Polk County formerly mined lands…what to do with it?

After mining, it will be the county that tries to figure out what in the heck they will do with their thousands of acres of mined lands. Health studies would be required to assess the toxicity and possible radiation threats left behind by the upheaval of formerly native systems. Is this what Hardee, Desoto and Manatee county can look forward to?

[ 250,000 ACRES IN SOUTHWEST POLK ] What’s Next for Bone Valley? Planners Try to Flesh Out Future For Former Mining Land

Thousands of undeveloped acres,  such as this land south of Mulberry, are one of the focuses of the Bone Valley study.
TOM PALMER | THE LEDGER
By Tom Palmer
THE LEDGER
Published: Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 1:32 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, July 23, 2015 at 1:32 a.m.
BARTOW | Thousands of acres of real estate in southwest Polk County dominated by phosphate mining for more than a century are nearly ready for their next act.
But efforts by county planners to guide future development decisions for the 250,000 acres, about one-fifth of the county, have stalled for the past three years.
The reasons range from staff turnover to the difficulty in coming up with the right approach to set up a vision for an area this vast.
If all goes as planned, the effort is scheduled to resume by year’s end and eventually will land on the County Commission’s desk for review.
“This is very important; we need to be on the forefront of this,” said County Commissioner Melony Bell, whose district includes the area between the boundaries of Bartow, Fort Meade and Mulberry that’s the focus of what is called the Bone Valley Special Area Study, which was launched in 2009.
The area earned the name Bone Valley because of the large amount of fossils of creatures such as mammoths, camels, horses, turtles and dugongs unearthed during mining.
Bell said what Polk County does there could become a model for other counties such as Hardee and DeSoto where mining is still occurring or just getting underway.
Chanda Bennett, the most recent county planner assigned to the project, said this is a way to include principles in the county’s growth plan that will lay out issues to consider for future development requests in the area.
She said this is more practical than attempting, as county planners have done in smaller study areas, to assign future land-use categories.
The effort is complicated by the area containing a mix of areas whose future uses will probably be industrial and areas where there are more options.
“Streamsong demonstrated there are potential uses other than industrial,” Bennett said, referring to the upscale resort Mosaic developed in a relatively remote area near the Polk-Hardee line.
She said the only limiting factor in future development plans is adequate infrastructure, primarily water and sewer service and roads.
Bennett said another goal of the study is to protect existing residential communities, such as Bradley, from undesirable uses.
NOT FIRST STUDY
The Bone Valley SAS isn’t the first time planners have attempted to figure out what the post-mining future of southwest Polk County should look like.
In 1990, the Central Florida Regional Planning Council met with mining company officials and other interest groups to try to understand the issues ahead for mined land.
The phosphate industry had maintained for decades that its mining operations were only a temporary use.
That raised the question of what would be the subsequent uses for the land. That study, which occurred only 15 years after state law required phosphate companies to reclaim mined land, made no recommendations.
Instead, it was the first attempt by local planners to persuade phosphate company officials to begin thinking about what their land could be used for after mining and reclamation were completed.
In the meantime, Bone Valley was sometimes seen as a “sacrifice zone,” a place where activities ranging from power plants to hazardous waste incinerators opposed in other parts of the state could find a home.
The next attempt to look at the area’s future came in 1999 in an effort launched by Polk County’s planning staff.
However, that study hit a dead end after phosphate company representatives declined to participate, arguing they weren’t ready to discuss the issue.
Since that time, the consolidation of the phosphate industry and the sales of land formerly owned by mining companies have resulted in a situation where a handful of landowners now own most of the land.
The largest landowner is fertilizer giant Mosaic.
Its spokeswoman, Callie Neslund, said the company is interested in working with Polk County.
“Going forward, Mosaic will look at all of our landholdings within the Bone Valley SAS from both an environmental and economic perspective,” she said in an email.
“As we conduct a bit of our own planning, we will work closely with the county to ensure future uses are compatible with the surrounding communities and comprehensive vision for the future of Polk County and existing assets throughout the area are leveraged,” she said.
Another major landowner is the Lakeland-based T Mims Corp. headed by businessman Tom Mims.
Mims, who participated in the study, said the idea was too ambitious and impractical.
“The problem with the study is that it takes a blanket approach to future development,” he said. “No one can predict what’s going to happen there.”
He said Streamsong Resort, which was announced and built while the study was underway, is a good example of that.
“No one saw that coming.”
Mims said these plans are inherently political, explaining people who participate in the process will benefit and people who don’t could end up with future land use designations that put them at a disadvantage for developing their property.
The land around Streamsong may be an example of this.
The resort’s development prompted county planners to develop the Brewster Special Area Plan that imposed some restrictions on land uses in this 16,000-acre portion of the study area.
The purpose was to prevent incompatible land uses from affecting it, Bennett said.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS INTERESTED
Potential developers and major landowners aren’t the only ones watching the progress of the Bone Valley study.
Sierra Club member John Ryan said environmentalists’ main focus is on preserving river and creek corridors that were part of reclamation plans to make sure future development doesn’t interfere with those corridors’ ability to allow water and wildlife to move.
Bone Valley contains tributaries of the Peace, Alafia and Little Manatee rivers, all of which have been affected in some way by mining activities.
Mosaic has announced plans to restore some of the streams and to improve wildlife habitat as part of its reclamation plans.
The concern is what happens after Mosaic, or any other company required to complete reclamation projects, finishes, sells the land and moves on.
“Right now, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen after reclamation,” Ryan said.
[ Tom Palmer can be reached at tom.palmer@theledger.com or 863-802-7535. Follow on Twitter @LedgerTom. ]

Mosaic slapped with $2 Billion clean up settlement Oct. 2015

Phosphate giant Mosaic agrees to pay nearly $2 billion over mishandling of hazardous waste

· Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times Staff Writer
Thursday, October 1, 2015 12:53pm
Mosaic Fertilizer, the world’s largest phosphate mining company, has agreed to pay nearly $2 billion to settle a federal lawsuit over hazardous waste and to clean up its operations at six Florida sites and two in Louisiana, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday.
“The 60 billion pounds of hazardous waste addressed in this case is the largest amount ever covered by a federal or state … settlement and will ensure that wastewater at Mosaic’s facilities is properly managed and does not pose a threat to groundwater resources,” the EPA said.
The EPA had accused Mosaic of improper storage and disposal of waste from the production of phosphoric and sulfuric acids, key components of fertilizers, at Mosaic’s facilities in Bartow, New Wales, Mulberry, Riverview, South Pierce and Green Bay in Florida, as well as two sites in Louisiana.
The EPA said it had discovered Mosaic employees were mixing highly-corrosive substances from its fertilizer operations with the solid waste and wastewater from mineral processing, in violation of federal and state hazardous waste laws.
“This case is a major victory for clean water, public health and communities across Florida and Louisiana,” said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance.
Mosaic CEO Joc O’Rourke said the company is “pleased to be bringing this matter to a close” and pledging to be a good environmental steward. The Minnesota-based company was formed in 2004 by a merger of IMC Global with the crop nutrition division of Cargill.
Mosaic officials in Florida said the EPA investigation and negotiations for a settlement have been going on for eight years, and what they were doing was something everyone in the phosphate industry was doing as well.
The settlement with the EPA, the Justice Department, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality will have no impact on Mosaic’s continued employment or on its future mining expansion plans in DeSoto, Hardee and Manatee counties, they said.
First discovered by an Army Corps of Engineers captain in 1881, Florida’s phosphate deposits today form the basis of an $85-billion industry that supplies three-fourths of the phosphate used in the United States. Although phosphate mining provides a major financial boon to the small communities in which the mines are located, it also leaves behind a major environmental mess.
The miners use a dragline with a bucket the size of a truck to scoop up the top 30 feet of earth and dump it to the side of the mine. Then the dragline scoops out the underlying section of earth, which contains phosphate rocks mixed with clay and sand.
The bucket dumps this in a pit where high-pressure water guns create a slurry that can then be pumped to a plant up to 10 miles away.
At the plant, the phosphate is separated from the sand and clay. The clay slurry is pumped to a settling pond, and the phosphate is sent to a chemical processing plant where it is processed for use in fertilizer and other products. The sand is sent back to the mine site to fill in the hole after all the phosphate is dug out.
A byproduct, called phosphogypsum, is slightly radioactive so it cannot be disposed of easily. The only thing the miners can do with it is stack it into mountainous piles next to the plant. Florida is such a flat state that the 150-foot-tall “gyp stacks” are usually the highest point in the landscape for miles around. They contain large pools of highly acidic wastewater on top, too.
“Mining and mineral processing facilities generate more toxic and hazardous waste than any other industrial sector,” Giles said. “Reducing environmental impacts from large fertilizer manufacturers operations is a national priority for EPA.”
Mosaic’s production of pollution is so great that in 2012, the Southwest Florida Water Management District granted the company a permit to pump up to 70 million gallons of water a day out of the ground for the next 20 years. Mosaic is using some of that water to dilute the pollution it dumps into area creeks and streams so it won’t violate state regulations.
The EPA investigation was prompted by a 2003 incident in which the Piney Point phosphate plant, near the southern end of the Sunshine Skyway, leaked some of waste from atop its gyp stack into the edge of Tampa Bay after its owners walked away.
That prompted EPA to launch a national review of phosphate mining facilities, said EPA spokeswoman Julia Valentine. That’s how inspectors found workers were mixing the corrosive substances from the fertilizer operations with the phosphogypsum and wastewater from the mineral processing, she said.
That mixing was something everyone in the industry did, according to Richard Ghent of Mosaic’s Florida operations. The EPA said that violated both state and federal law and put groundwater at risk. It has previously gotten settlements from two other companies, one of which, CF Industries, has since been taken over by Mosaic.
Despite the mishandling of the waste, Debra Waters, Mosaic’s director of environmental regulatory affairs in Florida, said the company has seen no change in the area’s groundwater as a result, which EPA officials said was correct.
The fact that the negotiations have been going on for so many years, she said, “should indicate that there’s no imminent threat.”
The company will invest at least $170 million at its fertilizer manufacturing facilities to keep those substances separate from now on. Mosaic will also put money aside for the safe future closure of the gypsum stacks using a $630 million trust fund it is creating under the settlement. That money will be invested until it reaches $1.8 billion, which will pay for the closures.
The South Pierce and Green Bay plants, both in Polk County, are already in the process of shutting down, with the closure of the gyp stacks already underway, Waters said.
Mosaic will also pay a $5 million civil penalty to the federal government, a $1.55 million penalty to the State of Louisiana and $1.45 million to Florida, and it will be required to spend $2.2 million on local environmental projects to make up for what it has done.
Mosaic, which runs television ads touting its importance in growing crops to feed the world, has previously run afoul of the EPA on its air pollution standards. However, last year company was rated one of the top 50 employers in America based on salary and job satisfaction. Mosaic employs about 1,200 people in Hillsborough County alone.