By Ann Henson Feltgen, FloridaBulldog.org
The Miramar City Commission has asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to order a temporary stop to rock mine blasting during the state of emergency called for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The commission acted following a flood of complaints from homeowners who claimed the blasting caused cracks in their pools, patios, walls, floors and ceilings and even the foundations of their homes — as well as fraying their nerves. A recent petition issued to stop the blasting has the backing of more than 6,300 signers from Miramar, Pembroke Pines, Doral and other nearby communities in Miami-Dade and Broward.
Complaints began to mount about the same time that DeSantis signed the COVID-19 state of emergency order on April 1 that ordered nonessential businesses to close, according to Miramar Mayor Wayne Messam. Laid-off workers were home to hear the daytime blasts.
The resolution’s author, Commissioner Yvette Colbourne, told commissioners during the April 15 meeting that she sent the resolution to other affected cities to join the appeal to the governor.
Residents’ beef is with White Rock Quarries in northwest Miami-Dade County. The company’s Hialeah plant has been operating since the 1980s, long before suburban sprawl surrounded the facility.
According to its website, White Rock is a division of Vecellio & Grogan, a major site preparation, heavy/highway, structures, coal mining development, and reclamation contractor that serves the mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States.
Blasting for aggregate
White Rock produces limestone aggregate used in making bridge piers and spans, road base materials, asphalt pavement, concrete blocks and tilt-wall construction buildings. Along with a handful of other quarries in South Florida, it annually produces about 60 million tons of limestone aggregate products, according to the company. Florida ranks third in the nation in the production and use of aggregate products, consuming about 153 million tons per year.
Blasting has been an issue since the mid-1990s when new communities sprang up near the plant including Sunset Lakes, Sunset Falls, Riviera Isles, Huntington, Nautica and County Club Ranches. Homeowners complained that the blasting was hurting their properties.
The Florida Fire Marshal’s Office oversees quarry operations, monitoring blasting activities and restricting blasting to weekday daylight hours. Seismologists also measure the explosions to make sure they remain within permit limits.
Broward County prohibits blasting, but Miami-Dade County allows it. Miramar now also outlaws blasting within city limits, though allowed it when the far western communities were being developed.
While there’s been a lot of talk over the years, blasting continues and most likely will continue until the quarry’s permits are not renewed or canceled. Permits are active for one year and must be renewed pending inspection by the Fire Marshal.
Given the experiences of homeowners, Mayor Messam questioned whether state rules on blasting are adequate to prevent damage. He said the limits were developed elsewhere in the nation, not Florida where just inches under sandy soil lays a porous plateau of limestone.
“While we did a study and found that they are working with required limits, at the end of the day, if residents experience damage, they should be paid,” he said.
An attempt to compensate homeowners was established in 2003 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed into law a measure to provide communities with state mediation to hear damage complaints, Messam said. “However, the state assigned the Department of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) to hear and rule on the complaints… If the DOAH sides with the quarry, the complainant must pay all [litigation] costs, including those of the quarry.”
Messam said that in mid-March he noticed a spike in complaints on neighborhood websites, like Next Door. Some examples:
- Will Pen, of Silver Isles, wrote: “FYI I have lived in Silver Isles for 18 years. I have filed lawsuits since these blasts have caused the interior pipes of my pool to crack and thus cause major leaks. Cracks on exterior walls that have being certified as caused by this…. nothing, nada….”
- Henry Abdelnour, Silver Isles: “I’ve been living in Miramar for 15 years now. Those blasts were happening way before I moved in. They occur every day on workdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. You just need to get used to them because there is nothing you can do. Sometimes they stop for a little while but not right now. Unfortunately, your complaints won’t go anywhere.”
- Debra Briggs, Silver Lakes: “This has been going since we moved here in 1996. I had to put laminate on my floors because my beautiful expensive tile had cracks throughout my home. I am pissed beyond belief and they do nothing!!”
- Sean Emmett, Sunset Lakes: “We feel it in our home and in my office, which is on the fourth floor of one of the buildings in Flagler Station adjacent to the Turnpike just south of NW 106th St. Some of the blasts are so bad that the office building sways from side to side for up to 10 seconds and our desks and computer monitors shake…Our local government officials granted the developers permission to build our homes knowing this could become an issue. Unfortunately, we are up against the might of the quarry operators who have support in Tallahassee and deep pockets to pay lawyers to defend them…”
The Miami-Dade Limestone Products Association, a nonprofit that supports the quarries, points to providing more than 14,000 jobs with a $500-million payroll and paying almost $22 million in local sales taxes and $10 million in property taxes each year. The industry says it also contributes to the community – more than $126 million to protect, preserve and restore the Everglades and has helped sponsor numerous events in the area.
If the proposed moratorium on blasting takes place, Messam wants to work out some solution to the noise and damages.
“The issue ultimately comes down to the Legislature to put regulations and laws in place,’’ Messam said. “And the more scientific than political we are, the more effectively we can all work. The current statutes make it very difficult.”
But Gov. DeSantis must first agree to temporarily stop the blasting. DeSantis has a big disincentive to pulling that trigger.
He recently accelerated $2.1 billion for critical infrastructure projects to take advantage of the significant reduction in road traffic. South Florida quarries produce 50 percent of the aggregate used in Florida Department of Transportation projects, according to the South Florida Limestone Association.