by Kate Ellison
If you follow the on-going struggle in Bradford County with the phosphate mine proposed for both sides of the New River, you know that mining brings serious risks to the rivers, streams, lakes and wetlands that many of us want to preserve for sake of the aquifer, the plants and animals living there, and for the eco-tourism that could come to our community.
Without warning, this fall a new titanium mine was proposed and then approved within a matter of weeks by the Bradford County Commission.
The Chemours Company FC, LLC, has been in charge of extensive mining operations along the Trail Ridge since it spun off from DuPont in 2015. The Trail Ridge is an elevated sandy spine that borders the Okefenokee Swamp and extends to south of Starke. In mid-September Chemours submitted a new application for a Special Permit for Mining to Bradford County to continue mining 886 acres of this ridge along the boundary between Bradford and Clay counties, north of Keystone Heights airport and west of Camp Blanding. A new processing plant would be built over the line in Clay County.
How did this happen?
The public notice was published in the newspaper on Oct. 3, and the hearing was held on Oct. 17. It could not have been a more rushed timeline. There was no expert review, possibly no review at all. Chemours workers packed the hearing, seeming to prevent access for those who would object. With a vote of 3-2, the permit was approved. Bradford County believes they are done with it, that there is no appeal process.
Bradford Environmental Forum (BEF) believes we have a right to appeal the County Commissioners decision to the Bradford County Board of Adjustment. We may have to go to circuit court to force the County to follow the appeal process outlined in our Land Development Regulations. We are looking for a pro bono attorney to assist us with court filings.
The land cited in the permit is owned by Suwannee River Water Management District for conservation (really!), with mineral rights leased (we have not seen the documentation) by Chemours from Rayonier Timber.
Chemours has failed to meet its existing permit requirements for its operations in Bradford, Clay and Baker counties, and is under a Consent Order from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to address these environmental failures. DEP continues to give them more time, but Chemours does not seem to be solving critical concerns and failures. There is no evidence this track record will change.
Bradford Environmental Forum reviewed the permit application and found numerous errors, from the lack of a notary signature to failing to show ownership of the land to be mined. Filing false written statements to mislead a public servant is a misdemeanor in Florida. The Bradford County Sheriff’s department was asked (and refused) to investigate a complaint about the false statements.
This permit allows mining significant wetlands. The mine site is the headwaters for streams that flow into the Santa Fe Swamp and Santa Fe River. Protecting and restoring wetlands after mining is essential, and nearly impossible, with potential impacts on the Upper Santa Fe River flowing from Bradford County to O’leno State Park. Chemours’ plan for restoration seems utterly inadequate.
BEF regards this mine permit hearing as an example of how Bradford County intends to handle the phosphate mine application. That is, approve it 3-2.
As with the phosphate mine, we turn to DEP and possibly the courts to enforce their environmental standards, a slow, expensive process with an uncertain outcome. To get involved, go to https://www.bradfordenvforum.org/, find us on Facebook or call 904-368-0291.