No phosphate mining in Bradford County

by Carol Mosley

At the Bradford County Commission meeting of Jan. 20, the county manager announced that the phosphate mining company, HPSII, is withdrawing its application in Bradford County, Fla.

Since 2016, local environmental groups and residents have worked to block the proposed phosphate mine in Bradford and Union Counties. The original idea was to mine about 10,000 acres straddling the New River that runs into the Santa Fe River. The plan was to use an experimental method of mining, and then ship raw ore by rail to who knows where for processing.

Local residents in the two counties were up in arms about the plan and made their presence known at county commission meetings. Environmental groups went into action holding strategizing meetings, making giant banners and small yard signs, holding workshops, meeting with FDEP, tabling at events, consulting with attorneys and doing some deep digging through documents to separate the facts from fiction. 

Bradford Environmental Forum took the local lead in Bradford County with Citizens Against Phosphate Mining leading the charge in Union County. Regional groups Suwannee/St. Johns Chapter of Sierra Club and Our Santa Fe River joined in from the outlying areas to assure the Santa Fe River was protected. Sierra Club even hired a geologist to evaluate the first of three Master Mining Plan submissions. The Center for Biological Diversity gave consult on endangered species in the area and on legal challenges they’ve made in the past against phosphate mining.

In 2016, Union County enacted a moratorium on mining while updating their Land Development Regulations. They refused to accept a mining application from HPSII, who sued Union County for nearly $300 million under a Harris Act Claim. Bradford County did not enact a moratorium and HPSII promptly submitted an application to mine. Alachua County dedicated funds for a legal team to defend Union County.

After nearly seven years of lawsuits in Union County, HPS came to agreement with the county to dismiss their lawsuit, in July 2022, without prejudice, meaning they could reopen the case at a later date if desired.

In January 2020, the hydrologist hired by Bradford County’s consultant produced a less than favorable review of the Master Mining Plan. Then there were three years of angst while no action took place at the county level. Bradford County residents continued to present evidence of anomalies to the county commission, to no seeming avail.

An upheaval in Bradford County in late 2022 left a new county manager and county attorney in place to deal with the mess. Homeowner Carol Mosley presented a timeline and supporting evidence of the many anomalies to the new county manager, who sat back in his chair and said, “Frankly, I’m shocked.” 

The commission realized it was time to get a reality check. They tasked the county manager with inquiring what the heck is going on.

The room was filled with anticipation as representatives of the various groups anxiously awaited County Manager Kornegay’s “update.” He read from the letter he received in response to his query. “On behalf of HPS, this letter is to confirm that HPS wishes to withdraw the above-referenced application without the county taking any formal action on it. HPS therefore respectfully requests that the Board of County Commissioners consider the application withdrawn, effective immediately.”

The room erupted in joy. Even the county commissioners were relieved to be unburdened of their quasi-judicial responsibility. There were hugs all around and the commissioners thanked the groups for coming and caring about what happens in our region of unique beauty. With our efforts, we had proven our point. The plan to mine phosphate in Bradford and Union counties was a bad idea.

It was a good night.

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