by Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson and Jim Tatum
Confusion and animosity have reigned for some time in Bradford County, due to the county commissioners not listening to the people. However, as time goes by, there is less confusion and more animosity apparent at each meeting of the commissioners.
It all started when a group of landowners joined together to form HPS II Enterprises with the intent of mining phosphate on a large tract of land adjacent to the Santa Fe River, and straddling New River, a tributary dividing Bradford and Union counties.
Following overwhelming citizen and environmental opposition, Union Co. quickly voted in a year moratorium on accepting mine permit applications, giving them time to revisit inadequate and outdated Land Development Regulations (LDRs). Bradford County commissioners witnessed equally overwhelming opposition, but ignored it and chose not to enact a moratorium. At the same meeting, county attorney Will Sexton advised the commissioners not to discuss the topic nor answer questions, which immensely intensified the ire of their constituents.
At the April 21 meeting in Starke, the commissioners vacillated and tried but failed to rescind the no moratorium vote, so they scheduled a workshop for the citizens on April 29, saying specifically and repeatedly that no mine permit applications had been filed. A few days later the workshop was cancelled, since now it was revealed that HPS II had submitted a permit application on April 21, thus categorizing further proceedings as “quasi-judicial” and disallowing discussion.
At the meeting on May 2, it was revealed that most if not all county representatives knew before the April 21 meeting that the application had been submitted even though the audio tape has several “no pending applications” clearly audible. About this time Alachua County became a player, and agreed to make a strong stance against the mine, sending a letter of concern to all state and federal agencies that will need to eventually permit such a dangerous undertaking. They also offered assistance to Bradford County as to procedures, and initiated reciprocal attendance at each other’s meetings, which did ensue.
At the May 19 meeting of the commissioners, they were accused of lying, withholding information, personal interests, illegal collusion, illegal proceedings, refusal to answer questions, and so on. Commissioners Reddick and Chandler definitely were given approval by the majority of the crowd, and commissioners Sellars and Thompson definitely were not. Chairman Lewis directed further review of the application, LDRs, and employing outside experts.
The polarization of this issue is mostly black and white. The industry’s side promises profit for the owners, a few jobs, increased taxes temporarily, an economic spurt or “boom” which inevitably will be followed by a “bust,” leaving the area economically impoverished in the long run.
Also promised are risks for the health of nearby residents, from radon, dust, and noise pollution. The Santa Fe River will be put at extreme risk of irreparable damage, in the immediate vicinity and far downstream.
It has protections from at least five layers of legislative designations, which include upper and lower Santa Fe River Minimum Flows & Levels, Santa Fe River Basin Management Action (which also mandates Total Maximum Daily Loads), Outstanding Florida Waterway, Federal Clean Water Act as Area of Critical Habitat (for the Oval Pigtoe Mussel), and a Water Resource Caution Area.
Additionally, Florida has just allowed spending $50 million on springs restoration, and we have the downstream springs of Hornsby, Tree House, and Poe which have been given special protection by the state as imperiled. These layers of laws will not allow degradation, and such a plan to put the river at risk for profit for a few is insanity.
Merrillee Malwitz-Jipson is policy director for Our Santa Fe River, and Jim Tatum is historian. Both live in Fort White. D