Judge won’t delay phosphate mining halt

Wednesday, January 11, 2012 10:33 AM
Judge won’t delay phosphate mining halt


A federal judge has refused to postpone an order that has blocked extraction from a major U.S. phosphate mine.

The Mosaic Co.’s South Fort Meade mine, which represents 20 percent of U.S. phosphate production, was shut down earlier this year by a federal judge in Florida.

Environmentalists groups claim the federal government improperly approved an extension of the mine without a sufficiently thorough environmental analysis.

In July, U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams granted a preliminary injunction against rock extraction at the mine because environmentalists were likely to prevail in the lawsuit.

Mosaic challenged that decision in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and asked the judge to delay the injunction while the appellate process was underway.

Adams refused their request on Jan. 3, ruling the company had failed to demonstrate such a stay was warranted. The 11th Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case on March 6.

Mosaic Cuts Phosphate Production

The Mosaic Co.said Wednesday it is cutting phosphate production for the short term as cautious North American farmers have lowered demand for the fertilizer.

Plymouth-based Mosaic (NYSE: MOS) said in a news release that it is cutting phosphate production by as much as 250,000 tons through the end of March.

“The current spot prices in this market do not reflect our outlook for the business, nor do we think they are sustainable,” Mosaic CEO Jim Prokopanko said in a statement.

But Prokopanko said he still expects above-average demand for phosphate in 2012.

“We are confident strong farmer economics and agricultural fundamentals will ultimately prevail over the near-term cautious sentiment,” he said.

Financial Mismanagement Hits Hardee County

This article by John Rehill of The Bradenton Times casts aspersions on Hardee County’s Economic Development Authority – the same entity that agreed to $42 million in mitigation funds for a permit to mine the S. Ft. Meade Mine Extension.

How to Take Down a Town
The Bradenton Times
Published Friday, December 16, 2011 2:20 am
by John Rehill
The Background:

Hardee County is located in central Florida and has a modest population of 28,000. It is an agriculture community that depends heavily on phosphate mining revenue. Hardee’s per capita income is half of that of the state’s average and over 20 percent of its population lives below the poverty line. Hardscrabble is the first word that comes to mind, when describing the area. Such a profile is not uncommon in counties where mining is prevalent. Among all of the Florida counties that suffered from a lack of economic growth, those most troubled are mining counties.

Bill Lambert, Director at Hardee County Economic Development knows this. So when Hardee County made its last agreement permitting Mosaic Phosphate to mine 11 thousand acres within its borders, he requested the company make-up the economic hardships consequential to their operations. Mining supports fewer jobs and produces less revenue per acre for the county then other industries, so he proposed Mosaic offer the county incentive capital to put into an economic stewardship fund for compensation. They accepted.

That project was the South Ft. Meade mine, and the amount agreed upon was $42 million over a 10-year period, if the county permitted the mining operation. They did. Hardee County accepted Mosaic’s first installment of $5 million, which they deposited into the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) account.

An IDA is a declaration by the local government to recognize an independent government body for the development and financing of projects within the description of the said boundaries. In Hardee’s case, their IDA was deeded and delegated the responsibility of owning, managing and marketing the Hardee Commerce Park, as just one of their projects.

The IDA’s officers are responsible for reporting transactions, annual financial reports and for fulfulling all of the provisions required by The Sunshine Law, as is any local government in Florida. It is mandatory for the IDA to assemble an authority board. Those board members were appointed by the Hardee Board Of County Commissioners (BOCC).

In Hardee County, the local authorities and county agencies that oversee the public’s trust are the BOCC, the IDA, the EDC (Economic Development Council) and the EDA (Economic Development Authority). State law requires all to have outside audits and quarterly/annual reports for accountability.

The Players:

Our story starts with a concerned citizen. His name is Hank Kuhlman, a UPS pilot and resident of Hardee County, living in Ft. Green. He and a friend, Frank Kirkland, frequent the county commission meetings. Their purpose: to protect their property from the rubber-stamping of permits for mining, landfills and industrial parks. Kuhlman and Kirkland claim that Hardee Commissioners overwhelmingly favor the interest of those applicants over the interest of their residents.

Kuhlman read a report announcing that Hardee County was looking at a solid waste project that claimed to turn all of the county’s trash into clean fuel, eliminating the need for a landfill. The project was to be built in the west part of the county where Kuhlman lived. Mr. Kuhlman wanted the full story, so he and Kirkland went to the public meeting where the promoters were selling their idea to the county commission.

The company: Waste Generated Products (WGP), and two of their representatives, president, Guy Wardlaw and treasure, Rick Fishman, were at the meeting answering questions, and making claims Kuhlman thought were outlandish. The two men alleged their technology could transfer hundreds of tons of unsorted garbage a day into jet fuel, gasoline and diesel fuel. They claimed they could operate their system off the fuel it creates, while running generators to sell power to the electric company. They marketed the process as “emission free” and at absolutely no expense to the county.

This was only the third reported time the WGP reps met with county officials. The first was Oct. 7, of 2011, when they proposed their plan. The second, on Oct. 14, was when they briefed the commission on how their operation worked. Then at this Oct. 20 meeting, WGP had returned to close the deal. EDA Chairman Bill Lambert, sat with the two WGP reps during the meeting, encouraging the board to go forward by signing a memorandum of understanding, committing the county to co-sign a $40 million loan to build the plant.

Kuhlman and Kirkland wondered, whether this three week romance might turn into a $40 million liability. According to the proposed deal, WGP would purchase a “financial instrument” or “insurance bond” to protect the county from any liability.

I was familiar with these instruments, aka “derivatives,” as well as the “gasification” process technology WGP would use to perform their claims, Kuhlman and Kirkland contacted me to see if I could help them find out the story. They thought WGP was a shell company and that it had just incorporated in Florida, May 17, 2011. They couldn’t find any history that coincided with any of the claims WGP made at the meetings and pointed me to county posted videos to those meetings on the internet. I reviewed all three (in keyword – type “waste generated products”)

There are various legitimate claims to the variety of sciences supporting this process, but I know of none that equal the assertions both WGP reps made in the videos, which clearly would be global game changers. I also didn’t find any of the projects both men claimed they currently had in operation in New York, Michigan and London. I called the Massena N.Y. (the town WGP reps claimed to have operations) Solid Waste manager to see how it was working out for them. They had never heard of WGP.

In WGP’s Hardee proposal, they referenced LBO Capital Corp. and U.S. Quest as “strategic partners.” I couldn’t find anything on U.S. Quest, (who reps proposed would handle their licensing), and LBO Capital was a non-active stock that had a $.02 value and had been flat for years (no action). I was wondering, are the only ones vetting these guys the aforementioned two local citizens and one local reporter? Then I remembered that the IDA treasurer, Michael Douglas Manley, had just been arrested for misappropriations of funds. So surely the authorities were looking at the commission and would soon know about WGP, right? Like many things, the answers are never quite that simple.

I decided to go to Venice, FL, where WGP’s “Global Headquarters” is supposedly located. At their address, there was a duplex. The door on one side had a 12″ sign: “WGP, Global Headquarters.” The other side was Pro-Health Products, but no sign of anyone there. I knocked and a man who identified himself as Guy Wardlaw (the same WGP rep in the video) stood in the doorway and asked me what I wanted. I told him I was a reporter for TBT and was doing a story on alternative solid waste disposal methods, heard about his company and wanted to ask a few questions. Each question I asked was answered with a “go to our website.” I asked if I could come inside to chat and after a reluctant pause, he let me in.

Inside it was completely dark with no sign of electricity and he walked me to a nondescript backroom that had some windows and two chairs. I asked for some brochures or any printed info to describe their process. Wardlaw said he didn’t have any and all that wasn’t “proprietary information” was on the website. He told me they do work for the government and there were things he couldn’t tell me. He added that some of their technology was used by Boeing, the U.S. Navy and Department of Homeland Security.

I asked about other projects in other towns or cities, and Wardlaw responded, “We have ongoing projects in Oklahoma, Texas and in Michigan.” He never mentioned Hardee County or the town of Massena. I asked, ” How much fuel can you get from garbage?” He replied after some consideration, “We can get a gallon of fuel from 10 lbs. of garbage.” I knew that was a bogus claim and that something wasn’t quite right, so it was time for me to leave.

I kept looking for anything that could validate what I had heard on the videos or at their office, and decided to call Hardee’s Bill Lambert, the EDA Chairman who was also once administrator and commissioner. Lambert was on a couple of the videos telling the commission how wonderful this project could be for the county.

When speaking with Lambert, I mentioned that I had contacted Massena and that they claimed to have never heard of WGP. I asked him if he had vetted the company, adding that I had and couldn’t find anything. He said not to worry, that all of that would be done before anything was signed. Lambert didn’t know that while I was sitting there on the phone, I was looking at copies of the signed documents. They were signed by Lexton H. Albritton, Hardee County Manager and EDA Administrator, and by Minor L. Bryant, chairman of the board of county commissioners.

Lambert also didn’t know that I had in front of me a copy of a Nov. 9, 2011 certified letter from the Office of the Governor’s Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, in Tallahassee, stating:

The Joint Legislative Auditing Committee is in receipt of correspondence and documentation from a concerned citizen of Hardee County, regarding: (1) the Hardee County Industrial Development Authority (Authority) and (2) the County’s Development Agreement with Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC (LLC), dated August 14, 2008, in which the “matching payment” from the LLC is being paid directly to the Authority.

The referred to “authority” has been in existence since 1996 and had never submitted a financial report or an audit. This is the authority that received Mosaic’s $5 million check. It is unlikely the letter was connected to Manley’s arrest, but feasibly may later be connected through related issues.

Kuhlman had prepared 30 questions to be submitted on paper and three orally for the December 1, commission meeting. His flying schedule changed, so his wife Dorothy attended, taking his place. After asking the questions, she then passed a copy of the Legislative Auditing Committee document to the commissioners.

Not all of Hardee’s officials must have seen the letter, addressed to Minor L Bryant, BOCC Chairman and Ken Evers, BOCC Attorney, because when the Honorable Hugh Bradley, Clerk of the County Court, viewed it, he announced he was appalled to hear of such conduct and called it “criminal,” adding that he would have nothing to do with the Director’s conduct. He vowed to hold back the next IDA check from the county, for the amount of $530,000, until the matter was settled.

County attorney Kenneth B Evers, blew it off, saying that was just an oversight. Evers is not only the attorney for the county, but also for the commission, the IDA, and the EDC. Rick Justice is now the chair for the IDA and sits on the board of the EDC. Joe Albritton is the chair at the EDC and sits on the board of the IDA. Mike Manley was the treasurer for both the IDA and the EDC, but after his arrest on November 14, they had to shake things up a bit. Authorities said his charges for misappropriation of funds was of an amount exceeding half a million bucks.

It appears that between Lambert, Evers, Albritton, Justice and Manley, there was tight control over Hardee County’s money and very little oversight. There is also a holding company, “First Hardee Holdings” that connect Lambert, Justice and Manley outside the county government, that certainly could use a closer look. I imagine authorities will be taking a closer look at everything including the IDA’s recent $2 million dollar start-up investment deal with David Brown’s “Lifesync Technologies.” Lambert recently endorsed using IDA funds. The Authority was funding a company that Mr. Albritton has ties to.

This is so complex, so convoluted and so under the radar, that we can only hope state and federal authorities do their job and take a fine-toothed comb to this tangled mess. We can thank concerned citizens, Kuhlman and Kirkland, whose suspicions might save the residents of Hardee County millions dollars by putting the brakes on another rubber stamp, destined to fail.

What could have happened had this ill fated venture not have been exposed? WGP surely would have failed; the Wardlaw brothers, Guy and David, Rick Fishman and James E. Johnson (the only four that make up WGP) could have spent only a fraction of the money before WGP went belly up and disappeared. The county WOULD have been stuck with the $40 million note, (the instrument would have been challenged – canceled, and then the co-signer would pay). Municipalities are easy and prime targets for these derivatives.

Why are banks so willing to accommodate these seemingly designed-to-fail deals?

Prime example of the answer: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – 40 years ago Pennsylvania’s capitol borrowed $12.3 million to build an incinerator that would generate electricity. The first plan failed. Most of the money was spent, but the debt the city incurred was reason enough to continue the pursuit to make it work. The bank is more than happy to refinance with a derivative called, “Interest Rate Swaps” (unregulated and capable of skyrocketing).

The bank knows to cover this new, larger, more expensive note, the legislators only need to raise the millage rate on their residents – and by a fairly unoticeable amount in some cases. More projects are adopted, the new money blankets the first debacle, (as in Harrisburg’s case) and the incinerator again continues to fall short of completion. Then another IRS is needed, much like a ponzi scheme. It is not uncommon and many municipalities around the country are held hostage to this practice.

Over the years, Harrisburg renewed their IRS’s 11 times, and a debt that started as a $12.3 million loan is now $300 million, and that is why it’s said Harrisburg has the most expensive incinerator in America. The city’s recent bankruptcy attempt was denied.

Jefferson County, Alabama, did the same thing, borrowing $250 million to start a sewer project that began in 1979. That influx of funds spawned many other projects, feeding jobs to the cronies and friends of legislators, soaking up the money flow. Jefferson County was forced over the past 25 years to re-up their IRS’s over 20 times and now that debt has climbed to $5 BILLION! In those years, sewer bills have risen from $14 a month to over $100. They have already filed bankruptcy and 11 of their commissioners have gone to jail for their malfeasance. Auditors say 2 of the $5 billion are fees and interest. These municipal derivatives are a huge profit center for the banks, and this is also why so many cities are facing default and foreclosure.

For Bill Lambert and Ken Evers to ignore the lack of credentials, knowledge, experience and traceable background that representatives for WGP displayed, and not be alarmed or even ashamed, is egregious and irresponsible. To go forward with the idea of any agreement for the amount of $40 thousand let alone $40 million, with the knowledge they now have, would be criminal and indictable. There is no “bond,” no “policy,” that can protect Hardee County officials from such obvious mistakes. Both Lambert’s and Evers’ actions should be investigated to determine whether there was more than just incompetence at work.

Slime Billboards on 1-75

Water Coalition places ‘slime’ billboards along I-75
By Virginia Chamlee | 12.07.11 | 12:48 pm

Slime Billboard
One of the Florida Water Coalition billboards (Pic by Florida Water Coalition)
The Florida Water Coalition, a group that recently filed a petition against the state’s recently drafted water rules, has put up two billboards in an effort to “educate Floridians and visitors about the state’s widespread algae pollution problem and to urge citizens to let their government representatives know that they don’t want more delays – they want clear limits on the amount of sewage, manure and fertilizer pollution in our public waters.”
Both billboards contain a photograph of a large-scale algal bloom in Fanning Springs, an area that was once clear all the way to its sandy bottom. According to the Coalition, “development and large-scale agricultural operations in the spring’s watershed have spewed pollution underground into the aquifer, and it bubbles up in the spring, altering the water chemistry and triggering nauseating toxic algae outbreaks.”
One billboard is loicated on Interstate 75 between Gainesville and Ocala, the other is also on I-75, just south of Lake City.
The Florida Water Coalition — which is comprised of the Florida Wildlife Federation, Earthjustice, the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, the Conservancy of Southwest Florida and the St. Johns Riverkeeper — recently filed a petition against the state’s “numeric nutrient criteria,” a set of standards they argue aren’t strong enough to ward off nutrient pollution in waterways.
The coalition has argued that the standards are so poor, in fact, that they “would actually be less protective than no numeric nutrient standards.” Many environmentalists have argued that the government dragged its feet in producing the standards, and is now favoring the polluters over the public.
“The toxic algae that comes from sewage, manure and fertilizer runoff is a public health threat. It is poisoning our drinking water and making people sick,” said Monica Reimer, an attorney with Earthjustice, in a press release. “Among other things, it causes respiratory problems, stomach problems, and rashes.”
Another problem, says Reimer, is that the pollution is harming businesses across the state.
“We depend on tourists to run our economy,” Reimer said. “Look at the reality on our billboards. This is obviously not good for Florida tourism. This affects jobs.”
According to a press release, the funding for the billboards came from grassroots activists. Though there are currently only two billboards erected, the Coalition has hopes it can spread its message across the state as the campaign expands.

Uranium Mining in VA looks at FL Phosphate Record

Uranium Mining – The Virginia Battleground – Environmental Concerns vs. Corporate Interests

Part Two

“Don’t let them get a foothold. They take over the politics. They take over the land. They take over the courts. They take over the environment. They’re like a cancer and can’t be stopped.”

Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida

 By Rose Ellen O’Connor, on November 23rd, 2011

Natural Resources News Service


Virginia is the home of many historic Revolutionary and Civil War battlefields. But today, conflicts are being fought in a different forum. The question of whether to lift Virginia’s moratorium on uranium mining is shaping up to be one of the biggest battles in the General Assembly next year.

Virginia Uranium, Inc. wants to mine a 119-pound uranium ore deposit called Coles Hill. It is in Pittsylvania County in south central Virginia, often referred to as Southside. The company, flush with Canadian investments, has hired 15 lobbyists to push their cause in Richmond. It has also contributed cash to the campaigns of more than 70 legislators and taken lawmakers on all-expense-paid trips to see mining areas in France and Canada.

Environmental groups, who have seven lobbyists, are also gearing up for the fight and do not plan to be outgunned. Some are predicting the vote will be close. At the center of the debate is the question of whether modern technology and stricter regulations can avoid the catastrophes of uranium mining’s past.

Virginia Uranium would operate a mine and milling plant on the Coles Hill site. After uranium is mined, the ore is taken to a mill where the stone is crushed to free up the uranium oxide or “yellow cake.” The waste materials, radioactive sand-like “tailings,” are mixed with water and chemicals, creating toxic slurry.

Tailings remain radioactive for thousands of years and have poisoned livestock, contaminated waterways and destroyed farms and pastures. Chemicals in the tailings have been linked to cancer. Virginia Uranium says it plans to place some of the tailings in underground holding compartments and some back in the mine.

Opponents say they fear the tailings will leach into groundwater or run off into surface rivers and streams. Virginia’s hurricanes and heavy storms increase the risk of contamination, they say.

Company project director Patrick Wales said during a question and answer session at a Richmond mining forum this month that the waste holding cells would be state-of-the-art, lined with rock, clay and tough synthetic strong enough to prevent leaching. Wales offered the assurance that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission would be involved and would monitor tailings management “in perpetuity.”

Olga Kolutoshkina, a legislative adviser to the Roanoke River Basin Association, says she is worried rather than reassured by Wales’ comments.

“I’m concerned about the cost to the taxpayers and communities of monitoring and containing these wastes essentially forever,” Kolutoshkina says. “We’re talking about thousands of years. We have a short and dirty history with uranium and it’s filled with disasters. It spans 40 or 50 years and there’s nothing we can be proud of.”

Wales also said that modern engineering permits the company to build mining and milling facilities to precise specifications. The project will be built to withstand more than a 5.8 earthquake – which shook Virginia last summer — and more than the state’s biggest storm on record.

“If it’s 27 inches (the project will withstand) 28 inches,” Wales said. “The very idea that these aren’t being included in our plans is a misnomer.”

In August 1969, Hurricane Camille dumped more than 28 inches of rain on central Virginia in eight hours. It left 150 people dead, uprooted whole stands of trees and swept away more than 100 bridges. It changed forever the way residents thought of hurricanes, according to one news account.

“I think it’s commendable that they acknowledge that the standards should be based on worst-case scenarios,” says Chris Miller, executive director of the Piedmont Environmental Council, adding that the company’s position is a switch from the past. But Miller says he is not convinced any design can withstand the challenges in Virginia.

“In theory, I’m sure there’s an engineering solution. What we worry about is that engineered facilities for solid waste facilities and toxic waste facilities have failed with far less environmental and geologic stresses than found in Virginia. So you’re putting a lot of faith in an engineering design that may not be warranted.”

“Talk is cheap,” says Kolutoshkina. “Where are the detailed plans of the system they’re going to build? We want to see technical documents. The only documents this company has produced are press releases. The company will always do what is minimally required and the most profitable.”

The Coles Hill site borders the Bannister River and is drained by the Whitehorn and Mill Creeks, which feed into the Roanoke River. The Roanoke supplies drinking water to 1.2 million people in Virginia and North Carolina.

American Rivers, an environmental group headquartered in Washington, named the Roanoke the third most endangered river in America last spring because of the proposed uranium mine. The group noted that the Roanoke sustains $300 million in agriculture annually and attracts thousands of tourists a year for fishing, boating, bird-watching and other outdoor activities.

In August, the Board of Supervisors for Orange County passed a resolution urging the General Assembly not to authorize the Coles Hill project until it can be proved that it will not endanger the water supply. The Halifax County Board of Supervisors and the town councils of Halifax and South Boston followed suit in October.

Virginia Beach is one of three eastern Virginia cities that pump their drinking water via pipeline from Lake Gaston, downstream of the Coles Hill deposit. An engineering study done for the city in February concludes that toxic radioactive waste could contaminate Lake Gaston in a catastrophic rain storm. The study says that the Kerr Reservoir upstream from the lake would trap about 90 percent of the toxic waste but that the rest would flow into Lake Gaston. Flushing out the radioactive contaminants would take from two months to two years depending on the weather, the study says.

Michael Baker Corp., author of the study, looked at powerful hurricanes that struck in Nelson County in 1969 and Madison County in 1995, causing more than 25 inches of rainfall, to assess the potential damage of a catastrophic storm near the uranium mines. Pittsylvania County has never had such large rainfalls.

Virginia Uranium officials reacted far differently to the threat of heavy rain than Wales did in Richmond, when he promised reporters the company would design its facilities to withstand huge rainfalls.

Wales dismissed the Virginia Beach report as an “expensive exercise in fantasy,” saying many of the reports’ assumptions were wrong. At a hearing before the Virginia Beach City Council Aug. 24, Alan Kuhn, a Virginia Uranium consultant said the chances of a massive flood like that in the study was one in 10 million, which he said amounted to “zero.”

Some of the council members, who felt a rare 5.8 earthquake shake through the state a few hours earlier and were awaiting a hurricane that weekend, were not won over by the assurances, according to a report in The Virginian-Pilot.

“The gulf oil spill and the earthquake and tsunami in Japan have shown you can’t always predict it based on history,” Councilwoman Rosemary Wilson said.

Dr. Thomas Burbey, a geology professor with Virginia Polytechnic and State University in Blacksburg, Va., conducted a study of a small portion of the land atop the deposits. He says he found very little groundwater because there are very few fractures in the rocks. Less water at the site would reduce the risk of mining, he says.

“I think the water flows would be easily manageable,” Burbey says. “It would probably reduce the risks of groundwater contamination.”

But the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said in a report that the Coles Hill site is surrounded by flood zones, citing a map from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The map shows several creeks next to the site, which are marked as flood zones. Kuhn said in a letter to a local paper that the environmental group misread the map.

Pittsylvania County has been hit by storms, hurricanes, tornadoes and an earthquake, according to weather records. It has also been subject to intense flooding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency designated Pittsylvania County a disaster area when Hurricane Fran hit in September 1996, according to agency records.

The area around the Coles Hill site also has a high water table – groundwater used for drinking is only 36 feet below the surface. Environmentalists say that makes it easier for radioactive waste to leech into the water supply.

A preliminary economic report for the company recommends that radioactive slurry be blended with cement to stiffen it. The 2010 report by Lyntek, Inc., a mining engineering firm in Lakewood, Colo. recommends that 10 tons of the waste be buried back in the mine. The other 19 tons of radioactive waste would be stored in eight lined containment cells five feet under the ground and covered with top soil and vegetation. Each holding compartment would encompass as much as 40 acres, according to the Lyntek Study.

If Virginia Uranium mines the full 119 pounds of uranium ore, as it says it will, rather than the 63 pounds projected in the Lyntek report, the company would have many more tons of toxic waste to handle. Walt Coles Sr. says he believes the company can reduce the waste, noting that the Lyntek report is a preliminary study.

“We’re not going to know that until the final mill design takes place,” Coles says. “There’s all sorts of new technology being studied.”

Environmentalists say Virginia Uranium will have trouble placing the storage cells below ground because the high water table leaves very little earth above the groundwater. And even if they could, they say, it would not be a solution.

“They’re leaving behind tons and tons of waste that is toxic and radioactive,” Nathan Lott, executive director of Virginia Conservation Network, says. “We have no confidence that Virginia or anyone else has the ability to keep this contamination contained for thousands of years. We’re worried about a toxic legacy that will put peoples’ lives and livelihoods at risk.”

Coles dismisses concerns that Virginia’s wet climate increases the risks of waste leeching into groundwater or toxic runoff leaking into creeks and streams.

“That’s absolutely absurd and a lot of people that are anti-mining make that statement, but the fact is mining has taken place all over the world in wet climates just like in Southside,” Coles says. “In fact, they argue that it’s never been mined east of the Mississippi. In fact, mining for uranium has taken place in Louisiana and Florida. You know that’s a wet two states subject to hurricanes. In fact, Katrina went right over the mine sights.”

Neither Florida nor Louisiana ever had uranium mining, according to the Florida Industrial and Phosphate Research Institute. In Florida, corporations mine and mill phosphate, a key ingredient in fertilizer and pesticide, and in Louisiana, companies mill phosphate. Companies in both states extracted uranium from phosphate until the mid-1990s. Hurricane Gloria struck both states but did not pass over the mining areas or milling plants in either state, according to environmentalists there. And wet climates in both Louisiana and Florida have exacerbated the environmental damage done by the phosphate industry, interviews, state records and news accounts indicate.

Neither state has an environmental record that Virginia would likely want to emulate. Phosphate mining and milling have caused huge environmental problems in Florida and Louisiana, according to records at the Environmental Protection Agency, press accounts and interviews with state officials and environmentalists.

In 1987, Freeport McMoran, Inc., a phosphate fertilizer company, said it was producing so much waste that the soil underneath its waste piles, known as gypsum stacks, was becoming unstable. It asked the state of Louisiana to let it dump 12.5 million tons a year of slightly radioactive toxic phosphoric acid into the Mississippi River.

New Orleans, one of several cities that get their drinking water from the river, led the fight against the proposal. Thousands of angry protestors said the gypsum would poison their water and increase the risk of cancer, already high in the area. State environmental officials turned the company down, citing the risk of tainted drinking water and potential harm to fish and wildlife.

Fertilizer plants, still looking for ways to get rid of their waste, were allowed to use their gypsum stacks to fill in wetlands being primed for a roadway. “Everything died,” Wilma Subra, a chemist who consults for Louisiana Environmental Action Network, says.

In the late 1980s, Gov. Buddy Roemer required the companies to cover the gypsum stacks with soil and grass because when rainwater came, the gypsum leached into groundwater and flowed into wetlands and waterways, Subra also says.

With its toxic stew of oil and gas, chemical plants and gypsum stacks, Louisiana’s environment has ranked high for poison, EPA records show.  In 1988, the federal agency started requiring companies to report the toxic chemicals they emit into the air, water and land in each state. Louisiana came in first place with 985 million pounds of pollution, according to EPA records. It remained among the top three for 10 years. It dropped to ninth place in 1998 after the phosphate industry successfully sued to have phosphoric acid, a byproduct of phosphate, removed from the list of toxic chemicals that had to be reported.

In central Florida, phosphate mining has long been raising health and environmental alarms. A 1985 report in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that acute leukemia was twice the normal rate in 27 counties with or near phosphate mining and milling. The report said further study was needed.

Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties spent $12 million in court battles between 2001 and 2007 to try to stop expansions of the mining industry that would endanger the health of land and water, Charlotte County Assistant Attorney Martha Burton says. They were fighting their own state Department of Environmental Protection, which, county officials claim, allowed mining companies to destroy wetlands and streams.

Department of Environmental Protection officials, who argued for the mining companies in court, said they were trying to be fair and make decisions based on science. Among the permits the counties were fighting was a proposed 2,067-acre mine near the town of Ona, owned by the country’s largest phosphate producer, Mosaic Co., based in Plymouth, Minn.

The counties presented written expert testimony that phosphate mining ruined soil, reduced fish species, harmed wildlife and destroyed the quality of untold streams and waterways. A certified senior ecologist estimated that cleaning up after the Ona mine and restoring wetlands, woodlands and habitat would cost $643 million for which Mosaic was not prepared.

The counties are still fighting the proposed Ona mine. Last April, they asked the federal Army Corp of Engineers to step in and do an environmental impact study of Central Florida.

In September 2004, Hurricane Frances whipped up waves in a waste water holding pond that stood atop a 180-foot-high gypsum stack. The dike broke, spilling 65 million pounds into a creek and bay that drain into the Tampa Bay. Officials said many crabs, shrimp and fish were destroyed. Phosphate waste is highly acidic and, as one state environmental official described it to a local newspaper, similar to Draino.

In 1995, a 15-story-deep sinkhole opened up in an 80-million-ton gypsum stack, dumping at least 4 million cubic feet of toxic waste into the Floridan aquifer. It supplies 90 percent of the state’s drinking water.

U.S. News and World Report, which wrote about Florida’s phosphate problems in the mid-1990s, noted the industry’s political clout. Between 1971 and 1995, mining firms paid $1 billion in state severance tax on the phosphate they retrieved and provided 8,000 jobs. They also contributed campaign money to state and local officials. Even environmental groups were not particularly vocal, having received $109,000 in 1994.

“I would say to the people of Virginia: Be very afraid. I can’t imagine how uranium mining would turn out well. All the waterways around here are polluted,” Linda Young, director of the Clean Water Network of Florida, says of central Florida.

“Don’t let them get a foothold. They take over the politics. They take over the land. They take over the courts. They take over the environment. They’re like a cancer and can’t be stopped.”

Polk County Reclamation Map

This map shows the state of reclamation in SE Polk County. The red areas are old mines that have not been “released” (properly vegetated in post-mining state) Lakeland is not included in this map. The population center on left top is Mulberry. Top right is Bartow and lower right is Ft. Meade. Bear in mind that Florida Statutes define reclamation as a “temporary use of the land.”


Tampa crane operator seriously injured after dock collapses under him

Tampa crane operator seriously injured after dock collapses under him
By Stephanie Wang, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Nov 08, 2011 08:08 PM

Read article here

A crane operator was seriously injured Tuesday evening after a dock under the machinery collapsed, authorities said.

Fire-rescue crews found a 40-foot-tall rail crane, used to load phosphate onto ships, tilted on its side over the water at the CSX Phosphate Terminal, 3701 Causeway Blvd.
The crane operator was taken to Tampa General Hospital with multiple injuries, where he was listed in serious condition. Tampa Fire Rescue officials did not release his name.
Authorities were still investigating the cause of the collapse.

[Last modified: Nov 08, 2011 08:08 PM]

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Copyright 2011 St. Petersburg Times

FL EPA Water Regulations Get Watered Down

Florida issues new water pollution standards

By Craig Pittman, Times Staff Writer
Posted: Nov 02, 2011 05:07 PM

Amid a long-running political fight over new water pollution standards being imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Florida officials Wednesday unveiled their own new standards for limiting the most common form of pollution in the state’s rivers, streams and estuaries.

The new standards for limiting nutrient pollution —- the kind that often causes toxic algae blooms —- have already drawn support from the Florida Pulp and Paper Association, Associated Industries of Florida and phosphate mining giant Mosaic, among other groups.
Also lined up in support: the EPA. Based on a preliminary review, the federal agency “would be able to approve the draft rule” as complying with the Clean Water Act, wrote Nancy K. Stoner of the EPA’s regional office in Atlanta.

However, while state Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard called the new standards “the most comprehensive nutrient pollution limitations in the nation,” some environmental groups say what DEP has come up with is worse than the rule already on the books.

“The toxic slime outbreaks in Florida will continue and get worse,” predicted David Guest of Earthjustice, one of the groups that previously sued the EPA for failing to protect Florida’s waterways from nutrient pollution. The new state rule, he said, was “negotiated with the polluting industries, and it reflects that.”

Guest contended the EPA is going along with the DEP’s rule to dissipate the political heat that ensued when the federal agency agreed to impose new pollution rules on Florida. The EPA’s rules have drawn opposition from Gov. Rick Scott, state business leaders and some members of Florida’s congressional delegation.

“They’re just lying down and letting the DEP do whatever they want to do,” said Linda Young of the Clean Water Network. The problem with the new rules, she said, is that they don’t apply to what comes out of the end of a drain pipe. That makes it harder to stop pollution at the source, she said.

Nutrients such as phosphorous and nitrogen flow into waterways from fertilized lawns, golf courses, leaking septic tanks and malfunctioning sewer plants. In the past 30 years, nutrient pollution has become the most common water pollution problem in Florida —- but the state’s rules for how much nitrogen and phosphorous are allowed in waterways were only vague guidelines.

The EPA told all states in 1998 to set strict limits on nutrient pollution, and warned it would do it for them if no action was taken by 2004. DEP officials started working on new standards in 2001, but 2004 passed without any change.

In 2008, Earthjustice and a coalition of other environmental groups sued the EPA to force it to take action in Florida. A year later, the agency settled the suit by agreeing to impose nutrient pollution standards — and the complaints began boiling up from Florida industry leaders about costly, unnecessary federal regulations hurting the economy.

Attorney General Pam Bondi, on behalf of Agriculture Commissioner Adam Hasner, sued to block implementation of the rules, and on Wednesday she filed a motion accusing the EPA of exaggerating the threat from nutrient pollution.

EPA officials have said all along that they would drop their pollution limits if the state would come up with some new standards. In the EPA’s letter Wednesday, agency officials said that if the state’s Environmental Review Commission and the Legislature ratify the new state standards, and the EPA gives its formal approval of the final version, the agency would then withdraw its controversial pollution standards.

Craig Pittman can be reached at craig@sptimes.com

[Last modified: Nov 02, 2011 05:08 PM]

Mosaic Profits on Rising Food Prices

Rising Food Prices Will Boost Debt-Free Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS) to New Highs

OCTOBER 31, 2011

BY JACK BARNES, Global Macro Trends Specialist, Money Morning


With so many companies – and countries – choking on the combination of slow growth and massive debt, investors are finding that there’s a definite formula for success.

You need to look for companies that have healthy cash reserves, a global presence in a high-growth sector, and whose shares are available at a bargain price.

I’ve already found one to help get you started.

I’m talking about The Mosaic Co. (NYSE: MOS), an agricultural leader that’s positioned to benefit from the worldwide run-up in food prices.

Mosaic is the world’s leading producer of concentrated phosphate and potash, two of the primary nutrients required to grow food crops.

One of the main reasons I really like Mosaic is that it has enough cash – $3 billion – to fund its own growth. It doesn’t need to borrow from banks to continue generating profits from crop-nutrient sales.

That’s a profitable niche, since global food prices are expected to increase 4% next year, and could climb higher on supply squeezes. Increasing food demand and poor harvests have caused sharp climbs in the price of corn and other crops. And those price increases have translated into higher prices for pork, beef and poultry. The profitable agricultural industry outlook is enticing farmers to grow more, and will create a steady profit stream for Mosaic.

Mosaic’s shares recently hit a 52-week low; but don’t let that price dip fool you: While the market is currently pricing Mosaic for a significant slowdown in earnings, the reality is far brighter. It’s time to buy The Mosaic Co. (**).

The Mosaic Co.

The Mosaic Co. is a young company with old roots, formed in 2004 from a merger of two giants in the crop nutrition businesses. This combination united profitable phosphate miner IMC Global Inc. with Cargill Inc., one of the world’s top producers of phosphate and nitrogen fertilizer.

The resulting Mosaic Co. has grown into the largest producer of concentrated phosphates, and one of the leading providers of potash crop nutrients.

Mosaic’s global reach – it has operations in 10 countries and serves markets in more than 30 nations – has allowed it to accurately estimate and provide for global product demand. It’s this excellent business execution that helped Mosaic become debt-free, and then to amass a cash hoard of more than $3 billion.

This helped the company post an excellent first quarter for fiscal 2012, the second-highest-grossing first quarter in its history. The company’s net earnings for the quarter ended Aug. 31 were 77% higher than the same quarter last year. Earnings per diluted share were $1.17, a 75% gain from 67 cents per diluted share in the first quarter 2011.

Mosaic’s revenue now totals more than $10.3 billion in the trailing twelve months.

Fitch Ratings Inc. recently estimated Mosaic will earn $3.7 billion in EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) in fiscal 2012, a 19% gain from the $3.1 billion earned last year.

The stock is down 18% so far this year, but this has more to do with Cargill unloading its core investment in the company – essentially dumping a big block of shares on the market.

Mosaic’s stock has rebounded from a 52-week low of $44.86 earlier this month to close at $61.96 Friday.

At this price it’s still a bargain, giving us a chance to buy at extremely favorable prices.

The company has a market capitalization of $20 billion. The stock is trading at a Price/Earnings (P/E) ratio of less than 8, making it cheap in comparison to the overall market’s P/E ratio of about 13 to 15.

Phosphogypsum Stacks

From EPA website….

Aerial view
The phosphogypsum, separated from the phosphoric acid, is in the form of a solid/water mixture (slurry) which is stored in open-air storage areas known as stacks. The stacks form as the slurry containing the by-product phosphogypsum is pumped onto a disposal site. Over time the solids in the slurry build up and a stack forms. The stacks are generally built on unused or mined out land on the processing site.
As the stack grows, the phosphogypsum slurry begins to form a small pond (gypsum pond) on top of the stack. Workers dredge gypsum from the pond to build up the dike around it and the pond gradually becomes a reservoir for storing and supplying process water. A total of 63 phosphogypsum stacks were identified nationwide in 1989. They were in 12 different states, but the majority, two-thirds, were in Florida, Texas, Illinois, and Louisiana.

Side by Side
The surface area covered by stacks ranges from about 5 to 740 acres. The height ranges from about 10 to 200 feet. In 1989, the total surface area covered by stacks was about 8,500 acres. More than half that acreage is in Florida.
The tops of operating phosphogypsum stacks (ones that are still receiving phosphogypsum) are covered by ponds and ditches containing process water. “Beaches,” saturated land masses, protrude into the ponds. These surface features may cover up to 75 percent of the top of the stack. Other surface features include areas of loose, dry materials; access roads; and thinly crusted stack sides. (The crust thickens and hardens when the stacks become inactive and no longer receive process slurry.)