The Union County commissioners, after listening to a packed house at the Lake Butler Community Center, unanimously approved a one-year moratorium on applications for mining operations in their county.
Dozens of concerned citizens spoke against the mine, while only two, one of whom was a paid employee of the HPS company, spoke in favor. Concerns include health issues, radon , dust, water pollution of New River and the Santa Fe River, aquifer and well contamination, wildlife destruction, including the federally protected and endangered Pigtoe Mussel, heavy industrial traffic in a tranquil, rural area, and lowered property values.
The landowners have already broken the rules by draining wetlands illegally with no regard to the required permits and at least one of the principle landowners has received a Notice of Violation (NOV) from the water management district. They were also fined for illegally drilling water-monitoring wells on their land with no permits.
The company has disclosed that they plan to use new mining techniques designed to reduce water consumption and eliminate settling ponds. These techniques are only theories and have not been tested nor proven to work, and these facts add to the skepticism and doubts of the mine critics.
Some opponents believe that the combination of initial rule-breaking and promises of untested theoretical mining techniques equate to a very poor prognosis for a model mining operation.
The commissioners voted unanimously to place a moratorium on accepting mining applications. There will be a second reading of the issue and another vote before the moratorium is official. Tentative scheduling for this meeting is April 18, 2016.
Several members of Our Santa Fe River were present in the crowd. Policy Director Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson, who has taken the lead in opposing this threat to the river spoke, as did Vice President Terry Phelan, standing in for President Pam Smith.
Other members who spoke were Pete Cameron, speculating on God’s plans for the phosphate, but concluding that He probably wants it left in the ground where He put it, and OSFR advisor Marihelen Wheeler. Whitey Markle, representing the Sierra Club Suwannee-St Johns Group expressed his opposition warning that the FDEP will not protect the river, and Michael Stevens, an organic farmer from Brooker with several science degrees, explained the tremendous risk to the environment in order to make profit for a few. High School student Patrick Miller expertly outlined the risk to the future of his community and strongly opposed the mine.