Author's Note: This article appeared in Weekly Planet/Creative Loafing.
It was also used at the Florida Phosphate Research Institute as a teaching aid.
THE BATTLE OVER HORSE CREEK
Horse Creek is a little-known, small, and wonderful stream, with
headwaters located in the so-called "four corners," the place where
Hillsborough, Hardee, Manatee and Polk counties meet.
The creek meanders almost 40 miles through several counties to meet the
Peace River. Most of its length, the creek is shaded by tall, twisted
oaks draped with resurrection fern and Spanish moss. Except for a short,
ditched portion, Horse Creek twists and turns in a natural scenic path.
While at places it is unexpectedly wide, upstream in normal waters you
could wade across it, and near the Peace a child could toss a stone to
the other side. Its waters are usually clear and shallow, and swimming
fishes are easily seen contrasted with the sandy bottom.
It is quiet along Horse Creek, except for the buzz of the insects, the
call of the birds, and the wind going through the oaks. Largely rural,
the land along its banks is like most of Florida was fifty years ago,
before humans swamped the Sunshine State. Large lines of bobwhite quail
pass through pastures and back yards and call out loudly at night. Deer
wander down to the creek to drink, where otters play, and wading birds
fish. At night, the stars are revealed above the creek without sky glow,
the incoming burn of a meteorite is easily spotted, and there are no
emergency sirens raging as ambulances and police swarm about the city -
there is just the quietude of a bubbling stream.
While most Floridians have never heard of Horse Creek, it is the center
of a raging human controversy which will determine the future of
phosphate mining in Florida. Permitting of three phosphate mines in
Manatee and Hardee counties has been inching its way through the
permitting process, in one case for almost five years.
People who care about Horse Creek are worried about the possible
effects on phosphate mining around it. Potential spills from clay
settling areas, created in the process of separating phosphate from the
earth, could wash down it. Mining could create potential changes in
hydrology. Farther downstream, Charlotte County is worried about the
impact on its rich estuary, Charlotte Harbor.
There is much going on you can't see, whispered about and defined by
the word arbitration. There are legal hearings in progress. Not privy to
the arbitration, one can only hope for the best.
Both sides have been spinning their own story. If one side said white,
the other said not so dark. Both true statements.
Currently, 107,000 acres in Hardee County are owned, leased, or
optioned by the phosphate industry for mining. This is about one-quarter
of the county. Additional acres lie in DeSoto County.
With those combined acres, the phosphate industry has a long profitable
future in Florida. Without them, time is running out on Florida land
economical to mine. Some company clocks are ticking quicker.
Hardee County's newly created mining department thinks more land is at
stake. They project as much as 160,000+ acres might eventually be mined,
a third of their county.
The industry says too big a number. Some land is regulated wetlands.
Other areas set-asides for wildlife corridors.
Opponents want the number high. The industry wants the number low.
Both are telling the truth, based on certain assumptions. What
assumptions will turn out to be true? Only time and permitting will
tell. Or maybe, arbitration and legal hearings will tell.
Whoever you listen to, it's a lot of land.
Before a writer weaves words affecting an industry which directly
employs more than 7,000 Floridians and effects the health of our
environment, readers have a right to know something about him. Thus I
vet myself as someone who owns mining stocks, and who as a published
writer and photographer has helped to destroy trees, while
inadvertently encouraging the use of messy chemicals, both in producing
film and paper.
For 17 years I was in business, selling people things they didn't need
at a price they couldn't afford. I did that first for one friend who
owned the business, then another. When my father died in 1995, I drove
to California, and became a tree hugger - somewhere there is a photo of
me with my arms around a redwood, planting a firm kiss. Before the
business, I was in the Army a short spell, including a tour in Vietnam,
which turned me from a Goldwater conservative to a McGovern liberal,
putting me on the receiving end of two of the largest and most
diametrically opposed Presidential landslides in history.
Since 1995, I have been on a probationary period of on-the-job training
with Florida. I have hiked its trails, biked its paths, paddled its
rivers and coasts, slept on it, and written three books about La
Florida. I have edited other books on Florida's spiders, insects, and
fishes, and am guilty of a number of articles glutting Florida
magazines. I like my work, it is what I was always meant to do, and I
hope it is of value to others. The most important thing to me is not to
say anything which is incorrect. When my father died, I decided it was
time to do what I wanted, to make up for a large waste of my time in the
short space of life left.
Elsewhere I have written that the greatest gift my parents gave me was
a life in Florida. I grew up in Pinellas County, where my father was a
builder of homes. How could anyone not love a state with such beautiful
beaches and so much natural splendor? As a child I was mesmerized by
Florida. I have lived in Europe and Asia. I have pretty much been around
the world. Florida is my part of it.
In this sense then, I have always been concerned and interested in the
phosphate industry, because loving Florida I have been aware of the
industry's accidents, including one in 1997 on the Alafia River, the
aftermath of which struck very close to home. Having a degree in
sociology (not mining, ecology, or biology), the first thing I wanted to
do was meet some people who lived along the stream to find out how they
might feel. To me, understanding the issue of mining around Horse Creek
involves the feelings of humans who live there.
People Along the Creek
Blue-eyed, gray-haired, and becoming slightly forgetful, Bob Kelly
lives in his solar-powered house on stilts besides Horse Creek. In times
of heavy rainfall, he sometimes paddles to his home in a canoe.
This former South Florida salesman once led Sierra Club paddling trips
about Florida and into the Okefenokee Swamp. He remembers fondly
paddling his wife out to camp on Fakahatchee Island.
Once a scout master, Bob sends kids off to school mornings and greets
them at the bus stop afternoons. He is everything a good neighbor should
While visiting on Bob's porch, an otter caught a fish below us in the
"Sometimes," Bob said, "the otters go up onto that sand bank across
from us and fight. You wouldn't believe it."
I asked Bob about phosphate mining near Horse Creek. "I don't want it,"
Bob said. "Everything will change, and it will never be the same."
Each day when nearby Solomon's Castle is open, Bob eats lunch in the
"Boat-in-the-Moat," a full-sized replica of a pirate ship where visitors
are served by Alane, daughter of Howard, the creator of Solomon's
Castle, a man whose art, often made of junk, is full of wit, wisdom, and
Alane's son Cole says wildlife is plentiful around the river. His
friends had fawns which slept in-house on pillows. Cole has raised
raccoon and possum, and recently came into possession of three piglets.
He has captured and released over 20 different kinds of snakes.
Once Alane's daughter came to her saying duct tape was needed. "What
for?" Alane asked. "To tie an alligator's jaws shut." "What alligator?"
she asked. The one under Cole.
People along the creek have concerns about the effect of mining on
Restoration of mined lands has been required by law since 1975. When
the land is restored, the industry says wildlife comes back.
Not exactly so, one scientist at Archbold Biological Station told me,
since the hard-to-see, little organisms often do not come back - small
plants, insects, arachnids - and then not for a long time. Perhaps not
as much wildlife returns as was once there. There is difference of
opinion about how gopher tortoises fare.
"The land along Horse Creek is mostly ditched pasture land," one
industry spokesman said. The habitat to be created by restoration, in
his opinion, would be more valuable.
What is more valuable is a human judgment, of course.
Some people along the creek are currently engaged in cattle ranching.
Alvin English's family came to the area in the early 1900s. His family
ranched and owned a spread. Now Alvin works cattle at a nearby
University of Florida agricultural research station.
When Alvin drives his truck out his several acre spread and turns left,
he looks on the north side of the road where the Farmland Tract begins.
No permit has been filed to mine this tract - yet.
According to Alvin, it is also where the walls of a clay settling area
were planned under the previous mining company. If so, Alvin might look
east one day and see the walls, rising as high perhaps as 80 feet, from
The English's well is less than 20 feet deep. The matrix nearby may be
70 feet deep. "There are a lot of little streams out there," Alvin says.
"You can't tell me you can dig around here and not change things."
A hunter and a fisherman, Alvin feels separated already from the Horse
Creek he tramped from childhood and knows like the back of his hand.
Alvin's truck bears a bumper sticker reading, "Vietnam Veteran and
Proud of It." In his barn, Alvin showed me turkey beards, the trophy
from shooting wild turkey, and the skull of a six point buck.
"You people in Tampa," Alvin said, standing up, facing toward
metropolis, and putting his hand over his eyes like a scout staring at a
distant horizon, "are looking west."
Now I assumed he was referring to
the plan to dump water from a gypsum stack in the Gulf. He was referring
to concerns about oil drilling. "You need to look east," he said,
changing direction and referring to Horse Creek.
It also bothers Alvin that these changes around him might be done to
send fertilizer to China.
Other folks along the creek picked the location for a different kind of
alternative lifestyle. Dennis and Julia Mader practice holistic healing
on a 25-acre plot where visitors can listen to quiet trickle of Horse
Therapy includes meditation by the stream. Other parts of un-kinking
from modern-day pressures include body oils and vegetarian diet.
Dennis, who grew up in Lakeland, remembers swimming in reclaimed
phosphate lakes. Dennis started Hardee County Citizens Against Pollution
opposing mining. He sees resulting radiation and pollution as a health
The industry says studies do not support those conclusions.
Dennis and I are the same age, born in the same year. Dennis looks
about 20 years younger than me. He obviously knows something about
health and taking care of yourself I don't. There are a great number of
studies claiming health risks and other studies minimizing or denying
risks from phosphate mining.
"Have you heard Bill Byle speak yet?" Dennis Mader asked me.
More than 30 organizations are opposed to mining along Horse Creek, all
with their own spokesperson. Not one, however seems to have drawn the
heat like Bill Byle. He was hired by Charlotte County to address their
down-stream concerns for Charlotte Harbor through team permitting.
At a Bradenton League of Women Voters meeting, Bill spoke. A fourth
generation Cracker, his grandmother was born in 1890 in Bartow, heart of
the phosphate industry, his grandfather a Fort Myers doctor. Bill joked
there were broken-down pick-up trucks in his front yard.
Bill was a school teacher first, then owned an environmental consulting
company before going to work for the county.
Gray Gordon, a 32-year veteran of the phosphate industry, thinks Bill
is "using scare tactics" and "about 10% of what he says is true."
Gray and others from Cargill Industries were on hand when Bill spoke in
Bradenton. They claimed they asked to speak and were not allowed. They
said the meeting was rigged so they could not ask questions.
Maybe, maybe not, I don't know and couldn't tell.
It is Bill's recollection that at the end of his talk he asked if there
were additional questions, and that Cargill folks didn't ask any.
That the three of us - Gray, Bill, and I - saw this differently
demonstrates how emotions running high on both sides can complicate the
understanding of the other. Even in the case of a small public meeting's
conduct, there was dispute and distrust.
Bill spoke of Charlotte County's concerns for its rich estuary,
Charlotte Harbor. He ticked off reasons, such as changes in hydrology,
and passed around a solidified hunk of clay from a settling pit to
illustrate the difficulty water would have passing through it.
Among the documents Bill offered everyone in attendance was a US
Geological Survey concluding that phosphate mining had reduced water
from the Peace River reaching Charlotte Harbor. In part, the report said
sinkholes opened in the river because of mining and springs stopped
Another study conducted by Ardaman and Ardaman, a well-respected
geo-tech firm, was mentioned by Gray Gordon. This study says water
levels declined, but blames that largely on rainfall. It points out that
agriculture and drinking water take more water from the Peace than
mining. Opponents would say mining diminishes water reaching the river
by altering the surface and ground flow, which neither ag business or
drinking water does.
The industry says the USGS study is flawed because it deals only with
clay settling areas (CSAs). Opponents say Ardaman's study is flawed
because it depends on an abstract model which may have nothing to do
Here is a lesson learned. The difficulty factor for knowing what is
true and false becomes exponentially increased as more and more studies
are given out. In phosphate-physics, for every study, there appears to
be an equal and opposite study.
Assuming less fresh water reaches Charlotte Harbor, it could change the
nature of one of Florida's most productive estuaries.
A final question for Bill at the meeting was: could he say anything
positive about phosphate mining? He struggled and could not.
Gray Gordon said, "He could have said everything we ate at the luncheon
before the meeting was grown because of mining."
For Hardee County, the issue might be how much of its sub-surface it
would care to have turned into clay from clay settling areas?
Once turned into clay, what can the land be used for? The industry has
provided many examples of what can be grown on top of the clay. Skeptics
think many of the uses cost too much to be practical.
How much of the county would go into clay?
To complicate the math, one of the mining companies intends to truck
clay into nearby Polk County to settle in existing pits. Others don't
intend to mine all the acres held.
I have heard figures from 27,000 to 80,000 acres. You can probably
guess which figures came from industry and which from opponents.
Hardee County planners think it will be 40,000+ acres of clay if
107,000 acres are mined. More if additional land becomes mined.
Anyway, a whole bunch of clay.
Clay spills fouled the Peace and Alafia rivers for years. At normal
water levels, Horse Creek does not have the width or depth of those
rivers. Sometimes Horse Creek is a trickle.
Standing on a clay settling area's broad walls, on which trucks drive,
it is difficult to imagine a breach. But in the past, CSAs have burst.
Before WWII, the clay was even dumped into the rivers. Everything was.
Later and until regulation of the industry in 1975, there were a lot of
CSA spills. Since regulation, breaches reduced drastically.
Every time 1,000 gallons of water or more is accidentally released, a
Spill Incident Report is generated. It is likely that wading through
weekly summaries at Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP)
would provide information about "mini-spills," if they occur.
Gray Gordon indicated that Hardee County could require extra dams and
locating of CSAs away from the creek.
For Sarasota and Manatee counties, the issue is drinking water, which
comes directly out of Horse Creek, according to Bill Byle. Opponents
worry about reagents and radioactivity. Industry spokesman state their
water complies with applicable freshwater standards.
Hillsborough, Manatee, and Pinellas counties have different issues.
There are phosphogypsum stacks along Tampa Bay or its rivers. Two small
proposed mining tracts are actually in Manatee.
At least two phosphogypsum stacks are active along Tampa Bay, and
there have been past spills into the Alafia which flows into it.
There are no plans to build additional fertilizer processing plants
along Horse Creek, thus Horse Creek is not threatened by a gyp stack
spill. Tampa Bay is.
Phosphogypsum is a by-product of making fertilizer. It has no present
use. The Environmental Protection Agency banned it from road building in
the 1990s. Industry folks think this was a little picky of EPA. The
reasoning was if roads were later taken up and the gyp base used for
housing there might be radon gas in such homes.
While a stack is active, there is a lake of phosphoric acid water on
top, approaching a billion gallons. A phosphogypsum stack at Piney Point
threatens to spill into Tampa Bay. Plans have been approved to dump 500
million gallons of it into the Gulf, out of fear the stack might
collapse with heavy rains and decimate Tampa Bay. This water is from a
left-over stack from Mulberry Phosphates.
The specter of Mulberry Phosphate looms over the industry.
In 1997, a phosphoric acid plume from a Mulberry Phosphate stack poured
into the Alafia River and wiped out small life for miles. Dead fish and
birds littered the river. Smaller things which lived in the bottom or
banks died without notice (except to them).
It was a terrible thing to see.
After promising to fix the devastation from this spill, Mulberry
Phosphate went out of business.
Mulberry Phosphate's stacks are being shut down. The severance tax on
phosphate is being used to pay for it.
The four remaining companies making fertilizer, now spun as plant food,
say it is unfair to taint them with the Mulberry Phosphate brush.
And it isn't.
They are led by people like Gray Gordon, who qualifies as class-A
socially responsible in my book. Their employees are as hard working and
conscientious as any others. Among generous acts, Cargill leases islands
in Tampa Bay to Audubon and Lithia Springs to the county for one dollar
However, no one can guarantee there will not be additional accidents.
The industry doesn't want them, of course. They cost money and cause bad
publicity for an industry that gets a lot of bad publicity anyway.
If industry leaders were Samantha the Witch they would blink their
collective eyes, twitch their noses, and make accidents and Mulberry
Phosphates go away. They would make gyp stacks go away too, probably.
There is no guarantee accidents will not happen again.
Businesses go in and out existence, life spans determined by their
nature, ownership, management, and economic winds.
Not matter how unlikely, another spill from a company going out of
business and unable to foot the bill can't be entirely ruled out.
The industry says one answer is more wads of insurance. Some opponents
say the answer is to stop mining. Others offer compromises with more
regulation and monitoring.
At present, it is hard to imagine the companies involved going out of
Cargill is a very large company. It has 75,000 employees, about 5,000
in Florida, not all in mining. Its sales and assets number billions of
dollars. Cargill got into the Florida phosphate business by buying
Gardinier and Seminole Phosphate.
Hardee County has less than 30,000 residents and a much smaller budget.
Cargill's headquarters is in Minnesota. Hardee County's is in Wauchula.
There are even a lot of Floridians who don't know where Wauchula is
Gray Gordon provided a tour of Cargill's mine at Hookers Prairie, where
we went out on an active dragline. Gray took me on both an active and
inactive gypsum stack at the Alafia River and US-41. He answered all
questions asked, as have representatives of the other mining companies.
IMC Phosphates and CF Industries took me on tours of clay settling
In my opinion, they have not lied, nor has Bill Byle, but everyone has
told the truth, which is their side of the story, which differs.
To the industry, phosphate is needed to feed Americans and the world.
They feel they do all they can to prevent accidents and reduce health
risks, which they feel are currently over-stated. If there are
accidents, they are an unfortunate side-effect of producing food.
Opponents are skeptical. They're certainly in favor of feeding people
who need food, but not so convinced the potential consequences for
Florida are worth it. Some people believe in alternative farming. This
is another vast issue, larger in scope than this article.
Once there were maybe 200 phosphate mining companies in Florida. Now
there are three.
Besides Cargill, there is IMC Phosphates, a publicly-traded company
which began in Tennessee, and CF Industries, owned by eight Midwestern
CF Industries is a much smaller company than Cargill or IMC with less
than 1,000 employees in Florida. Its rock and fertilizer stays in the
IMC is a billion dollar operation and the largest phosphate mining
company in the world. IMC's assets and balance sheet are not as big as
Cargill's, a more diversified company, but most of us would swap bank
According to stock analyst's reports, 54% of what IMC mines is
exported. Cargill exports too.
Another company in the industry, US Agrichem, does not mine. It buys
rock from IMC and makes fertilizer. Despite its name, it is Chinese
owned, the parent company called Sinochem. It has a contract to buy rock
until 2024 from IMC.
Unlike the mining companies, there have been no responses to my
requests to US Agrichem to talk to their spokespeople.
It is not clear if rock sold to US Agrichem is in the exported 54% of
sales in the stock analyst's report on IMC. I have asked the Standard &
Poor's analyst this question through a stockbroker, but the analyst did
Opponents emphasize that it is Communist China the declining US rock
supply is going to. The industry makes a point of using the full name,
the People's Republic of China.
Industry sources say they are in business to make a profit. We are not
at war with China. There is no embargo. People there need to eat too.
So does phosphate feed the world?
No, but it does feed a lot of it indirectly.
When I go to the store, I buy that expensive stuff labeled organic. It
is not made with fertilizer. Usually a first crop is burned and plowed
under to nourish the food crop. Like early Native Americans, organic
farmers are burning off the land to grow crops. That means growing two
crops to produce one. That's why it's more expensive.
Most sources say that phosphate doubles the crop yield, although others
feel the ag industry is addicted to phosphate and over-fertilizes.
Immense Works of Man
In order to get at the phosphate nodules, which were deposited when
Florida was underwater eons ago, it is necessary to scrape off the layer
of earth above them. In industry jargon, this layer is called the
"overburden," land we walk and live on, and later are buried in. Florida
overburden can vary from 20 to 70 feet below our Nikes.
Beneath overburden, lies the "matrix" - not a world where Keneau Reeves
dodges bullets or runs up walls. The matrix is where the phosphate is
located - the Mother Lode.
In Central Florida, bones and sharks teeth are often found with matrix.
The bones are from long vanished mastodons, saber-tooth tigers, giant
armadillos, and weird-looking sloths. Because of these animal relics,
the area is called Bone Valley.
Towering draglines scrape away at the matrix using giant buckets. Two
of my Hondas would fit in a bucket.
The enormity of a dragline, when seen at a distance, is not diminished
up close and personal. There are several levels of housings where gears
turn, electricity surges, and machines run. Each level is as big as my
For someone who could not build stable structures with an erector set
as a kid, it is hard not to be impressed with such feats of engineering.
Operating the dragline was a man who deftly manipulated this enormous
machine with touches of his fingers. He had worked in Bone Valley since
1964, likely raised a family and sent kids to school, while Gray and I
were in the armed forces, college, business, and Bill was a teacher,
consultant, and county employee.
Behind the dragline, a powerful water-jet was operated by two working
guys in overalls. The matrix was being slurried to be piped off for
Phosphate is separated from the sand and clay in a large, specialized
building. Sand is used in reclamation. In some operations, sand goes
into the clay settling areas.
The clay is put out into settling areas until full to capacity or
operations cease. When the settling area is full or no longer needed,
the water is drawn off, the clay topped with sand and soil, and
In other areas of Hookers Prairie, enthusiastic, bright-eyed folks were
at work planting sawgrass. The woman in charge of these efforts had
worked at the Smithsonian, been a school teacher, and now felt rewarded
by bringing something living out of land which had been scraped clean,
mined, and turned upside down.
Mining of any type in intrusive. Strip mining requires cuts into the
earth. Phosphate is strip mined. Less intrusive mining techniques
apparently don't work in Florida.
About 1,000 acres of sawgrass marsh has been planted at Hookers Prairie
as part of land restoration. An improvement in the minds of Cargill's
workers from the tangled, shrub-dominated prairie proceeding it -
another value judgment.
Mined phosphate gets loaded onto trains to be sent to the fertilizer
plant, maybe the one by the Alafia River, besides Tampa Bay. The
phosphate separated from the matrix needs work to become plant food.
At the fertilizer plant, sulfuric acid is added to the phosphate and
fertilizer and phosphogypsum produced. There are different types of
fertilizers, and some phosphoric acid goes into animal feed. A small
amount becomes "other."
Phosphate is shipped out of Port Tampa (50-60% of its business), and
left-over gypsum stacked up in pyramid-like structures, so big a base
may be 400 acres.
When mankind is gone and an alien archeologist arrives, it will be as
puzzled by these pyramids as it will be by the giant rodent statue in
In human terms, gypsum stacks are long-lived.
Terra-forming....raised lands from clay settling areas and gyp stacks
dominate some vistas along roads like SR-37 and SR-39. From a
helicopter, they are the most prevalent feature of Central Florida.
How vast the works of man. How vast the scale of his accidents.
Since regulation in 1975, there have been at least nine accidents of
such magnitude they were reported in the popular press.
Is all this human activity and environmental threat worth it?
That depends on who you ask. This is a value judgment. Bill and Gray
have different value judgments supported by conflicting studies and
Unfortunately, the people who should make this value judgment, the
people of Florida, are doing so by default.
On the morning of April 15, having the entire night to ponder a
compromise between Charlotte County and IMC over a portion of a small
mining tract, I clicked on my icon for the story you are reading, and
started it heading across my desktop toward the trash bin. I was
becoming disheartened and depressed.
An arbitration process, whispered about and known only to a few, had
just resulted in a small compromise in a big battle.
Five hundred acres would be mined. Water would be monitored. If water
quality decreased, mining would be stopped. It was a victory, some said,
for Charlotte County. I could pick it apart, but I won't. Maybe it will
work. Give it a chance.
After all, the other counties which opposed mining around Horse Creek -
Lee, Manatee, and Sarasota - had dropped opposition to the small mine in
Manatee County. They said they could then concentrate on opposing mining
on a much larger tract in Hardee County.
Still I had the sinking feeling this was the first in a series of small
compromises, where decisions would be made for the voiceless in the name
of common sense, goodwill, and for citizens who weren't there.
What is the sense of a journalist making an exploration and writing an
article, if the decisions are not made by potential readers, but by
arbitrators and county officials of a far off county?
About halfway across the desktop, I lifted my finger and thought how I
would explain dropping the story to editor Jim Harper.
"Spills are bad, Jim, I am certain of that, but I am not smart enough
to sort out issues about radiation, restoration, and hydrology. Looks
worrisome to me, but I am not a physicist or geologist. But more than
that, I get the feeling some nice people might get disappointed before
this is all over. And I am starting to become emotionally involved in
the story because I think the people of the state are not being
consulted or proportionately represented."
Whether mining should occur is a value judgment. It should not be up to
me or you - or to the mining companies, a handful of administrators,
arbitrators, and a few county commissioners - but to all of Florida. In
my mind, those making such a value judgment should include the citizens
of Florida since it is their state, which in vast chunks is being
terra-formed, and their Gulf and rivers into which things are being
When a permit is given to Hardee County, they must do certain things
with it, and then they pass it on to a Central Florida Regional Planning
Council. From there it goes to DEP, Bureau of Mine Reclamation, the
water management district, Department of Transportation, Department of
Community Affairs, the Corps of Engineers, and sometimes other counties.
In the end, and sometimes years later, the county commission where
mining takes place votes yes or no.
The true question should be put to the people of Florida: do you or do
you not want phosphate mining to continue knowing the benefits and
risks, potential and real? But no one is really asking the people of
Current permitting includes more input than old permitting did. One
retired mining executive told me of the days when the only permit he
needed was one for the septic tank near the office.
Still, permitting is a far cry from a democratic process in which the
people of Florida have a voice.
The icon containing this story got pretty close to the trash bin. Then
I decided maybe the compromise in Charlotte County wasn't the beginning
of the end. Maybe it was reasonable, and a effective way of showing
cooperation leading to better settlements. I am hoping that's true. I am
hoping people will look into the issues themselves and reach their own
conclusions. I am also hoping for a more open, democratic process.
That's a lot of hope, but it is also the reason why the icon stayed out
of the trash bin.
But I am not holding my breath.
Major Phosphate Accidents since 1975
1980 Agrico: clay settling area spill dumps 12
million gallons into the Peace River.
1988 Gardinier: phosphoric acid spill at the
mouth of the Alafia River.
1989 Big Four Mine: release of waters from clay settling area in
1990 Gardinier: 250,000 gallons of waters from
clay settling area into the Peace River.
1993 Cargill: east Tampa Plant in Gibsonton spills acidic water
into Archie Creek.
1994 IMC-Agrico: phosphogypsum stack drops through a sinkhole.
1994 Cargill: 20 million gallons of water from a sand tailing
pit go into the Peace River.
1994 IMC-Agrico: a half-billion gallons of water from a clay
settling area flood Keysville area in Hillsborough County
and go into the Alafia.
1997 Mulberry Phosphates: 54 million gallons from a gyp stack dump
into the Alafia.
Bureau of Mine Reclamation www.myflorida.co,
Central Florida Regional
Planning Council www.cfrpc.org
Charlotte County www.thephosphaterisk.com
Florida Institute of Phosphate
Florida Phosphate Council www.flaphos.com
Florida Public Research
Information Group www.floridapirg.org
Hardee County Citizens Against
IMC Global www.imcglobal.com
Tampa Bay Watch www.tampabaywatch.org
Break out your calculators. A curie (named after Madam Marie Curie) is
equal to the amount of any radioactive material in which the rate of
disintegration per second is 3.7 x 10 to the 10th power per gram. Ouch!
Set your calculator for a lot of zeroes.
The surface of land within the mining region on the average has a
reading of 10 picocuries per gram, a picocurie = 1/billionth of a curie.
The matrix has radioactivity of 35 picocuries per gram on the average.
The concentration of the materials in the clays and gypsum after mining
may average 35-40 picocuries per gram. Sand has almost 0.
No one is real sure about the long term health risks from this
relatively small and pervasive elevation in radioactivity in phosphate
areas. There are dueling studies about radioactivity in fishes, birds,
and wildlife, and strongly-held opposing views. I bet you can decide
which side thinks there is no real risk and which one believes there is.