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Critics worry about restoring 'Glades

May 22, 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Critics worry about restoring 'Glades, by Andy Reid.

South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com

Palm Beach County Commission lets rock mine expand in Everglades area

Rock mining claimed another piece of what used to be the Everglades on Thursday, with Palm Beach County commissioners approving more digging on western farmland.

Despite environmental concerns, the latest mining proposal would allow the Bergeron mine to expand to 553 acres on the west side of U.S. 27 about 7 miles south of County Road 827.

In April, the county approved plans for two new rock mines that would allow decades of digging on 11,000 acres of mostly sugar cane land.

"This commission has already opened the door," Commissioner Jess Santamaria said. "What would be the logic in saying no to them now?"

Commissioners kept live a long-delayed proposal to study mining's environmental effects, though they haven't agreed to pay for it.

Commissioner Karen Marcus proposed reviving a moratorium on mining until addressing environmental concerns. But she still joined Commissioners Santamaria, Jeff Koons and Bob Kanjian in unanimously approving the Bergeron expansion. Commissioners Mary McCarty, Addie Greene and Burt Aaronson were absent.

Santamaria and Marcus in April cast the only votes against the larger mines.

"This one is a small one, it's an existing one," Marcus said.

Miners looking for more land and growers eager to diversify operations led to an increase in mining proposals in the Everglades Agricultural Area, 700,000 acres of wetlands drained for farming south of Lake Okeechobee.

The mines produce rock for road building and other construction. After the digging stops, project planners say, the pits will become reservoirs that will provide irrigation alternatives for surrounding agriculture.

However, decades of digging and blasting raises concerns that the pits could allow contaminants to seep into water supplies. Environmentalists also warn that mining ties up land that could be needed for water storage and treatment areas envisioned for Everglades restoration.

Environmentalists say mines could get in the way of efforts to restore the slow flow of water from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.

"You are basically making it difficult to protect and restore the Everglades," Sierra Club representative Drew Martin told commissioners.

Mining supporters say it is a tightly regulated industry, requiring state environmental permits and years of monitoring. They say the mines produce jobs and eventually could become water storage areas that fit Everglades restoration plans.

The Bergeron mine has been yielding rock for almost 19 years on 390 acres.

The mining would expand to fields now used to grow sod. The digging could last 20 years, depending on the demand for construction materials, said Lonnie Bergeron, whose family operates the mine. Like the mines approved in April, the Bergeron plans call for mining a maximum of 100 acres a year. That piecemeal approach allows the mines to avoid triggering tougher development requirements.

After the vote, Marcus proposed another mining moratorium to allow time to study environmental concerns, but no action was taken on her proposal.

She made a similar proposal in 2006 after the commission approved plans for Stewart Mining Industries to move to 4,000 acres of sugar cane east of U.S. 98 and about 3 miles north of U.S. 441. Marcus' 2006 proposal led to a temporary ban that miners successfully challenged, allowing this year's mining projects to move forward.

Andy Reid can be reached at abreid@sun-sentinel.com or 561-228-5504.

Copyright © 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

sun-sentinel.com/news/local/palmbeach/sfl-flpmine0523pnmay23,0,7585210.story

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