by Carol Mosley
Four families with vast tracts of land are intent on mining phosphate on more than 10,000 acres in Bradford and Union counties. This could be the most important decision these two small counties will make in a generation and may have consequences many generations forward.
The proposed acreage straddles the New River, which runs between the two counties and feeds into the Santa Fe river, bringing the interests of Alachua county directly into the fold. Thousands of acres in the proposed area consist of wetlands, the filters that assure the water quality and tamper the flow of our rivers and streams, and recharge our fragile aquifer.
For nearly two years now, an ad hoc group of local Citizens Against Phosphate Mining has been collaborating with Our Santa Fe River and the Suwanee St. Johns chapter of the Sierra Club to bring public awareness of the concerns, rally folks to commission meetings, and conduct research to uncover the “true costs” to our lives and our natural environment. Nearly every city and township in the surrounding areas, from Waldo to Lawtey, has signed a letter or Resolution of Concern or Opposition.
Unfortunately, mining is generally classified as an activity of agriculture. As the two counties work to update their Land Development Regulations (LDR), HPSII has done everything they can to block any actions the local governments take to design a future for the benefit of all their citizens.
Though they promised to work with the Bradford CC and NOT rush to submit a permit application, HPS did exactly that once the public requested a moratorium. That action shut down citizen dialogue with our BCC, putting them under a quasi judicial gag order. HPS lawyers threatened to sue Union County after they enacted their moratorium and have attempted other legal action to prevent Union from adopting their updated LDR.
In fact, these attempts at twisting county arms are for “pre-approval” of what they will ultimately submit, since they have not yet even obtained the required permits from the Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) or the other agencies. And, the counties have not been provided with Economic or Environmental Impact Statements.
We know that letters in opposition have been submitted by experts in ecology and biology. They express concerns about depletion and contamination of water wells; release of cancer causing radioactive radon; damage to the New River and Santa Fe River; and loss of habitat for endangered species as well as for hunting and fishing.
And, concerned residents have submitted letters and voiced opposition, stating the reasons above as well as noise, light, and dust from the proposed 20 hour per day operation and the possibility of sinkholes in our karst geology as more water is pumped from the aquifer. These citizen concerns have merit, since fines were imposed on the families for drilling multiple wells without a permit and an order was given to cease and desist wetlands destruction.
And, there is very much more that we need to know. We need to know if a mining permit, under the current LDR, would “grandfather” other unforeseen activities. If the experimental process does not work at an industrial scale, can HPS automatically substitute a different process? If the company goes bankrupt, as is often the case with phosphate mining, can the property and permits be transferred to another entity (say, Mosaic)? Can other minerals be mined, such as radioactive uranium or rare earth elements?
There are many unanswered questions.
The vested interest of the citizens is their personal quality of life and the health of future generations. These families may be shareholders, but we citizens are ALL stakeholders. What›s at stake for us is depletion and contamination of our rivers, streams and precious aquifer. It is the local citizenry who will have to live with the consequences of whatever decision is ultimately made and it will be up to the citizens to intervene and say, «No phosphate mining in north central Florida.»
So here›s what you can do:
* Attend county commission meetings when items are on the agenda
* Write letters/emails to the editor of your paper, to commissioners, and to the DEP at firstname.lastname@example.org,us
* Share your expertise in geology, hydrology, biology, chemistry …
* Make a donation to our partner organizations to help us hire experts to give technical testimony, cover printing and mailing costs, and distribute signs and banners:
For more information call Carol at (352) 485-2524. D