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Sun editorial on EIS a disservice to commission, county

Published By: Sun Herald

Adam Cummings column

To say that our concern for an area-wide environmental impact study is deceptive or unimportant does a tremendous disservice to our community.

The Oct. 30 Sun editorial says that calls for an AEIS should be replaced by something else. It bases its conclusion on several "facts" residents should know. Unfortunately those "facts" either miss the point or are just plain false. Worse, the paper's position was used by Mosaic as justification for removing an AEIS from ongoing negotiations. Here are the facts:

The editorial said: "...an areawide EIS stretching out to 2025 was submitted in 2005 to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In 2006, the Corps published a notice it intended to issue the required permit."

The fact: This never happened. The areawide EIS to which this editorial referred is in reality the Ona EIS. Mosaic paid a consultant to try to convince the Army Corps that it would be OK to strip mine the Ona site. The Army Corp then released this biased report to the public for their review. The editorial is wrong, the Army Corp of Engineers never issued a notice of intent to issue a permit or endorsed it in any way. In fact the Army Corps officer in charge of these matters recently assured me that even if the problems with the Ona EIS were fixed, it would still fall far short of what a true AEIS would accomplish.

The editorial wonders what a Corps AEIS would find that Mosaic's did not. Examples of answers would include documents submitted to the Army Corps and to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection where Charlotte County's paid experts found mislabeled landscapes where wetlands were labeled pastures. These were found through the preparation to go to court to challenge a strip-mining permit, something Mosaic proposes we never do again.

The editorial said: "...the recent Peace River Study already conclusively found that phosphate mining has impacted the same amount of the Peace River Watershed -- 10 percent -- that urban development has..."

The fact: The statement misses the point. The state study found that although phosphate strip mining accounted for only 10 percent of the total land-use, it accounted for 43 percent of the total loss in wetlands. Furthermore, it points out that phosphate strip mining has accounted for nearly 30 percent of stream loss prior to 1999 (105.2 miles). This is more than double the stream loss attributed to urbanization during the same period. The study is quite clear that phosphate mining is a very intense land use that could continue to cause serious harm to the Peace River. For this reason it deserves more scrutiny than other land uses in the Peace River Basin.

The editorlal said: "What is more troubling to us than the differences between the Corps EIS and a broader one proposed by phosphate critics, is the virtual information blackout on the existence of the 2005 EIS."

The fact: What is troubling is the black out from the editorial that fails to note that the EIS was paid for by Mosaic. Still more troubling is the paper's apparent faith in Mosaic's report. The report was a public record, available to any and all. Charlotte County publicly discussed the matter. Lee County hired the Sierra Club to assist with review and possible challenge of it. Surely the paper is not suggesting that Charlotte County pay to distribute the faulty reports of Mosaic?

The editorial said: The county's legal team rifled off a critique of the EIS when the Sun raised the issue last week.

The fact: The critique was easy to rifle off since this was old news we had previously addressed. Here are some of the reasons the study is insufficient:

  1. The geographic area of the cumulative impact analysis is too narrow. It was limited to areas in the vicinity of the Ona Mine site.

  2. Nearly 100,000 acres of mined and unreclaimed lands are excluded. Tens of thousands of acres that were mined before reclamation were excluded even though they may have more significant impacts than reclaimed lands.

  3. The analysis of cumulative impacts to surface waters is limited to a few tributaries within the Peace River Basin. Past, present, and reasonable foreseeable future phosphate mines in the entire Peace River Basin are not included in the evaluation of cumulative impacts to surface waters.

  4. All proposed mines in the Peace River Basin are not clearly identified and associated impacts are not evaluated: No substantial analysis of impacts from reasonably foreseeable future phosphate mines is included. While both the Pine Level and Pioneer mines are mentioned, the impacts of these proposed mines are not evaluated.

There is still a need for a real environmental impact study -- one that covers the entire region. It exists for obvious reasons: we cannot allow those who seek the permit to provide us the science on which we'll base our policy, the future of our drinking water supplies, and the health of Charlotte Harbor.

The editorial said: Our energy is more productively used to ensure that phosphate companies employ the best possible mining practices that limit impacts. In the end, that's really what the EIS movement is about.

The fact: No it's not. The AEIS is about creating the base level understanding that allows us to hold Mosaic accountable. Challenging the permits is how we've won most of our improvements to protect the environment, provide greater financial controls and make Mosaic more responsible.

There are good reasons why an area-wide environmental impact statement has always been a critical part of Charlotte County's plan for protecting our community. If we fail to include it as a part of a global settlement we lose our best chance for success. Time is on our side in this issue. We should avoid a rush to judgment. Charlotte County citizens deserve a fully researched and effective comprehensive plan for protecting their interests. They deserve an AEIS and it is our job to go get it for them.

Adam Cummings is a Charlotte County commissioner.

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