Mine Discussed at Bradford BOCC

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Kate Ellison                                                                Carol Mosley

 

Item 4. E on the Bradford  BOCC agenda today (June 4, 2018) reads:  “Provide direction to staff regarding public participation at internal staff meetings on Phosphate Mining matter.”

Previously, Carol Mosley and Kate Ellison had requested of County Attorney Will Sexton that they be permitted to attend any meeting of Onsite Environmental Consulting (OEC) with Bradford Co. staff and/or HPS II.

Actually Mr.  Sexton gave direction to the commissioners, explaining that OEC, the company hired by Bradford County had expressed their wish to meet with HPS II without public attendance or participation.

Discussion followed, beginning with Commissioner Riddick who suggested that the public should be able to attend, or at least representatives of opposition to the mine.  After much discussion, mainly by Counselor Sexton, the motion was made and unanimously passed to honor the wish of OEC.  In the discussion it was tentatively expressed and agreed by some commissioners that the public would be able to meet alone with OEC at a later date.

Other than that, the meeting was routine in general, with Kate Ellison, Carol Mosley and your historian speaking against the mine.

Thanks go to Marian Ryan, researcher extraordinaire for the Sierra Club Florida Chapter Phosphate Committee (of which your historian is honored to be a member) for producing the interesting document titled “LAND USE SUITABILITY INDEX FOR USE IN HARDEE COUNTY,” Prepared by the CENTRAL FLORIDA REGIONAL PLANNING COUNCIL for the Hardee Co.  Board of County Commissioners, in 2004.

This document exposes the fact that agriculture basically does not work well on reclaimed phosphate land.  Our talk to the commissioners today was a summary of this document, and we also gave each commissioner a copy of the cover page and final discussion and conclusions from the document.  This consisted of a total of three pages of reading which hopefully the commissioners will digest.

The excerpts follow here, but the entire document can be seen at  http://itech.fgcu.edu/faculty/ndemers/mining/Hardee%20County%20CFRPC%20LAND%20USE%20SUITABILITY%20INDEX.pdf

 

DISCUSSION

Several studies have been published in the past two decades that address the agricultural potential of reclaimed phosphate mined lands.

One of the more ambitious of these was the Mined Lands Agricultural Research and Demonstration Project (MLARD), a ten-year program of research that examined the agricultural potential of colloidal phosphatic clay. Summary results of this decade-long study were published by the Florida Institute of Phosphate Research (FIPR) in the mid-1990s (Shibles, 1994); Hanlon et al., 1996).

An overview and retrospective of the MLARD project was recently presented by James Stricker, the Principal Investigator and Project Director of the MLARD project (Stricker, 2000). The MLARD program also published a number of detailed studies addressing various aspects of the project.15 In addition to other findings, MLARD researchers also developed recommendations for modifying reclamation techniques to better prepare reclaimed lands for agricultural use (Hanlon et al., 1994).

 Prior to and concurrent with the MLARD project, Dr. Paul Mislevy and associates, based at the University of Florida’s Range Cattle and Education Research Center in Ona, published a number of studies on the viability of producing certain forage crops on phosphatic clays (Mislevy and Blue, 1981a, 1981b, and 1981c; Mislevy et al., 1989, 1990a, 1990b, 1991a, and 1991b; Blue and Mislevy, n.d., and 1990).

 Aside from the MLARD studies and Mislevy’s research, there is little published research relating to the agricultural potential or productivity of reclaimed mine lands. Most such research was funded by FIPR, and is now somewhat dated. These investigations examined cash crop production on sand-clay mix (Bromwell and Carrier, 1989) and citrus plantings (ZellarsWilliams, 1988). The Zellars-Williams investigated citrus plantings on overburden and sand tailings, and to a lesser extent, on sand-clay mix.

 The authors concluded that overburden was a viable substrate for citrus growth but that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether citrus could be grown economically on sand tailings. The authors also cited economics or profitability as constraints on the future of citriculture on sand tailings fill (Zellars-Williams, 1988).

The Bromwell and Carrier study demonstrated that these soils can produce commercially important crops but that trafficability16 problems increased as the ratio of clay to sand increased (Bromwell and Carrier, 1989).

Notwithstanding the rather optimistic results of these studies, very little acreage of reclaimed land have been used for commercial agriculture (e.g., row or field 12 crops) or citriculture. The predominant agricultural use is improved pasture. According to SWFMWD’s 1999-2000 land use/land cover mapping, of the estimated 48,775 acres of mined soils in Hillsborough and Polk counties, only 675 acres (just over 1%) are in citrus, 33 acres in row crops, and six acres in nurseries/vineyards (probably sod farms). Roughly 3,510 acres (7.2%) is classified cropland/pastureland (a catch-all category that SWFWMD GIS staff has suggested is largely pasture land), and 202 acres is classified as open rural land.

A thorough review of the findings of the MLARD project findings is beyond the scope of the present study. It is appropriate, however, to summarize some its key findings as they relate to present-future agricultural suitability assessment.

MLARD successfully demonstrated that phosphatic clays are “fertile” soils that are capable of growing high quality commercial crops such as forage grasses, tropical cultivars, and biomass crops (although grain yields were marginal).

However, numerous problems and limitations were also documented (Hanlon et al., 1996; Stricker 2000). One of the most difficult problems to overcome was the inability to work the phosphatic clays when wet. Phosphatic clays are documented to be extremely low in permeability, pose safety risks and trafficability problems, and require costly drainage improvements and maintenance.

These soils are also often highly variable in surface topography (due to differential horizontal and vertical settling), texture, and substrate consistency. Water quality concerns arising from stormwater runoff were also cited.

Because of the unworkable nature of phosphatic clays when wet, farming is effectively limited to the dry season, and even then, the occasional winter storms associated with the passage of cold fronts may hinder access to crop fields, and provides the potential for total crop failure, depending on drainage and surface conditions.

Specialized, non-conventional farming technologies are needed for site preparation, tillage, and harvesting on phosphatic clays (Shibles, 1994; Stricker, 2000). This may add significantly to agricultural production costs.

 Another problem cited by the MLARD research is an apparent lack of markets and market capacity for agricultural crops grown on phosphatic clays. In addition, short-term land leases, which are traditionally used by phosphate mining companies, have discouraged investments on the part of the lessees for drainage and other capital improvements (Stricker 2000; Hanlon et al., 1996).

Invasive exotic plant species also pose serious management and maintenance problems, not only for reclaimed lands, but potentially for adjacent or nearby properties. A recent study found 11 species listed as exotic/nuisance plant species by the Florida Exotic Pest Plant Council on naturally reclaimed clay settling areas (Doherty, 1991; Erwin et al., 1997). Clearing of these and other plants that typically form a dense vegetative growth adds to the cost of converting clay settling areas to agricultural use. Finally, there is concern over the adverse public perceptions of growing and/or consuming crops grown on phosphatic clays due to elevated levels of radionuclides (Guidry 1990; Guidry et al., 1991; Stricker 2000).

Simply stated, agricultural production on phosphatic clays is a risky venture. In the words of the MLAR/D project manager, “rather than being performed at optimum times, disease and insect control or even final harvest may be limited to periods of dry weather. Such rain delays can often result in crop/economic loss, creating a high risk setting when crop production on phosphatic clay is approached in a conventional manner” (Shibles 1994: xxxi) [emphasis added].

This clearly implies that non-conventional approaches to farming will be required, which translates into increased production costs. In consideration of the MLARD findings, the LCC Class 7 rating assigned to phosphatic clays is appropriate given the factors upon which the 13 classification system is based: (1) inherent physical soil limitations that constrain land use; (2) the risks of soil damage; (3) the need for soil management; and (4) risks of crop failure.

 Moreover, the absence of commercial agricultural land uses reflects the limitations imposed by the surface disposal of phosphatic waste clays. With respect to the agricultural use potential of overburden and sand tailings, their Class 6 rating is not very dissimilar to the LCC ratings for unmined soils traditionally used for citriculture. These latter soils are generally dry mineral sands of very low fertility (e.g., Candler, Astatula, or St. Lucie soil series).

 According to SWFWMD’s 1999-2000 land use/land cover data, nearly all of the 675 acres of citrus groves on mined soils occur on overburden or sand tailings fill.17 The less dramatic declines obtained for the pre-mining versus post-reclamation urban suitability assessment are consistent with recent land use data from the region.

Considering SWFMWD’s 1999-2000 land use/land cover within Hillsborough and Polk counties’ mined soil areas, there is some acreage in urban uses. Approximately 2,400 acres has been converted to residential development, 640 acres to commercial uses, 140 acres to institutional uses, 650 acres to industrial uses, and 1,270 acres to recreational uses.

Much of this urban land conversion has taken place in the southern and eastern portions of Lakeland. Consistent with the adage, “location, location, location,” where reclaimed overburden and sand tailing landforms are situated in the path of urban growth, and real estate values are elevated, such as along State Road 37, such lands may be viewed as developable.

Under “bullish” market conditions, developers might be willing to pay the extra costs potentially associated with building on reclaimed lands. However, little if any urban development has taken place on waste clay disposal sites, which is understandable given the extreme physical shortcomings of clays as support for foundations as cited in AASHTO and Unified Soil Classification System ratings for clay soils (cf. Dunn et al., 1980; Wagner 1957).

CONCLUSIONS

The land suitability index developed as part of this study provides a basic method of assessing the capability of reclaimed lands to support sustainable future agricultural and urban development. It is based on the USDA’s land capability classification system and represents a technically reasonable use of a well-known, widely accepted, readily available, county-wide land suitability database.

As new information on a soil’s physical properties, or new farming techniques, improved management systems, or other social or technological innovations are developed and implemented, the LCC ratings may well be reclassified.

The results of this study indicate that future land use patterns, in particular the ability to support various types of commercial agriculture and urban development, may be substantially altered as a result of large-scale phosphate mining in Hardee County.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-


 

1 Comment

  1. Sorry that I missed this meeting! Why is it always that Danny Riddick says one thing then votes the opposite. Its a pattern with him since he has held office. “yes, I will fix the road (7 years ago)”not done. “No I haven’t made up my mind” then votes unanimously with the BOC with No Discussion. hmmm
    Would love to hear Danny’s side of this more recent flip flop….

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