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On Wed. May 4, April Warren published an article in the Gainesville Sun about the proposed mine in Union and Bradford Counties. Chris Bird, director of the county’s Environmental Protection Dept., called the mine the “…largest potential impact to the Santa Fe River…”
Addressing the commissioners, OSFR’s historian was identified as a representative of OSFR and was quoted: “I’d just urge you to engage in the highest level you can here and we’re very happy you’re helping our river….”
Concerns about mines damaging Santa Fe
By April Warren
Published: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 11:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2016 at 11:42 p.m.
The Alachua County Commission has concerns that a phosphate mining proposal in Bradford County — with possible expansion into Union County — could damage the Santa Fe River and the springs along it.
“I will tell you as your environmental protection director, I would say this proposed mine, especially if it spans both counties, is the largest potential impact to the Santa Fe River … that I’ve seen in the time I’ve been with Alachua County,” said Chris Bird. “Potentially, it’s that big.”
The board voted during a special meeting Tuesday to send letters of concern to various agencies, municipalities and landowners that would become involved in the application process for the proposed mine, hoping to start a dialogue and offer any assistance, such as data on waterways.
Staff also will begin compiling and report back with a list of other appropriate ways Alachua County could have its say in the process, with varying degrees of involvement.
The proposed 7,400-acre mine would be located on more than 10,000 acres in Bradford and Union counties owned by HPS II Enterprises, a partnership formed by the Hazen, Howard, Shadd and Pritchett families, who own the lands and are the parties applying for the mining application.
Animal feed, detergents, fertilizer and food and beverage products can be produced using phosphate rock, according to a 2013 report from the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
The proposed lands to be mined lie south of Lake Butler, west of County Road 235, north of Brooker and west of State Road 121.
While supports say the work would bring jobs and economic growth, it has sparked concern because of its potential damage to the environment, which could hurt the economy and enjoyment of the river.
The proposed mining could cause problems for both the New River and Santa Fe River systems, officials said. The Santa Fe River is Alachua County’s northern boundary and county line with both Bradford and Union counties.
“No matter how you look at it, the water goes downhill and it goes down river,” Bird said. “Just knowing the river like we do and what we’ve experienced we know things can get out of hand really quickly, just in terms of not being able to handle storm water.”
Bolstering Alachua County’s argument for concern is that the river attracts international ecotourism, has been designated by the state as being worthy of special protection and is already restricted in its daily pollutant load because it has been identified as an impaired body. Nearby Treehouse, Hornsby and Poe Springs have also been considered by the state to be worthy of protection. The county also has land interests on the waterway such as McCall Boat Park Ramp, Poe Springs Park and Camp Kulaqua-Hornsby Springs Conservation Easement.
“The protection of our waters and natural resources is one of my highest priorities,” said Commissioner Ken Cornell.
A federal critical habitat designation has been applied to both the Santa Fe and New rivers because of the existence of the oval pigtoe, an endangered freshwater mussel.
Letters from the board will go to Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Bradford County, Union County, North Central Florida Regional Planning Council, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Letters also will be sent to the Suwannee River Water Management District, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Alachua Conservation Trust and High Springs, all entities that own conservation property interests on the Santa Fe River.
On April 18, the Union County Commission approved a one-year moratorium on mining applications. The pause would give the commission more time to look at the plan and what mining methods would be used.
Bradford County was expected to hold a workshop April 29 to discuss HPS II Enterprises’ plans to mine phosphate 35 to 40 feet underground on at least 7,400 acres in Bradford and Union counties.
But the workshop was canceled after HPS applied for a special-use permit for their mining activities, a process that barred the commission from discussing the subject in advance of any hearings related to the special-use permit.
About 60 residents attended Tuesday’s meeting in Alachua County. Audience members included concerned residents and officials from both Union and Bradford counties.
About 15 people spoke, most expressing frustration with Bradford County for not answering questions from residents and also articulating skepticism at the HPS proposal. Many vented to the Alachua County Commission in hopes it would help.
Debbie Davey, of Worthington Springs said she could throw a rock from her property and hit the proposed mining land.
“I’m a landowner and I have been for 10 years now and I just think that this is very hazardous to our community and I’m speaking for the citizens of our community,” she said.
“I’d just urge you to engage in the highest level you can here and we’re very happy you’re helping our river,” said Jim Tatum a representative of the Our Santa Fe River nonprofit organization, who lives in Columbia County.
Alachua County resident TJ Strickland, one of the last to speak, said no one had spoken about property rights.
“I think it’s important that property rights be at least recognized,” he said. “As in every divorce there’s two sides, I guarantee, to the issue.”
A few speakers later, a woman from Union County said she didn’t think someone else’s property rights should impede residents living around her.
Will Sexton, attorney for Bradford County, said on May 19 county staff will look to the Bradford County Commission for direction on how to proceed on the mining issue.