The Army Corps of Engineers recently released an Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) for the Central Florida Phosphate District. As happens with so many mining related topics, the report almost immediately came under attack from environmental groups and from the media at large.
I found an article online from a local newspaper Bradenton Herald that cast a negative light on the whole situation right from the start. To be fair, the actual article was very fair to both sides and gave an accurate balance between preserving the function of the land and producing jobs and resources for the economy. The title of the article, however, was not so unbiased. I think the title: Phosphate mining damages environment, but also drives economy, study finds, is aiming more at shock value than technical accuracy.
This study looked at the impact of mining on wetlands in central Florida. I wish the term ‘wetland’ was more consistent across the country. The ‘wetlands’ that I am familiar with aren’t anything like the ‘wetlands’ in central Florida. When we talk about ‘wetlands’ in Utah and Nevada we mean anything that has enough water to grow something more interesting than desert sage or that can feed a medium sized rabbit on less than five acres. In central Florida I’m pretty sure that ‘wetland’ is just code for ‘swamp.’
Whether the Corps of Engineers meant to say ‘wetlands’ or ‘swamp’ the study found that about 9,800 acres of wetland and 50 miles of streams would be disturbed during proposed mining. These same mining operations would lead to 6,000 jobs and about $29 billion in value for the region’s economy. In a country still feeling the effects of a recession and where good jobs are hard to find that sounds like a lot of help coming at the right time.
I’m not saying that we should sell all our land for money but I do think that $29 billion will pay for a lot of reclamation, and reclamation in a Florida swamp should be a piece of cake. I remember working on a drilling project for a summer job during college. We spent three weeks working on a 2,000 foot core hole in central Utah (we weren't the fastest drillers). By the time the project was finished the mountain grass had grown up to the point where I couldn't see the yellow water line we laid from the stream to our drill rig. We ended up taking the line out from both ends because nobody could find the line in the middle of all that grass. If three weeks of growth on the desert mountains in central Utah will do that just think what the swamp in central Florida can do.
The AEIS came under attack from environmental groups claiming that the scope was too narrow and that it hadn’t appropriately evaluated the impacts on human health and threats to water and air pollution. I haven’t read the report personally but I do know that social and environmental impacts like these are the focus of an Environmental Impact Statement. A general Environmental Impact Statement will take about two years and $2 million to complete. I realize that nothing can be completely comprehensive of everything in the world but a good EIS tries really hard to do just that for the area of study.
Residents of central Florida should be happy to invite phosphate mines into their counties. The increased jobs and revenue will improve the standard of living for everyone. Be proud to participate in the work that made this country great. When mining in the area is complete the mining companies will do a fantastic job of reclaiming the disturbed land. Why? Because they want to continue mining in new areas and need a proven track record of success to do it.