We are waiting to see the justification and rationalization of the Suwannee River Water Management District to see how they can protect the MFLs at the same time they give this mining permit.
Dr. Upchurch and crew have no secretary nor governor nor lobbyist to answer to.
Read the entire story at this link in the Gainesville Sun.
Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum
Phosphate mining near Santa Fe River and New River a divisive issue
A phosphate mine that would spread over 11,000 acres in Bradford and Union counties has been haunting and dividing North Central Florida environmentalists, politicians and residents for the past three years
Mycol Stevens has lived comfortably on his 20-acre property across the Santa Fe River near the Alachua and Bradford County line for 18 years.
He keeps his electricity use on his off-the-grid farm at a minimum in order to see the stars, always mindful of light pollution.
But should local politicians advance a plan proposed years ago by a group of landowners, he’s not sure what will become of his property and home.
“I’m not sure how I would handle it,” said Stevens, a 50-year-old ecologist. “It’s very concerning.”
A phosphate mine that would spread over 11,000 acres in Bradford and Union counties has been haunting and dividing North Central Florida environmentalists, politicians and residents for the past three years. Four families are behind the push, orchestrating the project that activists say is the biggest threat to the region’s landscape.
That polarization is most clear at Bradford County Commission meetings, where residents say their pleas to reject the plan have been ignored by local elected officials.
“You’ve got people promoting this mine in the community, greenwashing it to tell us how great it’s going to be,” Stevens said. “They all make it sound so happy.”
In December, a handful of hand-picked scientists and experts in phosphate mining compiled more than 70 pages of research. Their conclusion? The plan needs to be investigated far more closely.
Early last year, the Alachua County Commission shelled out more than $190,000 for that assembled group of scientists, engineers and lawyers to study what effects a mine just northeast of the county border might have on Alachua County.
But after five months of research, the group told Alachua County commissioners at a public meeting that they’re unable to say whether the mine will prove beneficial or disastrous to the community because of a stunningly high number of unknowns in the permit proposals.
“Our charge is to be objectively evaluating the documentation proposing the mine,” said Sam Upchurch, a retired hydrogeologist and former head of geology at the University of South Florida. “If we find something good, we say it. If we find something bad, we’re charged with pointing that out. What we’re finding out is that there’s such a lack of information.
“We’re not saying it’s good or bad, we’re saying we haven’t even done our jobs yet.”
The most egregious oversight in the applications, they say, is the missing mention of impact to the Santa Fe and New River’s minimal flows and levels.
Florida law requires that water bodies in the state reach a certain water capacity and movement — called minimal flows and levels, or MFLs — for proper water health. Any measurement below the MFL signals significant harm to the water and surrounding environment.
In local and state permits submitted by the phosphate company HPS II Enterprises, comprised of four families, MFL’s weren’t mentioned once.
“That’s a nefarious omission, I think,” Upchurch said. “And it’s indicative of a much broader problem: that the documents that have been submitted to date don’t cover anywhere near the issues that a traditional mine application would cover.”
HPS members did not respond to numerous emails and calls requesting for a comment.
Ed de la Parte, an environmental lawyer from Tampa who represents local governments in phosphate mine issues, said in his 30-year career, he’s never seen a permit application that blatantly ignores minimal flow levels.
Impact to the river’s MFLs was just one of five factors the scientists were paid to evaluate. They also considered effects on the surface/groundwater, how the mine would reclaim the landscape once it was built, hydrogeological concerns — like sinkholes, nutrient concentrations and ecological concerns — such as wetlands or endangered species.
Not surprising to the scientists: Water quality issues are projected to pose the biggest problems to Alachua County residents, despite the lack of information in the permits that make determining the extent difficult.
Depending on how deep the mining goes, Alachua County springs — including Ginnie and Poe — could feel an adverse impact, both recreationally and environmentally. But based on documents provided to the scientists, the experts aren’t even sure how deep it will go.
A new material slated to be used underground in the mine, a polymer flocculant that will bind sand and clay together, worries the scientists as well. De la Parte says there’s always a potential for nutrient seepage in mines, which in this case, would filter into the New River and Santa Fe River. But the experts say it’s not clear how the material would react if it escapes into the groundwater system.
Bradford County commissioners say they’ve been ordered by the board’s attorneys to steer clear of discussing the phosphate mine.
When asked about the mine on the phone, Bradford County Commissioner Kenny Thompson said he is legally not allowed to discuss the mine and hung up when asked further questions.
Danny Riddick, who’s been on the commission 10 years, said that because the board is now considering the mine proposal a quasi-judicial issue, he has also been advised not to discuss his opinion. He said, however, he is eager to hear from a different environmental group that Bradford officials hired to study the mine.
“I’m legally not supposed to say whether I’m all for or totally against it,” he said. “It’s not fair to the other party. If I say, I could be removed from the board.”
He said he will make up his mind once Jacksonville-based Onsite Environmental Consultants present their report, which he estimates will be any day now. Following the publication, the commission will hold a three-day hearing for the public to provide their thoughts.
“I’m really waiting on what OEC has to say,” he said.
In early 2019, Union County adopted new codes that restricted mining in environmentally-sensitive areas, including on the property of the proposed mine, which will straddle the New River and County Road 231.
The project is still in the early phases of the permitting process. De la Parte says locally, HPS still needs a consumptive use permit from the water management district, permits for recharge ditches that prevent too much water drainage in the phosphate pit area and an environmental resource permit for wetlands.
The two parties also require state and federal permits beyond the local applications, including what’s known as a NPDES permit that generally allows an operation to discharge a specified amount of pollutants into receiving waters, as well as permits needed under the national Clean Water Act — reviewed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Alachua County Commissioner Marihelen Wheeler says that just because the project has many more bureaucratic hoops to jump through, that’s not an excuse to turn away from the problem.
“There’s a lot at stake if the water flows across county lines,” the newest member of the commission said. “What we’re seeing in Washington, where they’re running around willy nilly over the environment, with little regard to the consequences: we’ve got to get ourselves proactive, not reactive….”