Mine litigation rolls on slowly in Lee County

The owners of 1,365 acres on Corkscrew Road are arguing that Lee County doesn’t want them to zone the land for mining because the land is targeted for acquisition.

The proposed RCH mine would be on land north of Corkscrew well east of the Alico Road intersection. That land has been targeted by the county for decades, being included on acquisition maps for the Flint Pen Strand, a swamp the county’s been buying since the 1980s.

The land is also shown as a top priority for acquisition in the so-called Dover Kohl plan, a series of proposed changes for the southeast portion of the county currently being considered by county commissioners.

County attorneys have objected to offering pieces of the Dover Kohl report as evidence. The case is being heard under the pre-existing rules — already in place in 2006 — thanks to a court order.

The application to zone the land for mining was received before county commissioners imposed a moratorium on any new mining applications in 2007. The county did not process the application based on instructions from county commissioners.

The landowners, a partnership including south Lee miners Youngquist Brothers and Ascot Development of Boca Raton, sued. They claimed their application should have been processed, since it was received before the moratorium.

A judge agreed.

“The order is very clear,” Hearing Examiner Richard Gescheidt said during a full day of testimony and argument Wednesday. “I must base my decision on county ordinance in effect at the time of the application.”

Gescheidt said it would be “incredulous” of him to refuse evidence in the form of information or studies done since the application was filed.

“The order I believe was silent regarding the dates of the evidence,” he said.

Gescheidt did accept that piece of the Dover Kohn report that showed the mine property as a priority for acquisition. His comment seems to open the door for more or even perhaps all of the report to be admitted.

The Dover Kohl plan is in the form of amendments to the county growth management plan that would affect the Density Reduction Groundwater Resource area. The DRGR is an over 80,000-acre swath of land in southeast Lee where uses have historically been restricted to low-density residential, agriculture and mining.

The proposed changes would prohibit new mines along Corkscrew, confining them instead to the Alico corridor. During County Commission discussions on the proposed changes, commissioners have made it clear they support that approach, but as mine attorney Bill Moore has observed their musings do not amount to law, and they are charged with following the law.

An expensive game of dueling experts has continued for the 15th full day Wednesday. The case is sure to be the longest - and possibly the most expensive - in county history. Six more days of testimony are scheduled.

The applicants won’t say how much they’ve spent, but court documents show there was around $40 million spent, including buying the land, before the current zoning case began.

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