On April 28, 2016, in the Gainesville Sun, Christopher Curry has written an article about the proposed phosphate mine in Bradford County. HPS II Enterprises has already become unpopular with many local residents, as they have drilled wells and drained wetlands illegally, and bullied citizens speaking opinions at commissioner meetings.
At a meeting on April 21 County Attorney Will Sexton was aware that the mine owners had already applied for a permit that same day, yet allowed the meeting to run its course for no honest purpose when the audience and apparently some of the commissioners believed there were no pending permits.
This type of phosphate mining has caught the attention of Alachua County, now very much aware of the threat and its owners who do not play by the rules and obviously can not be trusted in what they say and do.
The leaders of Alachua County are astutely aware of the environment we live in, the fragility of our natural water resources, and likewise the value of these resources. They could be a model for Bradford County, who is now at a very dangerous crossroads, where the wrong decision could result in a catastrophe for not only their surroundings, but many others downstream and nearby. The leaders of Bradford County must now weigh carefully the balance of a few jobs compared to the possibility of a ruined river and a ruined environment.
OSFR would like to clear up one point in the following article, that the proposed mine was on the meeting agenda for April 21, 2016, because Bradford Co. resident Brenda Thornton requested a review of the previous BOCC emergency vote taken on March 31, 2016 where the commissioners voted to not consider a moratorium on this proposed phosphate mine.
Alachua County poised to weigh in on proposed mine debate
Published: Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 3:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 27, 2016 at 3:13 p.m.
The Bradford County Commission has canceled a meeting on a controversial phosphate mine proposal, and the Alachua County Commission has set one to discuss fears about possible environmental impacts of an operation that would cover thousands of acres in two neighboring counties.
Bradford commissioners were to hold a workshop Friday evening to talk about HPS II Enterprises’ plans to dig 35 to 40 feet under the earth to mine phosphate on at least 7,400 acres in Union and Bradford counties that the New River, a tributary of the Lower Santa Fe, runs through.
Bradford County Commission Chairman Eddie J. Lewis said the county canceled the meeting after HPS II Enterprises, a partnership formed by the Hazen, Howard, Shadd and Pritchett families, the landowners behind the mine proposal, submitted an application seeking a special-use permit to mine in the county’s designated agricultural lands.
After mine opponents took their environmental concerns to the Alachua County Commission Tuesday night, the commission set a meeting for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday to discuss potential impacts on the environment and water resources.
Alachua County Commission Chairman Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson sent the Union and Bradford commissions a message informing them of the meeting and inviting them to attend.
“I want to emphasize that we are not interfering with your home-rule authority or self determination, but we are adamant that your permitting and development process not allow for any impacts to our county’s environmental resources,” Hutchinson wrote. “ I’d welcome an opportunity to talk further about this, and hope you can attend our meeting.”
The phosphate mining project area in Bradford County stretches south to Brooker.
The Bradford cancellation was due to the vagaries of zoning law, officials said.
The hearing on the permit application will be a “quasi-judicial” proceedings, where the commissioners function essentially as judges who must base their decisions on the facts, testimony and evidence presented at the meeting. With the application now submitted to the county, County Attorney Will E.Sexton recommended commissioners not discuss the mine outside of the impending hearing.
“You’re supposed to be like a judge when you go in there,” Lewis said. “You’re not supposed to have your mind made up either way in advance.”
Mining opponents have planned a rally outside the Bradford County Courthouse in Starke at 5 p.m. Friday. In an email blast announcing the protest, Merrillee Malwitz-Jispon, the policy director of environmental group Our Santa Fe River Inc., wrote the demonstration was intended “to give our rivers and waterways a voice and stand in opposition to the spoils of phosphate mining on top of the New River.”
Supporters say the mine will bring needed jobs and economic development. Opponents say it will not bear the promised economic fruit for the community and will damage the environment.
The tension between the two sides was on display at the Bradford County Commission’s April 21 meeting. The mine was not on the agenda but proponents and opponents packed the room to speak during public comment. Photographs posted on social media showed one confrontation and a law enforcement officer escorting one man from the meeting room.
At that meeting, commissioners voted 3-2 in favor of reconsidering a prior decision not to move ahead with a moratorium on mining applications that opponents sought. Despite support from the majority of the Bradford commission, the vote failed because a 4/5 – or so-called supermajority – vote was needed.
In neighboring Union County, the commission unanimously approved a one-year moratorium on mining applications on April 18. There, commissioners say the temporary halt on applications will give them time to take a careful look at the plan, which the landowners and their contracted consultants assert will use less water, not require slurry ponds and accelerate reclamation of mined areas back into agricultural lands.
The mining methods they say they will implement are not currently in place at any mine in Florida and that has opponents skeptical whether they will happen here.
HPS II Enterprises has also started the process of trying to get state permits for the roughly 5,300 acres in Bradford County. The partnership has submitted to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection applications to survey and drill to identify the areas where phosphate deposits are present, to install groundwater monitoring wells and to identify the wetlands and surface waters on the site.