A house in the last phase being built in the Newberry Oaks subdivision. Some residents there are worried that blasts from a nearby limestone mining operation might be damaging their homes. (Nicole Dan/WUFT News)
Home / Development / ‘Feels Like An Earthquake’: Newberry Neighborhood Fears Damage From Limestone Mine

‘Feels Like An Earthquake’: Newberry Neighborhood Fears Damage From Limestone Mine

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Marvin Rippner’s house northeast of downtown Newberry rattled from a mining blast on April 25, 2016, and he recalls being knocked off his couch.

Investigating the cause, he discovered that limestone is being extracted from a mine 3,000 feet from his home.

“We hear, ‘Boom,’ and the house starts to rattle, and we think there’s a war coming,” the 66-year-old veteran and retired Gainesville police officer said. “And let me tell you, that’s not a good feeling.”

Since the blasts started in early 2016, Rippner has been writing and calling in complaints to various local, state and federal officials in an effort to get them stopped. But he isn’t the only one upset in the Newberry Oaks subdivision, a relatively new development, that is now adding its last group of houses.

Jim Tomchak, who moved into the subdivision more than three years ago, said he feels the blasts too. When they happen, Tomchak said residents take to the neighborhood’s Facebook page.

“Generally speaking, what will happen when there’s a blast, you’ll see folks posting on [the Facebook page], ‘Did you feel that?’ ‘Is everybody OK?’” Tomchak said. “It almost feels like it’s an earthquake, except it just doesn’t continue to ramble. It’s just like a big boom and you get a little bit of shake, but it doesn’t continue or prolong.”

A crack in Tomchak’s window that he said he noticed after the mining blasts started. (Nicole Dan/WUFT News)

Newberry Oaks resident Greg Norman said he has noticed cracks on his house since buying it in 2014, but he isn’t yet fully convinced whether it’s the mine, his house settling or both.

“I’m going to say everything’s hearsay until I have some sort of geological survey. … But I have numerous cracks on the outside of my house, [and] I’ve got cracked tile on a couple inside my house, as well,” Norman said.

“They pretty much get me every time,” he said of the blasts, which he also compared to earthquakes. “I know they get my neighbor too.”

The builder’s response

Builder Gary Weseman said Newberry Oaks residents shouldn’t be worried.

“I do not think the mining operation is a detriment,” he said.

When Rippner expressed concerns, Weseman told Rippner that he had signed papers acknowledging the mine’s existence upon buying his house.

“The people that owned the mine sent their lawyer to the [Newberry] city commission meeting just wanting to inform everybody that there was a mining operation there,” Weseman said. “So we did that to disclose the mining operation up there.”

Numerous calls to and messages left with Commercial Industrial Corporation, the owner of the mine, were not returned. The blasting firm listed in Bureau of Fire Prevention documents, Florex Explosives, confirmed that they still handle the blasts at the mine but refused to comment further. 

Rippner said that had there been a public announcement about the mine, he would have asked many questions of officials. He said that after talking with Weseman, he checked his closing paperwork and found that he had indeed signed a paper saying that he was aware of a mine “northeast of the subdivision.”

“My disclosure says that there’s an active, open pit mine operation [northeast] of the subdivision,” Rippner said. “Well, I asked a lawyer about the verbiage, and he said that’s about as useful as toilet paper.”

“I signed a lot of papers during closing, which we all do,” he added. “Nobody ever pointed out that there was a mine 3,000 feet from my home.”

Resident Tomchak, however, said he never signed the mine disclosure. Norman also said he didn’t sign the same document as Rippner because his house was a bank foreclosure.

Rippner said that when he bought his house in 2006, there was no active mining. The street where the mine is now, Northwest 218th Street, was blocked off, he said.

But then, in 2015, Commercial Industrial Corporation was issued a business license for the mine, documents show, and Rippner said he has felt the blasts since that first one in April 2016.

“They should have never approved a subdivision that close to a dormant mine that could have been reopened at any time,” Rippner said.

Officials’ responses

Rippner filed a complaint on Nov. 21, 2016, with the state Bureau of Fire Prevention, which compiles annual reports on Florida mining operations and fields residents’ complaints on them.

That May, months prior to Rippner’s complaint, the bureau had found that the blast was within state regulations. (This and other mine measurements are taken by non-governmental, private firms.)

When residents do feel blasts, they should log them for any complaints they might submit, said Jon Moore, a spokesman for the Florida Department of Financial Services, which oversees the Bureau of Fire Prevention.

“If someone were to issue a complaint, it’s very crucial to have the date and time of the blast,” Moore said. This allows experts to match each blast to seismographs, he said, adding that the state does have statutes outlining vibration limits.

But such mining limits aren’t universal, said Ted Krauthammer, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Florida. Instead, limitations on the blasts themselves and the distance from the mine to people’s homes are site-specific, he said.

Krauthammer added that home damage, like that noted by Newberry Oaks residents, isn’t necessarily coming from mining blasts.

“The people have damage in their homes, like cracks and things like that, and they don’t pay attention to it until there is an explosion nearby,” he said. “And then they’re looking for what might have happened, and they see the cracks that already existed previously.”

“So it is not simple just to say there is a crack and that crack is related to a blast,” he added. “One has to analyze the blast and make sure it exceeded allowed limits.”

In addition to the Bureau of Fire Prevention, Rippner said he contacted environmental regulators, state representatives and senators, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho’s office, Newberry city commissioners and Alachua County commissioners.

Rippner also filed a claim with his insurance company for the damage, and but the company denied the claim, stating the damage was due to the settling of the house, not mining blasts. He has also talked with attorneys, who all told him they wouldn’t take on the case.

“Nobody’s willing to do anything,” he said.

Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe, who was elected in April of this year, said that no one has brought this complaint to the commission since two years ago when a resident emailed the commission about the mine blasts.  The city then asked the state to come in and take measurements, which were under the limit.

“It’s a state-regulated industry, so there’s not a whole lot as a city we can do except for getting our citizens to the appropriate governing authority to get the complaints to them,” Marlowe said.

Marlowe said that the city has asked the mining company to make sure the blasts happen during the working day. A lot of residents have asked for the mining company to warn them when blasts are about to happen.

“It would be a favor from the mining company, there’s not state regulation or stipulation or mandate that the mining company has to do that,” Marlowe said. “I think the best you can realistically hope is the mining company saying ‘hey, we’ll keep our blasts within these times of the day.'”

Marlowe said that it would have been difficult for the commission to restrict building Newberry Oaks so close to the mine when there are houses that are even closer to the facility.

Weseman is currently expanding the last phase of Newberry Oaks.

About Nicole Dan

Nicole is a reporter for WUFT News and be contacted by calling 561-543-8861 or emailing ndan@ufl.edu

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  • antistrauss

    The case of the mines on the north side of Newberry is similar to the railroad complaints. Newberry was founded as a mining town in the late 1800’s. Those mines have been operating for more than a century. They are clearly marked on maps. There is a big sign and entrance to the mining operations. The equipment is lit like a Christmas tree every night. Now ir read that they are disclosed in developers closing documents also!
    When we moved to Newberry three years ago and found a railroad in operation that, like the mines, began running in the 1800’s. We like trains, so this was a plus for us. I hear from other newcomers a constant series of complaints about the railroad for its noise and that it stops traffic.
    And, I wonder, did the new comers not see the mine entrance, the lit up equipment, the railroad crossing signs, the tracks, the railroad cars parked on the siding in town?
    What did they think those things were for? Should the mine and railroad change their ways after more than a century because the townies are now here? I don’t think so.
    Newberry has welcomed us and we love it here. We are not going to expect the town and its foundational businesses to change because we arrived. We are going to slow down and enjoy our place in the community and support the businesses that helped to create it..

    • Marvin Rippner

      I moved in in 2006.There was NO mining operation going on and the street at 21806 W Newberry Rd was closed off, not paved and didnt have the sign there as it is now. When you buy a home you sign many papers. After contacting Mr Weseman I found the mine disclosure. All it said was there was an active open pit mining operation NE of the subdivision, NO address or distance from the subdivision Thats vague. It could be Waldo, NYC, NJ, etc. No indication of a mine until 2016 when the initial blast knocked me off the couch, the walls and windows shook and I called out ASO. Then I found out about the mine. I dont give a rats butt if that mine was here first. We have rights as homeowners, we dont have to check maps. I had no idea Newberry was a mining town. Then blasts once a week which are still ongoing. My damage was NOT there until 2016. It doesnt take a rocket scientist to figure out what caused it. The homeowners engineers found no correlation to the blasts, shaking of the house and the mine. Per some of my insurance buddies, they didnt want to fight the mine company in court, too much money. Also, no posting of land use changes. Also, since the mine re-opened, anyone selling their home in the subdivision must by law disclose the mines disruption of the neighborhood and any and all damage to their homes. What kind of idiots that were on the city commission back when they approved this subdivision when they knew how close it was to the mine? Per a Gainesville Sun investigation, they use 17K pounds of liquid explosives when they blast! I makes no sense to approve a large residential subdivison that close to a mine that at the time was dormant and in the future could be re-opened. I wonder why the mining company did not return the lady’s calls who did this article? This situation smells worse than The District of Corruption, (DC)….Attys wont take the case pro bono, but will for a class action lawsuit.

      • antistrauss

        I read your frustration that you didn’t check further when you were buying the house and saw “. . . there was an active open pit mining operation NE of the subdivision . . .” Oops!
        I learned my lesson when I bought a house near a power line slated for abandoment in favor of a new power line that was already in place 1/4 mile north of the house. Once I moved in, the power company decided to pull new conductors into the old pilons and increase the transmission capacity. The result was a measurable EMF inside my house and no radio or television reception. I took a bath selling that house.
        Newberry’s history as a mining town is common knowledge to most people in the Gainesville area. If nothing else, the 100 ft towers lit up like Christmas every night should have been a clue that something is going on there.
        Mines go through cycles of blasting and harvesting. They’ve entered a blasting cycle. How long it lasts and the length of the quieter harvesting phase will depend on the demand for their limestone and phosphorus products. You must have bought during a harvest cycle that lasted a long time due to slack demand.