DeSoto County Sets Stage for Environmental Headaches (DeSoto Sun Herald Op-Ed 06/09/10)

… as county commissions in Hardee and DeSoto Counties open their doors to expanded phosphate mining operations in the Peace River watershed we are inviting degradation in our own backyards….

As crude oil from the BP/Deepwater Horizon well pours inexorably into the sensitive environment of the Gulf of Mexico, remember that only a few weeks ago Florida was debating the possibility of allowing off-shore drilling along its coast. The environmental community staunchly recommended against it – because the consequences of the environmental damage associated with off-shore drilling were an unacceptable risk to the economy as well as the environment of our beautiful state.

Likewise, as county commissions in Hardee and DeSoto Counties open their doors to expanded phosphate mining operations in the Peace River watershed we are inviting a similar kind of degradation to occur in our own backyards. A recent editorial in The DeSoto Sun complimented a decision by the county commission to approve a mining overlay which more than doubles the amount of land in the Pine Level area on both sides of Horse Creek that are designated for phosphate strip mining (an additional 17,000 acres). This decision by the commissioners has unquestionably legitimized the presence of Mosaic phosphate company in their midst and moved the county one step closer to strip mining operations with no regard for the recommendation of their advisory board or the will of their people.

We are told these days of wide-spread disenchantment with incumbent politicians who are oblivious to the will of their constituents. It could not have been any more obvious than at the May 25 Hearing in Arcadia when public sentiment was overwhelmingly opposed to the approval of the comp plan amendment allowing for additional mining by the people who live in the Pine Level community. As always we were reminded repeatedly that the amendment would not allow mining, and that there will be a rigorous DRI process before mining can actually be permitted. Yet, on the other hand, had the DeSoto Commissioners denied the expansion of the mining overlay that night, the door would have been closed on phosphate strip mining in the county – precluding a DRI.

The Sun Herald editorial extols the record of mine reclamation since 1975. In fact only 28% of all of Mosaic’s mined land has fulfilled total reclamations requirements. 37% is suitable only for “industrial” standards – that is, development like waste disposal and power plants. Mined land is no longer suitable for productive agriculture which is historically the basis of the DeSoto County economy. Reclaimed soil is substandard and is typically overgrown with cogon grass which is non-native and unsuitable for cattle forage. There is no denying that at least 40% of mined lands will end up as clay slime disposal – which is unsuitable for construction and agriculture, and considered by the US EPA as a “permanent impact” on the Peace River watershed. According to the Soil Suitability Index “where reclaimed overburden and sand tailing landforms are situated in the path of urban growth, and real estate values are elevated…  such lands may be viewed as developable. Little if any urban development has taken place on waste clay disposal sites, which is understandable given the extreme physical shortcomings of clays as support for foundations.” This would explain why the vast majority of old phosphate land, even that which has been “reclaimed,” lies fallow and abandoned. Most of it is uneconomical for any kind of development.

To contend that the phosphate controversy is “not real,” as the Sun editorial apparently does, is naïve and inattentive. There is an abundance of scientific documentation on the negative effects of mining on the watersheds, agriculture, and urban development by the US Geological Survey, the EPA, DEP, and Water Management District. I suggest your readers go to Google Maps and check out the landscape from Ft. Green to Bradley Junction. Have a good look at what phosphate strip mining has done. All the water entrapped in those mine cuts and clay slime impoundments is water that once contributed to the aquifer which supplies our rivers and coasts. Also check out the 3PR website www.protectpeaceriver.org to consult the studies and other evidence that support our case against the phosphate industry.

Dennis Mader

President 3PR (People for Protecting Peace River)

Ona, FL

DeSoto County P&Z Board Deny Mosaic Foothold-May 5, 2010

Nothing less than a historical victory for the Peace River Watershed was won last night!  In an opening volley of what is sure to be an ongoing battle to preserve and protect the Peace River and its attendant watershed and nearby environs, the will of the people was honored.

On Tuesday, May 4th, during a public hearing before the DeSoto County Board of Adjustments and Planning, a diverse group of Floridians, including a courageous 16 year old boy,  an implacable Octogenarian Matriarch, a nationally recognized economist and a local photographer, spoke out in ways simple and complex against the adoption of a General Phosphate Mining Overlay prepared by Mosaic that would have opened the door to eventual strip mining of approximately 26,000 +/- acres in the fragile ecosystem of the Pine Level/Big Slough watersheds.

The wonderful news is that the Board listened attentively enough to the numerous people that spoke against the amendment of the Future Land Use Map, that they voted 5-2 to deny initial transmittal of Mosaic’s request to the Department of Community Affairs!

This important decision will be at the center of further discussion when the DeSoto County Commissioners meet to consider the same proposal on May 25, 2010.

We the People of this region are the only voice the Peace River has.  We have the power and the responsibility to halt the expansion of the ravages of phosphate strip mining that has made an uninhabitable “moonscape” of huge portions of Polk, Hillsborough, Manatee and portions of Hardee Counties.

It up to us to make sure that DeSoto County remains pristine and beautiful and that the unsound mining practices of the multinational conglomerate that is Mosaic, never, ever has the opportunity to creep into DeSoto county to wreak permanent environmental destruction on our River, creeks, farms and groves.

This, our collective and mutual, Home, is precious and unique in Florida.  The Peace River is the lifeblood, the primary artery that feeds and sustains us all.  Let us, each and everyone, whether a public servant or private steward be informed of all the facts available so as to make an informed choice of how our Peace River is sustained and protected for generations to come.

The preservation and protection of a time honored way of life is at stake.  The proposed “mining overlay” that Mosaic has cobbled together with the help of DeSoto County staff, is nothing less than a death warrant for our way of life.

A coalition of several area citizen groups, including Protect Our Watersheds, Sierra Florida, ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) submitted to DeSoto County a 7 page letter, along with a table of 11 Exhibits, that gives an excellent overview of concerns about the impacts of phosphate mining on our environment and on the health and well being of our communities.

Since these documents were submitted to become part of the public record they are available for your inspection.  I urge every Citizen in the area to “Get the Real Story” of the permanent, irreversible destruction of our watershed that a “Phosphate Mining Overlay” would usher in.

You may also review this document and others that pertain to this critical issue on the People for Protecting Peace River website:

http://www.protectpeaceriver.org/

Please mark your calendars and tell everyone you know to join you at the next meeting of the DeSoto County Commissioners on Tuesday, May 25, 2010.  Let our voices ring in the halls of our Elected officials: Tell them:  We the People, don’t want phosphate strip mining in DeSoto County!

See you there!

Respectfully submitted:

Genny Lee Hendry

Community Liaison

3PR

863-993-3249

DeSoto Overlay Letter

This excellent letter was drafted on behalf of a coalition of concerned environmental organizations (Protect our Watersheds, Sierra Florida, Manasota-88, and 3PR) by Percy Angelo of the Sierra Club Phosphate Committee. It was submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commissioners and the Board of County Commissioners of DeSoto County, Florida, in preparing for a series of hearings that would include 26,000 acres of farmland in Desoto County in the Generalized Mining Overlay. This is the first step in preparing for a local mine permit. Anyone interested in a point by point outline of the case against phosphate mine expansion in central Florida should check this out.

COE Purpose and Need Letter

Protect Our Watersheds, 3PR, Manasota-88, Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club specify their case to the Corps of Engineers for ordering the phosphate mining industry to commission an area-wide Environmental Impact Statement. The case includes recent court decisions, prior and similar instances, USGS data, the failure of the FDEP to protect the environment, and other cogent reasons to conduct the study. This is essential reading to those who seek a broad understanding of the negative impacts of phosphate strip mining in central Florida.

Read it here: COE Purpose and Need letter(Final)

New Altman Tract Photos

Below are some recent photographs of the Four Corners phosphate mine (Altman Tract) – located at the intersection of State Roads 62 and 37 – about 25 miles south of Mulberry. Mosaic fought Manatee County for 8 years to mine these wetlands that are the remaining headwaters of Horse Creek, a major tributary of the Peace River. The Manatee County Commission, upon recommendation for their staff, first denied the Development Order. Mosaic threatened to sue Manatee County for $675,000,000. After an election when two new commissioners were seated, Manatee County capitulated and approved the development order in a revote. Now the only thing standing between the phosphate giant and the mining of these precious wetlands is a Federal lawsuit of the Army Corps of Engineers by Sierra Club, 3PR, Manasota – 88, and the Gulf Restoration Coalition.

The photos were taken by George Chase from an experimental light sport plane.

Line in the Sand – US EPA Calls for Area-wide Impact Study for S. Ft. Meade Mine Extension

Line in the Sand – US EPA Calls for Area-wide Impact Study for S. Ft. Meade Mine Extension

In their letter the EPA reminded the Corps that the Peace River watershed is of special importance to both the state and the federal government, and that EPA has stated in documents dating back to the summer of 2007 that “…this mine expansion project, as well as any proposed mining projects within the Peace River phosphate region, a current, area-wide Environmental Impact Statement is most needed in order to address the extensive cumulative impacts and changes to these watersheds due to the phosphate mining industry.