Palm Beach Post

Water district balks on rock issues


Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Friday, December 14, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH Pressure to develop in the Everglades Agricultural Area has shifted from building rooftops to blasting rock for roads.

And as Palm Beach County has struggled to grasp the effects mining will have as companies submit applications to dig for rock, it has often sought guidance from the South Florida Water Management District.

But the district doesn't have the scientific expertise to determine whether some, or all, mining could have an impact on water quality, Executive Director Carol Ann Wehle said Wednesday in a meeting with the water district board and county commissioners.

That falls primarily to the state Department of Environmental Protection, which reviews mining permits. The district, Wehle said, provides comments if a proposed mining project affects Everglades restoration projects or is too close to existing water conservation and stormwater treatment areas, as well as the Herbert Hoover Dike.

"Whether they are deal-killers needs to be determined by a case-by-case geological basis," Wehle said. "We don't have the internal expertise to make those site-by-site determinations."

The county and some environmental groups have pushed for a more regional study of mining's effects in the Everglades Agricultural Area.

But, Wehle said, "what we have found in dealing with the EAA is that the geology is very diverse." Some pits may be able to hold water for storage - a component of Everglades restoration projects - while some may experience seepage.

County Commissioner Karen Marcus, who led a push last month to host a mining summit to be scheduled in February, said she wants to make sure everything is evaluated as mining applications move forward.

"We don't want to make a problem for" Everglades restoration, she said. "There hasn't been a regional hydrology discussion."

Malcolm "Bubba" Wade, a district board member and vice president for U.S. Sugar, said reviews already are in place to determine mining's effects.

Any delay or further study, he said, "is overkill."

U.S. Sugar received approval last year for a 3,900-acre mining operation, conducted by Fort Pierce-based Stewart Mining, with another application submitted to the county that covers about 7,000 acres.

A state aggregates task force is expected to submit a report Feb. 1 to evaluate mining practices in Florida. The state Department of Transportation, which says it needs rock for road construction, produced a previous report that led to the task force's creation.

That troubles Cynthia Plockelman, vice president of the Audubon Society of the Everglades.

"The Florida Department of Transportation is becoming the default planner in the state, and this is something we need to be worried about," she said.