SMR will conclude its shell mining operations over the next year.
Somewhere on a shelf at SMR Aggregates’ headquarters, there’s a shell fossil with Nancy Plank’s name on it.
It’s mixed in along dozens of others — conch and other shells, a brain coral the size of a watermelon and even part of a skull of a whale — that have been excavated from Lakewood Ranch property over the last 40 years.
“It is very unique the shell deposits we have here,” said Plank, who has worked for Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch’s shell mining operation for 30 years, the last 20-or so as its office manager. “There are shell deposits all over Florida, but they are different depending on the water and where it was over the state of Florida.”
More specimens line shelves at the office — a fossil of fish, a walrus tusk, the jawbone of a horse — as well as historic photos hanging from wood-paneled walls. Each represents a piece of history that corresponds with shell mining operations, as well as the development of Lakewood Ranch as a community.
But, it’s a piece of SMR’s history that is winding to a close.
“We’re basically done,” SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen said. “We’ll finish mining and reclamation over the next 12 months.”
Extractions basically have halted and now the company is stock piling aggregates for its current road construction projects, the extensions of Deer Drive, Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and Lorraine Road.
The reclamation process is one of shaping earthen pits so the slope of their banks will meet the specifications within their county permits and can grow grass. Eventually, these holes will become lakes filled in by ground water.
“You make it look pretty,” Jensen said.
Lake Uihlein is the result of the first shell mining operation and now offers a scenic backdrop to communities such as Edgewater and Watercrest. Going forward, seven large lakes created by shell mining south of University Parkway will be the focal point for SMR’s future Waterside project, a 5,500-acre mixed use development south of the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park. Those lakes cover more than 700 acres of the project, with the largest lake spanning more than mile in length. Once mining ceases east of Lorraine Road, there will be another 400 acres or so of lakes added.
Pulte Group and Homes by Towne already are under contract to construct the first communities around two of the seven major lakes, and SMR is working to design its future downtown for Waterside on the largest lake, at a former shell mining plant location.