Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sierra Club & Allies Reach Agreement with Mosaic to Protect Wetlands

Limited mining at South Fort Meade will proceed as lawsuit continues.

Sierra Club Florida, ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) have reached agreement with The Mosaic Company on a partial settlement in their lawsuit against the company’s South Fort Meade extension phosphate mine in Hardee County, pending approval by the Federal District Court in Jacksonville. The partial settlement provides for the protection of critically important wetlands and surrounding areas that would have been destroyed by the mine in exchange for allowing Mosaic to proceed with approximately four months of mining elsewhere on the site.

The legal challenge asked the Court to dismiss Mosaic’s permit for failure to consider
alternatives under the Clean Water Act and for failure to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The District Court issued a preliminary injunction against mining under the permit on July 30, 2010.
The partial settlement would allow mining to proceed at Phase 1 of the mine, comprising some 200 acres. In return, Mosaic would protect 14.3 acres of environmentally desirable and difficult to replace "bayhead wetlands," as well as surrounding uplands, in the upper Peace River watershed, for a total of 40.9 additional acres protected from mining. Mosaic would send clay from Phase 1 to existing clay settling areas at the company's Polk County South Fort Meade mine. The preliminary injunction would remain in place for the remainder of the mine, which is proposed to be more than 7000 acres. Mosaic's appeal of that injunction is still pending before the federal court of appeals in Atlanta.

“We are very pleased to be able to preserve these critical wetlands that border Kirkland Branch and, with other nearby wetlands, protect an important ecosystem in the northwest corner of the site," said Percy Angelo, Chair of Sierra Club Florida’s Phosphate Committee. "We look forward to continued discussions that will protect important systems over the remainder of the site.”

Glenn Compton of ManaSota-88 commented, “Preservation of the bayhead wetlands is far better than the total destruction and mitigation of these wetlands during phosphate strip mining activities. This partial settlement avoids the destruction of these important wetlands and allows the legal challenge to move forward and continue to address the negative impacts phosphate mining is having in the Peace River Basin.”

Dennis Mader of People for Protecting Peace River said, "This settlement not only guarantees the permanent preservation of certain bayhead wetlands, but it also offers specific protection to certain hard-working members of our organization whose homes border the mine property. It also takes the issue of jobs off the table while the environmental effects of this phosphate mine are adjudicated."

After issuance of the permit for South Fort Meade extension, the Corps announced it would conduct an area-wide EIS for the entire Central Florida Phosphate District. A Notice of Intent to proceed with that area-wide EIS is expected shortly.

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Phosphate strip mining entirely removes the land surface down 50 or more feet, destroying wetlands and significantly impacting ground and surface water flow. While surface reclamation occurs in theory, it is substantially delayed, often unsuccessful and does not repair groundwater impacts. This disruption in flows affects water quality and quantity in the watersheds involved, including the Peace and Myakka Rivers which flow into the Charlotte Harbor Estuary, a federally recognized ―aquatic resource of national importance.

  • Sierra Club Florida is the Florida arm of the Sierra Club and takes an active role in environmental education and protection of natural resources in Florida. It has actively sought increased protections from phosphate mining. 
  • ManaSota-88, headquartered in Nokomis, is one of the original Florida state environmental groups addressing the issue of phosphate mining and its impacts. 
  • People for Protecting Peace River is headquartered in Hardee County and advocates for protection of the Peace River from the impacts of mining.

Percy Angelo, Chair of Sierra Club Florida's phosphate committee