A proposed sand mine given a special exception

A photograph shows the proposed sand mine operation on a parcel north of State Road 70 and Lake Annie. Biologist Dr. Hilary Swain with Archbold Biological Station has voiced concerns how a sand mine there would affect Lake Annie, a groundwater-fed lake just across State Road 70 to the south.

SEBRING — A proposed sand mine in Lake Placid got approval at the last Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, but must still go before the Highlands County Board of County Commission.

When it will depends on how soon County Attorney Joy Carmichael finishes her review of the decision, as voted on by the P&Z Board.

Information from participants in the meeting is that the land owner, Black Bear Citrus LLC, got its request for a special exemption to the code to allow extraction of sand or removing earth or topsoil.

Reportedly, the exemption does not have to be reviewed by the County Commission, but a zoning change the P&Z Board approved would need a secondary vote from county commissioners.

Allegedly, the land allowed for the sand mine was reduced from the original 33.47-acre proposal, but the exact amount is unknown.

Any sand mine would have to contend with regulations set out in the Highlands County Comprehensive Land Use Plan, including any setbacks. P&Z reportedly added some conditions, but the exact conditions of their decision are also unavailable until Carmichael finishes her review.

The proposed sand mine would go on private property north of State Road 70 between lakes Annie and Placid. It would be part of a 200-acre parcel at 25 Pump Road.

The application stated mining had taken place there in the past. Right not, the land is a commercial grove.

A mine would let the owner sell sand while enlarging areas that were mined in the past to create a pond and buffer on one side of the property.

One main concern for biologist Dr. Hilary Swain, executive director of Archbold Biological Station, was whether or not the sand mine would affect water flow into Lake Annie, which is on Archbold property and fed by groundwater seep from all directions except the north.

Water flows out of the lake underground to the north, toward the proposed sand mine.

Swain said during a November P&Z meeting on the matter, that Lake Annie is one of the few deep-water lakes in the subtropics that did not originate from a melted glacier, has never dried out and is part of the Global Lake Ecological Observatory Network.

Archbold Station and Lake Annie form the headwaters of the Josephine Creek sub-basin of Lake Istokpoga, Swain said. She’s concerned that digging down to the water table might influence outflows from the lake.

On Jan. 8, Swain called in a hydrologist from Canada who had studied the lake as part of the Observatory Network, and who reportedly said digging a sand mine near it would affect the lake.

Swain had previously told the adjustment board that the county’s Natural Resources Advisory Commission had reviewed the sand mine application and did not find enough detail — how deep excavators would dig or how much sand would be removed — to decide on it.

Bert J. Harris III, attorney for the applicant, asked Swain twice at November’s meeting if she had evidence to show Lake Annie would be impacted by sand mine “downhill” from the lake. She said, twice, she had not had a chance to do a study or pull data at that time, and needed an expert to study the hydrology.

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