Bay Soundings
COVERING TAMPA BAY AND ITS WATERSHED

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The Battle for Horse Creek

One of the most pristine creeks in Florida is also phosphate mining's next frontier.

Horse Creek, a tiny tributary that provides 15% of the freshwater flow to the Peace River, has become the Holy Grail in the battle between mining expansionists and opposing forces. On August 8, DEP Secretary Colleen Castille is expected to issue a final order on a permit for a new mine along Horse Creek in Hardee County, following a hearing officer's recommendation to issue the permit subject to additional conditions.

Mosaic (formerly IMC) first applied for a permit to strip mine 21,000 acres near Ona in April 2000. DEP gave notice of intent to issue permits for expanded strip mining in the Peace River watershed and Horse Creek basin in January 2003. Charlotte County led a coalition effort that challenged the permits, which were subsequently reevaluated after permits for another mine, at Altman, were denied on the basis of insufficient financial assurances.

In January 2005, Mosaic submitted a revised strip-mining application to DEP, scaling back the originally proposed 21,000-acre Ona mine to about 4,000 acres. After receiving testimony, the hearing officer, in May, recommended issuing the permit pending agreement to additional conditions to protect water quality and mitigate impacts to wetlands and surface waters.

The process has been costly and frustrating all around. According to one agency source, the Ona application came in under IMC and was first submitted to a team-permitting process that resulted in a plan to protect sensitive areas. But in the course of negotiations, DEP scrapped its ecosystem management program, IMC leadership changed, and the original plan was scrubbed.

"It's not a matter of having a choice. That's where the phosphate is."

- Gray Gordon

"DEP was ready to permit an old-style mine, with less consideration for listed species, less water quality protection and more intrusion," says Jim Beever of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Essentially, says Beever, "we had to battle back to the starting point through the hearing process to get what the team permitting process originally proposed." As time passes, adds Beever, every piece of land around Horse Creek is being proposed.

"It's not a matter of having a choice," says Mosaic Vice President Gray Gordon. "That's where the phosphate is."

Mining is not new along the Peace; instead, recent proposals represent expansion south into previously unmined areas. "All of these questions have been tested in court, and not in any case has the judge said: 'you guys are negatively affecting the Peace River,'" Gordon added.

We know there will be more human activity in the future, says Gordon. "The good thing about us is we're already known, we have a system for permitting, and our permits get very strict review in terms of how they affect a watershed. Nobody has to wonder - it's being reviewed 58 ways."

"I tend to approach these things much like I do growth management," says Charlotte County Commissioner Adam Cummings. "We're talking about a new area of expansion without having gone in and assessed the cumulative impacts of what that expansion will bring.

"We feel the permit should be denied, but if not denied, all of the conditions must be upheld," says Cummings, adding: "I don't demonize these people, but I do think the human mind has a great capacity for rationalizing things."

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By the Numbers

70%

Percentage of Florida fertilizer shipped overseas

28.7 million

Tons of phosphate rock extracted in Florida in 2003

43 million

Tons of phosphate rock extracted in Florida in 1980

$5.9 billion

Annual estimated economic impact from phosphate mining and related industries (2001) to the Tampa Bay region

$2 billion

Annual economic impact to Charlotte County from tourism

$270 million

Direct and indirect annual income to Charlotte County from all mining activity

443,210

Acres of Florida land that the phosphate industry owns or has mineral rights to

62,000

Acres of Florida land targeted for future mining activity if all phosphate companies proceed with planned projects over the next 25 years

Sources: Mosaic, Florida Institute for Phosphate Research, Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, Florida Phosphate Council, IMC

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2005 Bay Soundings
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