no plans to drill into the aquifer, Mr. Broughton and others said they didn’t believe that promise would last.

“No plans to drill is no plans to drill now,” he said. He also said last year a company attorney threatened the county with a lawsuit if the mining application were denied, but “now it’s being soft sold” with promises of economic development, millions of dollars worth of equipment provided to the City of Macclenny and other enticements.

The commission’s vote came about three weeks after the county’s Land Planning Agency voted 3-1 to recommend approval of Oldcastle’s zoning application on June 27, following another public hearing that only drew a handful of opponents.

The site, roughly 437 acres almost three miles south of Interstate 10 and east of SR 228, is zoned agriculture, a category that permits mining only with an approved special exception from the county.

Oldcastle received its final environmental permit from the state this spring and also recently signed a 50-year deal with the City of Macclenny to use treated wastewater in its mining operation, which officials said would negate the need to drill deep into the Floridan Aquifer.

The company agreed to finance construction of a pipeline to carry reclaimed water from the city’s sewage treatment plant to the proposed mining site. The “gray water” is presently discharged into Turkey Creek under a permit issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Oldcastle also agreed to a city stipulation that the company build a pipeline corridor large enough to accommodate water and sewer lines for future growth and development in the largely vacant southeastern portion of the county. The city would provide the water and sewer pipes and Oldcastle would do the installation.

After the mining operation ends the company would transfer ownership of 375 acres to the city.

The pact with the city, which has received the support of state environmental authorities and the county’s planning and zoning department, was a factor in the LPA’s recommendation for approval.

Ed Preston, planning and zoning director, told the LPA board and the county commission that his office recommended the mining plans be approved. He said the application met all the criteria in the county’s comprehensive plan and land development regulations. Dennis McClelland, general manager of Oldcastle’s aggregate division, testified that the company only planned to mine eight hours a day and would not need to withdraw water because the city’s supply was enough.

Mike Anderson
Press staff

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