An excellent editorial by Nathan Crabbe appeared the the Gainesville Sun today, May 12, 2016.
Editorial: Fully consider impact of mine
Published: Thursday, May 12, 2016 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 10, 2016 at 4:05 p.m.
An environmentally friendly phosphate mine is an oxymoron.
Yet the backers of a massive mine proposed in Bradford and Union counties are promoting the project as something that could be done with a minimal environmental cost. Residents of those counties, as well as Alachua County, are right to be skeptical.
The mine would be located on at least 7,400 acres in Bradford and Union counties owned by HPS II Enterprises. The partnership was formed by the Hazen, Howard, Pritchett and Shadd families, who own the lands and are behind the mining application.
Last month, the Union County Commission unanimously approved a one-year moratorium on mining operations to allow more time to properly vet the project. Last week, Alachua County commissioners voted to send letters of concern about the project to various agencies.
That leaves Bradford County, which last month cancelled a workshop on the project. The stated reason was that HPS II Enterprises had submitted a special-use permit application, so county commissioners couldn’t discuss the mine in the workshop without putting their impartiality into question when they considered the project.
Public input shouldn’t be silenced and there should be no rush to consider the project. Bradford County commissioners, slated next week to consider how to proceed, would be wise to follow the example of their neighbors in Union County and take the time needed to fully understand the project’s impact.
The New River, which divides the two counties and is a tributary of the Santa Fe, runs through the area of pasture, timberland and woods proposed for mining. Alachua County Environmental Protection Director Chris Bird said the project, especially if it spans both counties, is the largest potential impact to the Santa Fe that he has seen in the 30 years that he has been with the county.
The Santa Fe has already been declared to be impaired by the state due to water pollution. The river and the springs located on it are international tourist destinations, so any further potential threats to them should not be taken lightly.
The impact of the mine on eco-tourism to the region should be weighed against the economic benefits provided to a handful of families. While the mine would provide an infusion of tax dollars for the rural counties where it would be located, the long-term costs to the region’s environment and economy could be far greater.
The mine would require 35 to 40 feet of digging into the ground. The landowners and their consultants claim the project would speed reclamation of mined areas back into agricultural lands, need half as much water as traditional mining techniques and not require slurry ponds. But their opponents have reason to be doubtful, given that these techniques are not currently in place at any mine in the state.
A phosphate mine typically pumps up to 100,000 gallons of groundwater a minute, according to the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute. Other potential environmental impacts include the destruction of wetlands and increased particles in waterways that can lead to less oxygen for fish and plants.
Counties should be given leeway to make the best decisions for their residents without interference from neighboring counties. But when a project has the potential to affect the environment of the entire region, Alachua County officials and residents have both the right and responsibility to get involved.
Whether our county commissioners would be able to do anything about the mine is an open question. For now, the best bet is working to ensure those considering the project don’t rush to take action before fully understanding its environmental impact.