A Federal Appeals Court today vacated a lower court’s decisions that invalidated mining permits in the Lake Belt area of Northwest Miami-Dade County and shut down limestone mining operations in approximately one-third of that area. The appellate court concluded that the lower court rulings of March 22, 2006 and July 13, 2007 were wrongly decided and ended a nearly 10 month shut-down of some of the most important limestone mining operations in America.
In its decision, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals concluded:
The district court seems to have predetermined the answer to the ultimate issue, concluding that the Corps should not permit mining in the Lake Belt, and analyzed the permitting process with that answer in mind. Indeed, the court made its predetermination of the ultimate issue explicit in its conclusion…. In other words, no matter what the Corps concluded, and no matter what evidence supported that conclusion, the court would have banned mining because of its own conclusion that mining in the Lake Belt is a bad thing.
“This ruling is welcome news for Florida’s economy,” said Kerri Barsh, an attorney representing three of the companies affected by the ruling, White Rock Quarries, APAC Florida and Sawgrass Rock Quarry. “It advances transportation projects throughout the state and puts the environmental benefits of the Lake Belt Plan back on track.”
Today’s decision vacated two rulings by the lower court in the lawsuit, Sierra Club v. Flowers. This lawsuit contended that the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service did not follow proper procedures when originally issuing Lake Belt mining permits in 2002. The first of the rulings vacated today was issued on March 22, 2006 and it invalidated Lake Belt mining permits. The second ruling vacated today was issued on July 13, 2007 and it imposed a partial mining shut-down.
Today’s ruling benefits the environment by putting the Lake Belt Plan back on track. This comprehensive plan was endorsed by the late Governor Lawton Chiles, former Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt and former Governor Jeb Bush. It establishes specific areas for limestone mining operations in Miami-Dade County and uses special fees paid by mining companies in the Lake Belt to provide the funding needed for the state to acquire, restore and preserve a 2-mile buffer protecting the Florida Everglades. The plan also calls for quarry-lakes to become an essential element of the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) by ultimately becoming massive water reservoirs to provide water to nourish the famed River of Grass. The Lake Belt Plan supports Everglades restoration, provides funding for regional drinking water, and protects the Everglades from encroaching development while maintaining the numerous economic benefits of Florida’s limestone industry.
The Lake Belt Area is a 78 square mile region located on the western edge of Miami-Dade County’s urbanized area. Named for the quarry-lakes created when limestone is excavated, the Lake Belt provides a buffer between developed areas to the east and the Everglades to the west. For almost 60 years, the companies that excavate more than half of the state’s limestone have worked safely in the Lake Belt area, producing jobs for thousands of Floridians, and providing the raw materials that support the state’s growing network of roads and highways.
Limestone operations in the Lake Belt provide nearly half of the limestone and one-fourth of the cement used in Florida for road construction as well as residential, commercial, and industrial construction projects in virtually every Florida community. The Lake Belt provides the highest quality and quantity of aggregate material in Florida and is served by an efficient network of roads and railways needed to transport this vital material. Florida consumes 150 million tons of limestone every year and 55 million tons come from the Lake Belt region. All of the limestone rock produced in the Lake Belt area stays in Florida and is used for road projects as well as residential, commercial, and industrial construction jobs.
Kerri Barsh, 305-579-0772
Source: Greenberg Traurig