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Wood-chipping operation seeks approval for 24-hour business

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By Jeff M. Hardison

BRONSON -- Despite impassioned pleas from neighbors to a pine-shaving mill in the Williston area, the Levy County Planning Commission voted 4-0 on Nov. 5 in favor of recommending the County Commission grant another special exception to let it operate 24-hours-day, seven-days-a-week.

The County Commission granted a special exception in January to allow the lumber mill to operate 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week.

Four Planning Commission members felt the petition from Eddie Hodge and Will Irby, seeking to make the Derby Gold Pine Shavings Mill into a 24-hour operation, merited endorsement. If the Levy County Board of County Commissioners agrees on Dec. 4, then the operation will change from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday to run all hours every day of the week, including Sunday.

County commissioners on Jan. 2 allowed the pine-shaving mill on a 14.9-acre parcel as a special exception on land zoned Agricultural-Rural Residential.

Residents of the Winding Oaks Estates subdivision complained about the buzzing noise of the mill and traffic from semi tractor-trailers hauling wood shavings and pine logs to the mill. Some of them tried to stop the first special exception and failed. Now, they may have failed again.

Speaking for Derby Gold, engineer Ralph Eng said there are no noise ordinance violations by the mill. It operates adjacent to a sand mining venture and a timber business in the 1,048 acres of Hodge property. Williston Timber has been in operation for more than 20 years.

Hyun Paek, a consultant with Siebin Associates of Gainesville, provided a plan for reducing noise output from the mill. As of Nov. 5, it was more than 90 percent installed. Some residents conceded the mill noise has decreased.

If the mill becomes 24-hours, it will add 10 employees, Irby said.

Traudi Miller-Moss has lived in the subdivision for two years, she said. Noise from workers coming and going at all hours of the day and night is something else to consider. She wants to maintain the quiet, rural residential environment.

Sondra and Jim Lane have lived in the area for five years, they said. She objects to hearing semi tractor-trailers at night. Irby explained that some of the trucks are strictly for the timber operation, which is allowed to operate at all times.

Rob Grant made the strongest argument against allowing the extension of hours of operation. He said Planning Commissioner Ron Grant (no relation) came to visit the site but the northern wind reduced the sound from the mill.

Rob Grant sought a 90-day extension to allow subdivision residents to hire their own sound experts to refute the findings of Eng and Paek.

"What's the rush to judgment?" Rob Grant asked.

Attorney Tim Fischer of Ocala, representing Rob Grant, said the commission should allow the residents to present their expert's findings to show whether the mill is in compliance or non-compliance with the county noise ordinance. Fischer said he feels it is unfair to only hear one side of the argument from expert witnesses in regard to noise.

After Chairman Thad Barber closed the time for public input, he threatened some individuals with removal after they spoke out of turn.

Planning Commission member Toni Collins said the people must accept they are in Levy County now, with all its positive and negative aspects. The timber industry has been in the county for many decades, she said. The County Commission is scheduled to hear the issue on Dec. 4.