“The more I read it, the more I was disturbed,” Rebecca Parker said.
In the Bradford County Courthouse Thursday night, the Citizens Against Phosphate Mining co-founder recalled the moment she read about plans to mine phosphate in Union and Bradford counties.
The grass-roots organization proposed their concerns about how the mining would affect the local environment, public health and their quality life. Two days earlier, they spoke to the Union County commissioners.
By the beginning of Thursday’s meeting, over 1,500 people had signed a petition that Parker and Citizens Against Phosphate Mining co-founder, Eric Thomas, created to oppose phosphate mining. Parker said she believes the company, HHPS Enterprises LLC, is considering building the mine directly on New River.
Santa Fe River historian Jim Tatum said he is concerned about potential health risks posed by elements associated with phosphate such as radon.
“The lung cancer rate for workers in these areas is much higher,” Tatum said.
The water supply division director of the Suwannee River Water Management District, Carlos Herd, said the likelihood of these risks would depend on whether the company chooses to process the phosphate on-site, or dig it up and haul it off-site.
Tatum said he sees the need for phosphate mining, but it doesn’t need to happen around river banks where an accident could send chemicals down the river and harm wildlife.
“The river is like a life,” Tatum said. “Once you damage it, you can’t recoup it.”
Parker said she fears the mining could deplete the beauty of the place where her family has lived for generations.
“It’s untouched, slipped into another world,” Parker said. “And I can’t believe that anyone would want to mess that up.”
Herd said HHPS Enterprises will likely have to get permits from the Department of Environmental Protection. With the environmental permits and engineering controls, which will likely be required by the permit they’ll be getting from the state, the chance of uncontrolled discharge into the river would be pretty low, Herd said.
HHPS Enterprises has not submitted applications for proposals or permits yet. Commissioners said they will consider the citizens’ input when HHPS speaks to the commission in a public hearing.
“We’re still in the research and planning phases,” said HHPS public relations officer Mandy Wettstein. “And we’re going to take the time to release the information right and correctly, because that is what the community deserves.”