The final Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) addressing phosphate mining in the Central Florida Phosphate District (CFPD) has been completed and released and a Notice of Availability is scheduled for publication in the Federal Register May 3. The milestone caps a years-long effort that kicked off with a public workshop in October 2010, at which agency and special interest group representatives and members of the public gave preliminary input prior to the start of the official scoping process.
The need for an AEIS was identified after the Corps received applications for Department of the Army permits for three proposed projects from Mosaic Fertilizer LLC (Desoto, Ona and Wingate East) and one proposed project (South Pasture Extension) from CF Industries. When viewed collectively, these separate proposed phosphate mining projects had similarities that provided a basis for evaluating their direct, indirect and cumulative environmental impacts in a single AEIS. In compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the AEIS will support decision making on the existing permit applications as well as future phosphate mines considered to be potentially feasible in the CFPD, an approximate 1.2 million acre area located in Hardee, Hillsborough, Manatee, Polk and Desoto Counties.
The permits are required under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, under which the Corps regulates dredge and fill activities in waters of the United States, including certain wetlands. The Corps will analyze each of the four permit applications, as well as any future mining projects proposed in the CFPD, in separate project-specific records of decision.
A draft AEIS was released in June 2012. During a 60-day public review and comment period, the Corps received and considered more than 4,000 comments. Primary issues identified in the comments related to NEPA compliance, surface water and water resources, and ecological resources.
“The input received during the comment period resulted in changes or factual corrections to the final AEIS, modifications to the analyses or alternatives, and reconsideration of alternatives,” said John Fellows, project manager.
“We are confident we have a firm foundation for future decision-making on permit actions related to phosphate mining in the CFPD,” said Tunis McElwain, chief of the Fort Myers Regulatory Office. “That can be attributed in part to the contributions of not only stakeholders, but members of the public who care about this issue and took the time to participate in the process.”
The cumulative effects analysis focused on five resources categories that the Corps determined as having significant potential cumulative effects – surface water resources, groundwater resources, surface water quality, ecological resources (such as wetlands, streams and upland habitat) and economic resources. Without mitigation, the Corps determined that significant impacts associated with phosphate mining would occur to all of these resources except economic resources. With mitigation, however, it is expected that the impacts to these resources would be greatly reduced and would not be significant.
For more information, please visit Jacksonville District’s website at www.saj.usace.army.mil. Click on Missions, then Regulatory, then Items of Interest.