Conservation Report February 2017

By Whitey Markle

On January 17, the Union County Board of County Commissioners (B.O.C.C.) voted unanimously to extend the moratorium on mining for another year. The standing-room-only Union County Courtroom was packed with supporters of the moratorium extension. We hope the Union BOCC moves to rewrite their Land Development regulations (LDRs) expeditiously. Union County shares the Santa Fe River with Alachua County, and the geography there is identical to that of Alachua County.  The Alachua County Environmental Protection Department data should prove to be sufficient  to justify LDRs that are similar to Alachua County’s.

Jim Tatum has compiled a terrific document on the Bradford/Union situation:

The Phosphate Mine in Bradford and Union Counties Proposed by HPS II Company by Jim Tatum
In the spring of 2016, HPS II Enterprises    proposed a 10,775 acre mine bordering the Santa Fe River, and straddling New River, a major tributary which divides Union and Bradford Counties.

Following overwhelming citizen opposition, Union Co. quickly voted in a one-year moratorium on mine permit applications on April 18, 2016, giving them time to revise outdated and inadequate Land Development Regulations (LDRs).  Bradford County commissioners witnessed equally overwhelming opposition, but ignored it and chose not to enact a moratorium.   At the same meeting, county attorney Will Sexton advised the commissioners not to discuss the topic nor answer questions, which immensely intensified the ire of their constituents.

At the April 21, 2016 meeting in Starke, the commissioners vacillated and tried but failed to rescind the no moratorium vote, (Riddick and Lewis voted for it, the others no, later Chandler changed his stance but no other vote took place because the application was submitted) so they scheduled a workshop for the citizens on April 29, saying specifically and repeatedly that no mine permit applications had been filed.  A few days later the workshop was cancelled, since now it was revealed that HPS II had submitted a permit application on April 21, thus categorizing further proceedings as “quasi-judicial” and disallowing discussion.   Some, including some lawyers, as seen below, question the legality of the permit application, and the controversial proceedings by the Bradford commissioners. That may be why they are so reluctant to discuss it.

At the meeting on May 2, it was revealed that most if not all the commissioners knew before the April 21 meeting that the application had been submitted even though the audio tape has several “no pending applications” clearly audible.
At this time Alachua Co. made a strong stance against the mine, sending a letter of concern to eleven state and federal agencies.  Ken Cornell and Chris Bird addressed the Bradford commissioners at the May 19 meeting and offered assistance in revising the LDRs.

At the May 19, 2016 meeting of the commissioners, they were accused of lying, withholding information, personal interests, illegal collusion, illegal proceedings, refusal to answer questions, and so on.  Chairman Lewis directed further review of the application, LDRs, and employing outside experts.  The mine has not been discussed at the board meetings by commissioners since May 19, 2016 and the current status is unknown to the public.  Hints are that they will consult with Alachua Co. regarding the permit, but how they view it is unclear.  My personal feelings are that Riddick and Chandler oppose.  Thompson supported it in the past, new members Dougherty and Durrance are unknowns.  I think it is possible that Thompson could have changed his position.  I have a feeling the sinkhole at Mosaic in Polk Co. may have had some influence on this board.  People have been hammering them relentlessly since February. Just optimistic wishing.

HPS Enterprises representatives made an appeal to the public at some of the early Union County meetings, moved to the Lake Butler Community Center to accommodate large crowds.  They also scheduled a town-hall meeting on March 14 at the Bradford High School, stacked with friends and supporters.  They were severely criticized for confronting and manhandling Dr. Steve Pieczenik at a Bradford Co. meeting in April.  Since that meeting they had not had a presence at county meetings.

In their propaganda appeals to the public, HPS stresses that they are different because they say they will have no gyp stacks on site, and they also say they have a new mining procedure developed by Dr. Hassan El-Shall of UF (Mosaic employee at times) which separates the phosphate from the clay without retention ponds, using much less water.  We have seen no evidence of this.  They also claim a fast-track reclaiming for the land, which is impossible.  Old Jack Hazen wrote an emotional appeal as a God-fearing man stating he would never harm the land for profit, and that God put the phosphate on his land for development for the benefit of man, and that God wants him to extract it for the good of the world.

Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity, a national environmental group with a Florida office in St. Petersburg, have determined that the mine application was handled incorrectly by the Bradford commissioners and they have asked them to enact a moratorium on processing mining applications.  With ample documentation, they give legal precedent in Florida for enacting moratoria after an application has been submitted.

There are many reasons to reject this phosphate mine.  Phosphate mines pollute, destroy terrain and contaminate the aquifer.  One has only to look to Polk Co. for the most recent environmental catastrophe.  Mosaic Company has had previous spills and contaminations, and last year were fined almost two BILLION dollars.  They continue to pollute.  A mine on the river upstream from High Springs would jeopardize our greatest natural resource, our river, springs and aquifer.

The phosphate industry is one of the most polluting industries we have in Florida.  “It’s a cradle-to-grave operation of pollution, and phosphogypsum is the grave,” said Glenn Compton, from the environmental group ManaSota-88.  The 1.8 billion settlement “is a small drop in the bucket of what the industry is doing to the State of Florida.”

The Santa Fe River has many layers of special protections.  It is designated an “Outstanding Florida Waterway,” it is an “impaired waterway,” meaning people have damaged it by over-drawing and allowing too much fertilizer into it.  The river is protected by Minimum Flows and Levels, which are already not being met.  Yet the mine will have to withdraw about 20 MGD to operate.  These state-declared designations are in the Florida Statutes and give it greater legal protection than most Florida streams.  The New River area is also designated an Area of Critical Habitat for the Oval Pigtoe Mussel and other threatened wildlife species.  The river is also in a Water Resource Caution Area.

The North Central Florida Regional Planning Council has previously advised the Bradford Board of Commissioners that their county’s LDRs are inadequate to address a large-scale mine.

The phosphate industry itself provides much of the ammunition against it.  The Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute (FIPR Institute) tells us that up to 40 percent of the land that has been mined is being left in clay settling areas with no attempt at reclamation.  About 340,000 acres have already been mined in Florida and less than 62,000 have been reclaimed.

Mining operations have gone bankrupt, leaving huge messes for the state to clean up at the taxpayer’s expense.  Also at the environment’s expense—Several years ago the DEP allowed dumping 295 million gallons of poisoned wastewater into Bishop’s Harbor, just south of Tampa.

The abandoned gypsum stacks had to be drained so the state negotiated for weeks with the EPA to allow 240 million gallons to be dumped 100 miles out into the Gulf of Mexico.  This is in addition to the Bishop Harbor dumpings.
They admit that counties “…such as Hardee… are trying to find income-generating uses for mined and reclaimed land. The ponds where the waste clays are dumped after they are separated from the ore cover more than 100,000 acres and it can take three to five years for a full settling area to crust into a land that can be used—and even then its use is limited since the clay below the crust is the consistency of pudding.”

Contrary to what Mosaic Company says, we do not need the phosphate industry in Florida.  Scientists at Columbia University say:

“phosphorus is fundamental to all living things.  It is vital for food production.  Phosphorus cannot be manufactured or destroyed, and there is no substitute or synthetic version of it available.

In fact, phosphorus is a renewable resource and there is plenty of it left on earth.  Animals and humans excrete almost 100 percent of the phosphorus they consume in food.  All of the most reliable estimate show that we have enough phosphate rock resources to last between 300 and 400 more years.

“Unfortunately, most phosphorus is wasted. Only 20 percent of the phosphorus in phosphate rock reaches the food consumed globally. Thirty to 40 percent is lost during mining and processing; 50 percent is wasted in the food chain between farm and fork; and only half of all manure is recycled back into farmland around the world.

Most of the wasted phosphorus enters our rivers, lakes and oceans from agricultural or manure runoff or from phosphates in detergent and soda dumped down drains, resulting in eutrophication. This is a serious form of water pollution wherein algae bloom, then die, consuming oxygen and creating a “dead zone” where nothing can live. Over 400 coastal dead zones at the mouths of rivers exist and are expanding at the rate of 10 percent per decade. In the United States alone, economic damage from eutrophication is estimated to be $2.2 billion a year.”

The concerns for the safety of the river are increased because HPS II Enterprises is a new company with no experience in what it is trying to do.  They have already proven to break the rules and cut corners, disregarding proper legal procedures.

They have three violations in the short time they have been in business. They were cited on March 15, 2016 by the Suwannee River Water Management District for engaging in dredge and fill activities in wetlands with no permits, making illegal drainage ditches.  They admitted, also in March, to the construction of 38 water wells without permits (they received a pittance fine of $400 from SRWMD), and in June, 2016, they were cited for digging a well without permission on property they did not own.

These violations are the earmarks of a company which has no regard for obeying regulations which exist to protect the welfare of others.  This irresponsible company should not be allowed to put at risk the natural resources which we all enjoy and from which our community benefits.  The Santa Fe River and surrounding springs are the engine which drives our economy and brings people to our area.

Phosphate Mine Summary:

  • The proposed mine, by HPS II Enterprises of Brooker, straddles New River, which divides Union and Bradford Counties, and is very near the banks of the Santa Fe River.  It came to the attention of the public in  early 2016.
  • The mine poses substantial water impacts on the Santa Fe River system, including harmful draw-down and pollution.  The river is a major economic resource for its adjacent area.  Its threat to the Santa Fe is catastrophic.
  • The Santa Fe River is designated as “impaired” and is an Outstanding Florida Waterway, among other designated protections.
  • The river is not meeting its Minimum Flows and Levels at this time, but the mine would need approximately 20 MGD of water.
  • New River is designated critical habitat for the federally endangered Oval Pigtoe mussel
  • HPS II Enterprises has proven to be irresponsible in following rules and regulations (see mine information,) and the chances of an environmental catastrophe are high.  Three violations in 2016 that we are aware of.
  • Union Co. has enacted a moratorium on mine permits until Feb., 2018, but Bradford has done nothing officially to stop the mine.  Alachua Co. has publicly declared its intention to sue if any permits are granted.
  • A Chair letter from Alachua County strongly opposes the mine and was sent to about a dozen agencies.  At Chris Bird’s suggestion, OSFR has successfully requested like letters to Union, Bradford and SRWMD from Columbia Co. and the City of High Springs, and perhaps the Florida Springs Council.  As of Jan. 2017, they have not been sent.

Again, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is trying to mandate ALL non-motorized water vessels (does that include logs?) to register, take a boating safety course, and pay an annual fee for use on all Florida waters.  We need to show opposition to this effort en masse. Brack Barker, our Outings Chair, is one of the Boating Advisory Council  advisory committee members, and has been tenacious over the last decade defending us paddlers against the powerboat lobby.The hearing(s) will be at:  DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Orlando at SeaWorld 10100 International Drive, Orlando,  Florida, 32821 USA, Tel +1-407-352-1100.

Stay Tuned for an e-blast . At this juncture, this item is not posted on the agenda, but FWC , among other state agencies, are famous for inserting items into the agenda at the meeting itself. In my opinion, this proposed rule change will oppress the poor common folk who fish somewhat for subsistence and can’t afford a power boat.  And I personally believe it is a scheme to eliminate many paddlers from the waterways..

Again, the Bear hunt is in the sights of the FWC and the hunters (and their lobbyists).  And, again,  it is not on the agenda.  The next FWC meeting is at 8:30 AM on February  8-9 at Plantation on Crystal River , 9301 West Fort Island Trail, Crystal River, Florida 34429.  All interested in saving the Black Bear should attend and speak in Public Comment time if nothing else. Also, see