Corps to look at mining issues
By BRIAN ACKLEY
Wednesday, March 16, 2011 6:01 PM EDT
Polk County isn’t the only public entity trying to take a long-range view of how mining operations may affect our area.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which must grant permits for phosphate mining operations largely because of water used to separate materials once they are taken from the group goes back into the local water table, is launching an area-wide Environmental Impact Study of the business.
The study does not involve the South Fort Meade mine expansion plan, which has been hung up in court actions. That expansion already has gotten approval from the Corps.
According to the federal organization, the EIS was initiated “Based on the continued applications for expanded mining in the Central Florida Phosphate District, the size of the project area, the CFPD characteristics, and the potential environmental impacts, both individually and cumulatively.”
The first public scoping session in the process will be held March 23 in Lakeland.
Although the area in question is broad, covering some 1.32 million acres, the Corps indicated there are three specific projects that prompted the study: CF Industries’ South Pasture Extension in Hardee County (7,153 acres), Mosaic’s Four Corners Surface Tract and Mosaic’s Ona Mine in Hardee County. (20,726 acres).
According to a Corps memo from last August, there are 11 pending permit applications in the study area. In all, they cover more than 46,000 acres.
“An EIS is simply a tool that must be approached with careful thought on how the tool will be used post development,” noted Corps Mining Coordinator Tunis Mcelwain. He said the document must “emphasize real issues,” instead of just “insignificant ones.”
“The Corps has determined that, when viewed collectively, the separate proposed phosphate mining-related projects have similarities that provide a basis for evaluating their environmental consequences together in one comprehensive environmental impact statement,” according to the Corps in making the study’s announcement.
The study area primarily involves Polk, Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee and DeSoto counties.
The Corps noted that it has issues so-called CWA Section 404 mining permits since 1977, some of which permit existing mining through 2028, but up until know did not feel that such a broad look at the industry was required.
“The Corps has determined as recently as June 2010 that the cumulative effects, past, present and reasonably foreseeable, of phosphate mining from 1977 to 2028 in the Peace River watershed, part of which lies within the CFPD Region, had not reached the significance threshold,” according to a website dedicated to the study.
The Corps indicated it hopes to have a draft study available by October. A second round of public meetings would then be held in December, and a final report is expected to be available by August 2012.
The March 23 meeting will be held at the Lakeland Center, starting at 6:30 p.m. Polk County is in the middle of its own study, known as the Bone Valley Selected Area Study, which is taking a look at potential long-term development and growth issues in southwest Polk.
The Corps website dedicated to the study is www.phosphateaeis.org.