As Rock Mine Explosions Rattle Miami Homes, County Might Begin Monitoring Strength

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In 2015, state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. and state Sen. Rene Garcia tried and failed to persuade the state to crack down on Miami-Dade County's rock-mining industry. Over the years, the mines, concentrated heavily in Northwest Miami-Dade near Hialeah and Opa-locka, have been blamed for scores of environmental issues, including pumping cancerous levels of benzene into the Biscayne Aquifer, South Florida's sole source of drinking water.

But the problems don't stop at pollution: Diaz and Garcia complained last year that explosions from the mines were rattling nearby homes, driving fissures through walls, cracking driveways, and even shattering light bulbs. Now a Miami-Dade County commissioner is taking up that fight.

At the county's meeting next week, Esteban Bovo, citing rising complaints from residents, will propose monitoring the seismic activity at the rock mines.

"It's obvious that a lot of residents are getting frustrated," Bovo tells New Times. "I would say over maybe the last six to eight months, we've seen an uptick in communications from different residents basically saying the tremble in their houses is getting stronger and stronger due to the blasting."

In October, the county banned fracking, another controversial drilling technique that likely causes earthquakes. But importantly, Bovo says the county can't tell the mining companies to stop doing anything — that responsibility lies with the state.

Instead, his ordinance would direct the mayor to study the seismic waves caused by the blasts. The state places a cap on how strong the mine blasts can be. If the county finds that the explosions break state regulations, Bovo says he'll immediately notify stage legislators and demand they sanction the mines.

"If there's an intensity increase or if they're violating whatever the rules are, then maybe they — the state Legislature — can take some action," Bovo says.

In an April WSVN segment, residents living near the mines in the Palm Springs North neighborhood showed the TV station that the blasts were creating fissures in their properties — cracks snaked up and down walls, across driveways, and through concrete. One woman said her boat dock had been cracked in half, while another said light bulbs had been smashed.

One resident told WSVN that living near the mines was like "living in a war." Bovo says that when the news segment aired, he attempted to speak with the miners about the blasts.

Bovo says he grew up in the Village Green neighborhood, near another rock mine, and describes the rattling as "nerve-wracking" and "like a small earthquake."

"You feel that tremor go for a couple of seconds — you feel it," he says. "The closer you are to the blasting, the worse it is."

One wrinkle in the whole debate, however, is the fact that the mines stood in West Miami-Dade before the nearby houses were built. In fact, some mine owners have complained that nearby housing developments are encroaching on them, rather than vice versa.

"The rock-mining activity has been going on a lot longer than the residents have been there," Bovo says. "So that's an argument on the other side of the ledger."

But Bovo says the residents he's spoken to have said, without a doubt, the blasts have grown stronger in the past year.

Residents who live closer to Biscayne Bay or Miami Beach often forget that mining is a major industry in Miami-Dade County. For decades, rock mines have excavated limestone from under the South Florida crust, supplying rock across the American South. (Florida produces more crushed stone than all but four other U.S. states.) But not long after the mining industry arrived, allegations of both environmental pollution and governmental quid pro quo have surfaced.

For one, a 2008 New Times investigation revealed the mines were leaking cancer-causing amounts of benzene into the water supply. In the meantime, mining company officials have dumped thousands of dollars into the coffers of local and state politicians: After shoveling campaign donations all over Florida, the state agreed to cut down environmental impact fees for rock-mining companies last year. Those fees were meant to safeguard the public from potential mining-related natural catastrophes.

Midway through last year's mitigation-fee battle, Miami Herald columnist Fred Grimm castigated the mining lobby for clearly trying to avoid paying its share to protect the environment.

"Shame on them all," he said.

But now, Bovo says local residents face an uphill battle to get the miners to understand their complaints. The Florida mining industry is huge, he says, and sets West Miami-Dade locals up for a long fight.

"These quarries feed a lot of construction, not just upstate, but a couple of other states," he says. "I always try to be upfront with the residents there. I told them: 'You're dealing with a monster.' Obviously, they were powerful enough to take the jurisdiction out of the hands of the local government. So, look, it sucks at the end of the day for these residents."

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