Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
-A river is like a life: once taken, it cannot be brought back-
Union looks at extending mining moratorium
The commission will vote on extending the moratorium to February 2019.
A little less than two years after temporarily closing the door to mining applications, the Union County Commission will vote on whether to reopen it.
Union County commissioners approved mining-application moratoriums in April 2016 and January 2017, and will vote on the issue again at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the county clerk building at 15 NE First St. in Lake Butler.
The commission will vote on extending the moratorium on accepting and processing applications for mining special-use permits to February 2019.
Two years ago, public opposition grew toward plans for a phosphate mine that would cover thousands of acres in Union and Bradford counties. The New River, a tributary of the Lower Santa Fe River and the dividing line between the counties, runs through the area of timberland, pasture and woods.
Four families — Hazen, Howard, Shadd and Pritchett — who also own several thousand acres in Union and Bradford counties were behind the mining proposal in 2016. They formed a partnership, HPS Enterprises, and plan to mine some 7,400 acres combined in Union and Bradford counties, stripping away trees, vegetation, sand and clay to dig 35 to 40 feet below the surface to extract phosphate.
An application for a permit to mine for phosphate has been submitted by HPS to Bradford County officials, who are reviewing the application. Alachua County officials have offered the expertise of the county’s environmental protection department to Union and Bradford counties to help them with the issue, but Alachua County Commissioner Robert Hutchinson said he is almost certain only Union County has accepted the offer.
Supporters of the proposed mine say it will bring jobs and economic development. Opponents say it won’t bear the promised economic gain for the community and will damage the environment.
When they passed the moratorium in 2016, Union commissioners said that the one-year halt on applications would give them time to review and potentially revise the bare-bones language on mining rules and regulations in the county’s Comprehensive Plan. Some of the mine’s opponents want the County Commission to use the temporary halt on applications to significantly reduce the areas of the county where the Comprehensive Plan would allow mining.
The landowners and their representatives have said the mine will use modern industry techniques that don’t include a slurry pumping system to move mined phosphate to the plant where the phosphate is separated from sand and clay. They say that will cut water use in half compared with traditional mining techniques. They also say they won’t have on-site clay setting ponds and will begin reclamation of land back to agricultural within 90 days of being mined.
“I’m concerned phosphate mining is going to damage the aquifer and pollute the Santa Fe River and other surface water bodies, and that more Alachua County residents will be impacted by the mining than residents of Bradford and Union counties,” Hutchinson said.
The threat of eutrophication — the over-enrichment of water by nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus — is also a worry because it only takes a “tiny amount of phosphate to pollute a water body,” Hutchinson said.
The law firm of Hopping, Green and Sams in Tallahassee, working for mining interests, has submitted a public records request for Hutchinson’s Facebook activity related to the issue, he said.
The issue should be important to all residents in surrounding counties, Hutchinson said.
“When you get right down to it, the water will flow into Alachua County and affect the people here,” he said. “It’s up to all of us to be concerned about the water and environmental issues of our neighbors.”