EPA Sets Scope for Mining Study

EPA Sets Scope for Mining Study

Charlotte Sun

March 17, 2010


‘Sensitive’ area needs impact study, says chief

Calling the Peace River watershed an “important and environmentally sensitive mining region,” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency again called for a comprehensive regional impact study on phosphate strip mining within the watershed this week.

The EPA has long advocated an Area-Wide Environmental Impact Study for the Bone Valley phosphate reserve, but Mosaic Fertilizer’s request for a 21-year permit to strip mine its 11,000-acre South Fort Meade Extension triggered the agency to renew that call, wrote Thomas Welborn, chief of the EPA’s wetlands, coastal and oceans branch.

His March 10 letter was written to Col. Alfred A. Pantano Jr., district engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which grants permits for wetland impacts.

The EPA and dozens of environmental groups, political leaders, local governments and residents have been requesting the study for more than a decade. But to date, the corps has denied the requests.

The EPA’s latest letter serves as a follow-up to one sent by the EPA Dec. 15, which said Mosaic’s application for permits to mine the South Fort Meade Extension, located on the Peace River near Fort Meade, falls short in wetlands mitigation. In that letter, the EPA also called for the areawide study.

“(The) EPA is interested in developing a new approach in 404 permit review, to include consideration of overall cumulative impacts within the Bone Valley, rather than incremental review of permits and their associated impacts,” Welborn wrote. “We would like to do this in cooperation and partnership with the ACOE.”

The ACOE has not had a chance to review the EPA’s letter or prepare a response, said Chuck Schnepel, chief of permitting for the corps’ Jacksonville-based district. He declined further comment.

Jim Cooper of Protect Our Watershed, which has lobbied for the study, called the EPA’s letter “a milestone.”

“For a long time, EPA officials have referenced an EIS, but this is much more comprehensive,” he said. “It would be projectwide, studying phosphate mining throughout the Bone Valley, past, present and future.

“It’s very important they knit this tapestry of impacts together and understand, with several of these mines operating simultaneously, these impacts need to be accumulated and taken into account.”

Russell Schweiss, Mosaic’s manager of public affairs, said: “Let’s be clear on one point: The industry has no control over a decision to conduct an Area-Wide EIS. It’s not our call and never has been.

“That said, our consistent position has been that we don’t object to the concept of an Area-Wide EIS, as long as it looks at all impacts, not just the phosphate industry. We don’t see how a study of environmental impacts can be scientifically valid without looking at impacts such as urbanization, development and other land uses that, in many cases, have a far greater footprint in the region.”

Welborn pointed out the EPA has designated the Peace River Watershed as an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. Florida also has declared the river a Priority Watershed.

That indicates both governments have agreed to restore its impaired waters and protect them from further impacts, Welborn wrote.

He also pointed out the Peace provides water to the Charlotte Harbor estuary and 700,000 residents.

Welborn suggested the study determine:

* How mining and other developments will affect compliance with Total Maximum Daily Load limits for pollutants such as phosphorus and nitrogen, which are big factors in the Peace’s impairment.

* What impacts are caused by the giant berms, stacks of phosphogypsum waste and stockpiles of ore created by the phosphate industry.

* Whether the future redevelopment of reclaimed mines into subdivisions, shopping centers or recreational sites will pose impacts or radiation hazards.

Welborn also expressed support for the ACOE’s recent suggestion to convene a “phosphate summit” to address the impacts.

E-mail: gmartin@sun-herald.com


Staff Writer

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.

Rays, Mosaic Company Drop Naming-Rights Pursuit 2/17/10

PORT CHARLOTTE – The Rays and the Mosaic Company have decided to not pursue their naming rights agreement for the Charlotte Sports Park for an indefinite period.

“While we believe this naming rights deal presents many benefits to both the Rays and the entire community, neither the Rays nor Mosaic wants it to distract the team and fans from their focus on baseball,” Rays senior vice president Mark Fernandez said Wednesday in a team release.

The Rays and phosphate company announced their 15-year partnership for the naming rights on Feb. 3, but asked the Charlotte County Commission to not vote on the matter during last week’s commission meeting.

David Townsend, Mosaic’s assistant vice president of public affairs, said at the time both sides wanted to regroup before subjecting the deal to the vote of the commission, which must approve any naming rights agreement for the Rays spring training facility.

On Wednesday, both sides announced they would defer pursuit of the agreement until at least the end of spring training, maybe longer.

The deal, which would pay Charlotte County $77,250 this year and more than $1.4 million over the life of the agreement, was met with opposition from several environmentalist groups and at least one member of the Charlotte County Commission.

“Community investment is a core element of Mosaic’s culture and our principal reason for entering into the naming rights agreement with the Rays,” Townsend said in the same release. “We remain committed to continuing and building upon our history of support to communities throughout our operating area.”

The county has fought Mosaic over mining in the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor watersheds during the past decade. The disputes went to court four times, with the courts ruling in Mosaic’s favor in each case.

Mosaic’s name was found throughout the stadium last spring, including on top of the dugouts. Townsend said his company and the Rays will remain partners and Mosaic’s logo will still appear inside the stadium.

By ROGER MOONEY | The Tampa Tribune

Tampa Bay Rays Park Won’t Carry Mosaic Name 2/19/10

An offer by Plymouth-based Mosaic Co. to purchase the naming rights for the spring training home of the Tampa Bay Rays ran into a bit of a stink this week.

The arrangement was ultimately deferred by the baseball team after running into local opposition, including that of the Charlotte County Board, the owner of the stadium.

The County Board has been battling with Mosaic for several years, running up legal fees of $12 million, over Mosaic’s phosphate mining activities northeast of Port Charlotte.

“People in this community believe phosphate damages the environment and if there was an accident it would have a catastrophic effect on our watershed,” said Board Chairman Bob Starr.

Under the proposed deal, Charlotte County would get $75,000 a year but would have to use the revenue for upkeep and improvements at the park. The park would have to be called Mosaic Field at Charlotte Sports Park.

“Money was not a factor for anybody. No amount of money was acceptable,” Starr said. “The Rays didn’t expect the reaction. They did the right thing [withdrawing the proposal] and showed respect for the fans.”

Mosaic spokesman Rob Litt said the company has been a corporate partner with the Rays for the last two years and the naming issue was pulled off the table after the opposition surfaced. “We remain committed to the Rays and we remain committed to our ongoing community investment in the region,” Litt said.

Mosaic is North America’s second-largest fertilizer producer.

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

A federal appeals court in Atlanta has upheld the decision of a federal district court in Florida to vacate permits for limestone mining along a strip of former wetlands west of Miami. 1/22/10

A federal appeals court in Atlanta has upheld the decision of a federal district court in Florida to vacate permits for limestone mining along a strip of former wetlands west of Miami.

Posted on Fri, Jan. 22, 2010

Appeals court upholds vacating of mining permits

The Associated Press

A federal appeals court in Atlanta has upheld the decision of a federal district court in Florida to vacate permits for limestone mining along a strip of former wetlands west of Miami.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals issued the opinion Thursday regarding wetlands known as the “Lake Belt.”

U.S. District Judge Jack Camp, who sat on the panel, wrote in the opinion that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida “did not err” in January 2009 when it vacated the permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers to several limestone mining companies.

The permits are required to extract limestone from the Lake Belt, home to four of Florida’s largest mines, which supply about half of the state’s cement. The 57,500-acre region, which borders the eastern edge of Everglades National Park, also provides 40 percent of Miami-Dade County’s drinking water. There has been mining in the region since the 1950s, creating thousands of acres of lakes.

The 11th Circuit upheld the district court’s finding that the Corps failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act “because it did not take into consideration the impact that limestone mining would have on municipal water supplies, including the potential costs of upgrading water treatment plants,” Camp writes.

The litigation pits the interests of the mining companies against “the need for public drinking water in the Miami-Dade area” and “the protection and restoration of the ecology of South Florida, increasingly threatened by mining, development, and agriculture,” Camp writes.

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and National Parks Conservation Association filed a lawsuit in 2002 challenging the validity of nine 10-year permits issued by the Corps.

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.

The rugged Peace River flows into an uncertain new decade

The rugged Peace River flows into an uncertain new decade
Charlotte Florida Weekly

Perhaps by dark night or quiet morning when Ernie Estevez slides into the gentle waters of the lower Peace River — when sometimes little or no sign of a century of hard use exists up river or down — he begins to think of it as the Tallackchopo, so named by the Seminoles in tribute to the wild peas once said to cover its banks.

[Read More]

Mosaic ad campaign hides the truth about phosphate mining

Mosaic ad campaign hides the truth about phosphate mining
Sarasota Herald Tribune, 12/15/09

Recently many Florida newspapers carried a 12-page advertising supplement from The Mosaic Co. with images of happy families and wildlife. Mosaic is the large Minnesota-based corporation which operates almost all of the phosphate mines in Central Florida.

[Read More]