News And Updates
Published By: heraldtribune.com
A phosphate mining plan to destroy more than 500 acres of wetlands and streams near the Peace River should be challenged in court, consultants for Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties and a regional water supplier advised.
The wetlands are part of a 7,756-acre mine expansion proposed east of the Peace River by phosphate giant Mosaic Co. and recently approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection. The project would extend the existing South Fort Meade Mine in Polk County into Hardee County.
The public and local governments have until Friday to challenge the DEP permit, an action that would trigger a hearing before a judge.
Charlotte County commissioners are scheduled to decide today whether to file a challenge. Local environmental groups, including the Sarasota-Manatee Sierra Club, are also considering a challenge.
The mining area follows the Peace River and would ruin several hundred acres of the river's tributary streams and wetlands, decreasing water quality and water flow, consultants said.
Mosaic spokesman David Townsend said the mine proposal meets state requirements and provides adequate protection for the river and the downstream Charlotte Harbor estuary.
The project will also undergo review by two other permitting agencies, the Hardee County Commission and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
"It's a fluid process," Townsend said.
Damaged by excess groundwater pumping and past mining practices, parts of the Peace River already go bone dry in the winter and early spring.
The low flows, which mining critics contend would be exacerbated by more mining, threaten the regional water supply, which is partly dependent on the river.
The Peace River-Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, owned by Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties, has a water treatment utility farther south on the river.
The river also feeds into Charlotte Harbor, a nationally protected body of water and one of the state's most productive estuaries.
The DEP permit would allow mining in nearly 12 miles of streams, said Ed de la Parte, a Tampa attorney advising the counties and the water utility.
"There has been no history of the phosphate industry being able to successfully restore streams," said de la Parte, who based his recommendations on comments from three scientists hired by the counties to review the permit.
Townsend, however, said Mosaic has successfully restored miles of streams.
"A lot of times what's called a stream has been disturbed by agriculture," Townsend said.
"In some cases we're reclaiming and restoring streams to a better condition than what exists today."
De la Parte also cited comments by the federal Environmental Protection Agency that recommended against mining in streams that lead to the Peace River.
The EPA regularly makes recommendations to the Corps of Engineers, which has authority over development in wetlands and national waters.
In its review last year, the EPA recommended denial of the project, arguing the wetlands destruction would violate the Clean Water Act.
The EPA also stated that the project did not consider its impact in combination with other mining.
Mining, as well as other land alterations, over the past three decades has wiped out more than 31,000 acres of wetlands that drained to the Peace River.
The lack of study on cumulative impacts underlies a large part of the criticism aimed at Mosaic's proposals.
It is also a major argument in a lawsuit to be filed today against the Corps of Engineers' decision to permit the Altman Mine in Manatee County.
Earthjustice, a nonprofit legal defense group, will represent four environmental groups in the suit.
The Altman site, though smaller, is also in the Peace River watershed. Manatee County will vote on whether to give that mine its final approval later this week.
"The biggest concern is the Peace River watershed and the fact that so many acres have been mined in that watershed in the past, and they are proposing to mine so many in the future," said Cris Costello, regional representative for the Sierra Club.