Mine fight escalates

by Kate Ellison

On March 28, Citizens Against Phosphate Mining filed a Notice of Violations of Federal Law with FDP, the Army Corp of Engineers, USEPA and seven other agencies or offices. This is a detailed and meticulously researched documentation of wells drilled in the wrong place and wetlands drained for the wrong reasons. Agencies have not stopped this unpermitted activity in some specific areas of Union and Bradford counties. Permits are required for well-drilling, and this step was simply skipped. Landowners can build roads and ditches through logging areas, but their idea seems to be eliminating wetlands prior to establishing a baseline for the planned mine. That way, the regulations, especially for reclamation, will be less stringent than if it were a wetland area.

This Notice was filed in Federal Court, and addressed to the local water management districts, the Florida DEP and Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, as well as the US EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, the Army Corps, and other federal agencies. They are accused of failing to enforce federal law in oversight of the large landowners who formed HPS II, LLC to do strip-mining for phosphate in Bradford and Union counties.

In land adjacent to the FDP-protected Fern Pond property, HPS II has engaged in clearing, dredging, and filling in historical wetlands systems. This clearing allowed catastrophic fires to devaste the land, fires that could not previously have occurred were the wetlands intact.

In another tract, unpermitted monitoring wells were installed, including one on neighboring property, destroying their septic tank. These wells were left unlocked. State permitting was approved after they were caught, but three of the wells were left out of the filing. Army Corps approval was not pursued, in violation of the law.

Piecemealing, the incremental permitting of small parts of a much larger project, is not legal. It avoids the appropriate federal oversight and public scrutiny of a mining project spanning two counties, with wide-ranging impacts to the aquifer and rivers. HPS has been engaged in piecemealing, according to this filing.

Habitat for federally listed species is being destroyed, or will be destroyed. The oval pigtoe mussel, once plentiful throughout the region, resides now in the New River and few other places.  The red cockaded woodpecker and the bald eagle once populated the Fern Pond area, and they have been gone since the draining and fire. These species, and numerous others, depend on a healthy New River and adjoining watershed.

The proposed HPS II mine will require federal permits and a supplement to the Area Wide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) for phosphate mining. Impacts to our area are not included in previous studies of phosphate mining on the regional Floridan Aquifer System underlying most of our state.

The CAPM notice of violations letter and attachments can be downloaded from: https://reinerslaw.sharefile.com/d-s5beea14ba4e4585a. It was prepared by David P. Reiner II of Reiner & Reiner, P.A. a Miami law firm. If remedies are not provided within 60 days, it will become a lawsuit in federal court, either Atlanta or Washington DC.

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