With a week to go before the Baker County Commission considers approval of two sand mining proposals, ongoing reviews of the mining plans by regulators and a consultant commissioned by the county and paid for by the mining companies both appear far from finished.
The commission delayed voting on the mining projects last June and some board members have said they want to gather as much information as possible before making a final decision.
Nonetheless, commissioners remain set to consider on August 20 two zoning exceptions sought by the mining companies, County Manager C.J. Thompson confirmed early this week.
If approved, the zoning exceptions would allow mining to occur on property zoned agriculture, which generally prohibits the activity.
The county’s land development regulations require that the mining companies — Old Castle Southern Group of Tampa and E.R. Jahna, Inc. of Lake Wales, FL — also obtain permits from regulatory agencies before beginning operations.
Old Castle Southern was the first to apply for a 20-year Consumptive Use Permit from the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) to withdraw about 2 million gallons per day from the lower Floridan Aquifer during the first five years of mining and about 100,000 gallons per day for the next 15 years.
The company submitted its withdrawal permit application on April 3 and responded to seven requests by SJRWMD for additional information on August 8, including the results of an extensive test well drilling and sampling program in accordance with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) standards.
The program is intended to ensure the well is drilled into the lower aquifer and not the lower part of the upper aquifer.
Old Castle Southern agreed to construct the well and do the required sampling as a condition of the withdrawal permit, but only after the permit is issued, a letter from the company’s consultant, The Colinas Group, states.
The other mining company, E.R. Jahna, however, is not as far along in the permitting process. SJRWMD received the company’s permit application on August 7.
E.R. Jahna is requesting a similar 20-year permit to withdraw 2.16 million gallons per day from the lower aquifer for five years and .18 million gallons per day for the next 15 years.
SJRWMD has asked FDEP’s Bureau of Mining and Minerals to get involved as well by reviewing both companies’ Environmental Resource Permit applications, which will regulate the surface water and wetland impacts of mining. Those permit applications have not been completed yet.
The FDEP review will include an evaluation of potential impacts that the mining plans could have on the water table, wetlands and shallow wells, according to the county’s consultant Dean Mades of HSW Engineering in Sarasota.
Mr. Mades, in an e-mail to Mr. Thompson, the county manager, on August 13, said the mining companies are doing regional and localized groundwater modeling to evaluate the effects of the proposed water withdrawals.
“Both types of modeling are warranted given the site settings and public interest,” Mr. Mades wrote, adding that SJRWMD and his firm have only reviewed the regional modeling results in detail.
Those models show “essentially no impacts” to the surficial aquifer and minor draw downs of about 1.5 inches on the upper aquifer, according to a June, 2012 report from The Colinas Group received by regulators on August 8.
Mr. Mades said in his e-mail that Old Castle Southern has developed a localized model as part of its response to SJRWMD’s request for additional information in May, but the information available for review is not enough to render a final opinion on the project’s water impacts.
“My preliminary opinion based on the limited, preliminary information available for my review is that the localized modeling … is insufficient to evaluate impacts on the water table, wetland hydrology and long-term, equilibrium lake water-surface elevations,” he said.
E.R. Jahna, meanwhile, is still developing its localized model, the consultant said. The company also anticipates filing its Environmental Resource Permit application by the end of the month, records show.
Old Castle Southern owns the 190 acres it hopes to mine east of SR 228 in the southeastern county while E.R. Jahna is leasing some 275 acres from the Rayonier subsidiary TerraPointe, LLC northeast of Macclenny.
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