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Mining vs. Everglades, Everglades should win

April 24, 2008; Palm Beach Post; Mining vs. Everglades, Everglades should win; editorial.

The Everglades may be a national treasure, but those charged with restoring it don't seem too worried about a proposal to convert part of the "River of Grass" into a mining region. Palm Beach County commissioners can demonstrate today whether Everglades restoration is a higher priority than rock-mining.

One reason we are at this point is a failure by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the South Florida Water Management District. Those agencies, charged with the $10.9 billion Everglades restoration plan, still can't say how much additional land - if any - in Palm Beach County's sugar cane fields will be needed to store and cleanse water. The corps and the district admit, however, that alternative storage options - such as underground reservoirs - that they relied on for their calculations are not meeting expectations. Credible scientists working for environmental groups say that, as a result, restoration will work only by using more cane land for water storage, as long as mines aren't in the way.

If commissioners grant three mining permits today, they will do more than permanently remove 11,000 acres from land available for restoration. They will make it likely that more mines will dot the region.

Commissioner Karen Marcus has tried for two years to get state and federal planners to assess land needs in the Everglades, to no avail. Testimony at a mining "summit" she called last month demonstrated the need for more study. But she may no longer have the votes to stop the miners.

The likely swing vote belongs to Commissioner Jeff Koons, who claims to support Everglades restoration but also oversees road-building plans. Rock from the mines is used to build roads. Commissioner Koons doubts that mining will cause harm, and doubts that state and federal agencies can afford to buy the land, if it is needed. He believes that the three landowners have met the county's criteria, which is an argument for tougher criteria. Ultimately, he says, the rock is where it is. Everglades restoration will have to find its way around the mines.

That final point will depend on what the commission does. The largest mine, proposed for 7,350 acres owned by U.S. Sugar just south of Lake Okeechobee, would pull road-building materials out of the ground for 74 years. Once that is allowed, Everglades restoration would be secondary to mining.

It doesn't have to get that far. Commissioner Marcus said she has a commitment from Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Sole and the governor's office to get answers this summer from the corps and the water district, which reports to the DEP. Failing to give that option a chance would be failing the state and Florida's national treasure.

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Find this article at: PBP website

related articles:
Miami Herald story about ban on rock mining reversed in Dade (5/10/08)
Miners get OK to dig in western Palm Beach County (4/24/08)
Richard Grasso letter to State House of Rep (3/24/08)

Sierra Club South Florida Regional Office 2700 SW 3rd Ave., Ste. 2F Miami, FL 33129 Phone: 305-860-9888

Critics worry about restoring 'Glades 5/22/08Andy ReidSS

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