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Conference details mining's threat to state

Published By: bradenton.com

By ROSALIE SHAFFER Special to the Herald

PUNTA GORDA -- Joe Murphy, head of the Gulf Restoration Network, called mining in Florida "a direct threat" to Florida's $8.1 billion recreational fishing industry. Hydroecologist Sydney Bacchus said that mining makes permanent changes to the land - changes that can affect native vegetation and water resources.

One after another, about a dozen technical experts and citizen activists described damage caused by mining to the state's ecology and economy, and the failure of environmental regulators to require better protection for natural resources. Solutions ranged from tightening the standards for mining to outlawing it altogether in Florida.

The First International Conference on Mining Impacts to the Human and Natural Environments was held Saturday and sponsored by the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program, University of Georgia, and the Responsible Growth Management Coalition. The topics were phosphate, sand, and limerock-aggregate mining.

Mosaic mining company representative David Townsend, interviewed on Sunday, said, "I think the fact that the conference was organized by, and populated with, speakers who consistently espouse an anti-mining viewpoint speaks for itself. Notably absent were scientists or experts who would have challenged many of the assertions being made and provided a more balanced presentation of the facts."

A prime topic at the workshop was water - and how mining impacts both its quantity and quality. Glenn Compton, director of the Manasota-88 environmental organization, warned that over the next 30 years, impacts from an additional 130,000 mined acres in their watersheds may endanger the Peace River, Myakka River and Charlotte Harbor.

Compton disputes miners' contention that their activity is a "temporary use" of land.

"Creating lakes where none existed before is a long-term impact," he said.

Compton said an area environmental study of mining that will tie together all the impacts is needed.

"Until we get a picture of that, we will never have a true picture of what is happening in the state of Florida," he said.

Retired professor and aquatic ecology consultant William Dunson faulted the Southwest Florida Water Management District for not establishing minimal flows for the Charlotte Harbor estuary itself, instead of just for its tributaries.

"They're not considering impacts on Charlotte Harbor at all," he said.

Murphy agreed. "When you reduce flow, you affect the health and function of the estuaries," he said.

He gave as an example of species such as shrimp, which need the fresh-salt mixture to complete their life cycle. Dunson also took issue with the Horse Creek water quality monitoring program. That program, designed as part of a settlement agreement between the counties and Mosaic mining company, sets standards so low that it's a "colossal joke," he said.

Bacchus noted that because of all the mining that's already been done around it, "Horse Creek is in crisis right now."

Townsend said that regardless of Dunson's criticism of the Horse Creek Stewardship Plan, "The fact is that this joint program with the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority is providing ongoing monitoring and valuable data that otherwise would not be available."

Bacchus blames mining for lowering subsurface water tables, which is impacting wetlands that occur in low-lying areas. Irrigation wells do not help, she said. On one site, "they just pumped up more groundwater, put it into the wetland, and all the trees died," she said.

Townsend says that most of the problems are related to pre-regulatory mining, not to current mining. The company must now adhere to strict standards, has cut its water usage in half and recycles nearly all it uses. Conference: Mining threat to state's ecology, economy

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