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Friday, December 8, 2023 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Groups Challenge Strip-Mining of Wetlands

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (CS) - The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers trampled environmental law by allowing the strip-mining of 7,687 acres of wetlands and streams, a process that leads to the "utter destruction of the local natural environment," three environmental groups claim in Federal Court.

"Worse yet, the Corps downplayed the cumulative effects of this strip mine and tens of thousands of acres of similar mines on the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor estuary, an 'aquatic resource of natural interest' and drinking water source for 250,000 Floridians," the lawsuit states.

The Sierra Club and two other organizations sued the Corps and Col. Alfred Pantano Jr. over a "dredge-and-fill" permit issued in June.

The permit allows Mosaic Fertilizers to strip-mine 7,687 acres of wetlands, streams and uplands for phosphate ore in Hardee County, Fla., about 50 miles southeast of Tampa.

The Corps allegedly declined to hold a public hearing. It also failed to require an environmental impact statement, finding that "this permit action will not have a significant impact on the quality of the human environment," the lawsuit states

But the environmentalists say open pit phosphate strip-mining "has a devastating impact on the local environment."

"Huge electrically powered draglines strip away all overlying vegetation, water bodies, topsoil, and overburden (the sandy soils that overlay the phosphate deposit) down to the phosphate containing layer," the lawsuit states.

"The result is the utter destruction of the local natural environment from ground surface down to a depth of approximately 80 feet."

They say strip mining would harm the area's ecology and could lead to the extinction of endangered species such as the smalltooth sawfish or the eastern indigo snake.

The groups allege violations of the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

Represented by Pat Gallagher of the Sierra Club, the plaintiffs demand an order barring strip-mining and voiding the Mosaic Fertilizers permit.

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