By Kate Ellison
People are worried about a proposed Phosphate Mine spanning the New River in Bradford and Union Counties. Residents of Alachua County are affected, because this mine is just north of where the New River meets the Santa Fe flowing along Alachua County’s border with these two rural counties. Additionally, water underground knows no borders.
This is an opportunistic, irreversible decision by landowners with long range implications for our shared environment. People in outlying counties are waking up and need our support.
Bradford: I think we know where this is going
The Bradford County Commission decided last year to hire Onsite Environmental Consultants (OEC) for $53,265.00. The consultants will generate a report evaluating whether the HPS II permit application for a phosphate mine will comply with regulations. Commissioners had the idea to ask both HPS II and opposition groups to cover the cost of hiring this firm. This was never something the opposition considered doing. This is the resolution they voted on, as written in their October 19 minutes:
Commissioner Durrance moved to accept the proposal submitted by Onsite Environmental Consulting, LLC. He would prefer the costs be split equally. However, it would not be judicious of the Board to turn down the money should the applicant decide to pay all the costs. Commissioner Dougherty seconded the motion. The MOTION CARRIED 4-1, with Commissioner Chandler dissenting.
Frank Durrance is the commissioner from the proposed mining area (Brooker). The “opposition” is a loose association of grassroots groups under the name Citizens Against Phosphate Mining in North Central Florida (CAPM). This includes Our Santa Fe River, Santa Fe Lake Dwellers, the Suwannee Riverkeeper, plus many other individuals. Those who live near the proposed mining area, just north of Brooker and Worthington Springs on both sides of the New River, can see that they will be harmed by this mine. Residents of our whole area can see that a new mine will probably harm the New River and adjacent wetlands, the Santa Fe and Suwannee Rivers, the Floridan Aquifer, and air quality. Few new jobs will be created, since the HPS landowners (Hazen, Pritchett, Shadd, and Howard) already have hundreds of employees.
The opposition will not share the cost of hiring OEC, but HPS II is happy to pay. Jim Gross, director of Florida Defenders of the Environment, said, “This sounds quite a bit like the Fox guarding the hen house. Just how likely is it that the consultant will find anything but compliance?”
County attorney Will Sexton sees no conflict with HPS II paying the full $53,000+ because accepting money from interested parties is commonly done when folks want to close a county road, for example, and the county is incurring extra expenses. He did grant these contributions were usually “for non-controversial issues”. The HPS II “interested parties” are seeking a particular outcome from the county, permission to strip-mine at the edge of a river, in wetland areas prone to flooding. The consultants have not started their study.
The consultant issue appears to be a setup to justify County approval. Everyone is encouraged to attend Commission meetings (first Monday of each month, 9:30 AM, and third Thursday, 6:30 PM) and speak up, especially Bradford County citizens. Residents can call or write their commissioners. Their contact info is published on http://www.bradfordcountyfl.gov/commissioners.
Union County: A very different picture
In Union County, the commissioners are listening to their constituents. The County Commission has adopted another year extension of their mining moratorium, in order to complete the process of updating the county Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Regulations.
About a dozen people spoke in support of the moratorium and a strong Comp Plan at the Dec. 18 Commission meeting, its third reading. There were no public comments against the moratorium extension, only objections from the lawyer hired by HPS II. This law firm has filed two lawsuits alleging the moratorium is an unlawful delay. At their February 19 meeting, Union County commissioners approved 5-0 for County Attorney Russ Wade to fight the most recent HPS lawsuit to prove the moratorium is legal. Alachua County is supporting Union County’s efforts to defend themselves.
The final Mining Comprehensive Plan Amendment Adoption Public Hearing is scheduled for April 16 at 5pm. We need to pack the hearing room that night to show Commissioners we support the ratification of this new Comp Plan. Meetings are held at the Courthouse in Lake Butler, side entrance.
Union County Commissioners have scheduled the revisions and hearings throughout 2018, ending with adopting the new Mining Land Development Regulations Amendments on December 17. Each meeting is important to attend. Meetings will be posted on the CAPM Facebook page.
Citizens opposing the mine meet monthly on the second Tuesday of the month at 6pm, 165 SW 4th Ave. in Lake Butler. Keep up with news on Facebook by searching @nomining4phosphateBU, or visiting oursantaferiver.org/. D