Seismic activity detected at Mosaic New Wales gypsum pile in Polk County

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LAKELAND – With what the Florida Department of Environmental Protection calls “non-routine underground acoustics” detected at Mosaic’s gypstak in New Wales, the agency has asked the company not to proceed with its previously approved expansion plan.

“Based on the review of the department’s regulatory staff, as well as the state geologist, the department concludes that the information provided” indicates the presence of an underground condition that may adversely affect the integrity of the phosphogypsum pile, ”wrote Vishwas Sathe, environmental administrator of FDEP’s phosphate management program.

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“Given the proximity of the detected acoustic emissions and the overlying boundary of the adjacent expansion area with the southern slope of South Gypstack,” the letter continued, “Mosaic is advised that authorization to begin operations d The phosphogypsum stack in the Phase III East area cannot be provided without knowing if there are new characteristics of the subsoil that might require further exploration to determine if stabilization is necessary.

Jackie Baron, public affairs manager for Mosaic, said in an email that the company “had in fact received the extension permit and started working under it.”

“Significant prep work is required before phase 3 is activated for stacking,” she added. “These activities continue simultaneously as we review the microseismic data.”

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FDEP had issued a final Phase III permit for an expansion near the existing New Wales Phase II gypsum pile. Current gypsum piles cover 704 acres, and the latest permit authorizes an additional 231 acres on which phosphogypsum, a by-product of phosphate fertilizer manufacture, can be stored.

In the letter, Sathe requested daily reports from Mosaic showing the time, location and energy detected for any other acoustic readings on Mosaic’s early detection system.

FDEP press secretary Alexandra Kuchta explained that after completing repairs related to the 2016 sinkhole that formed at the New Wales facility, a consent order was issued on October 24, 2016, requiring that Mosaic “assesses and implements technologies to investigate the basement. under the South New Wales phosphogypsum pile. “

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Barron said the company installed an extremely sensitive geophone system to monitor sounds from the basement. The system is so sensitive, she said, that it picked up seismic data from a recent earthquake in Haiti.

“Geophones are designed to detect underground noise and they work as expected; they are able to hear signals at very low energy, ”Barron wrote in an email. “The longer the system is in service, the more it will detect and Mosaic will continue to work to distinguish noises and perform follow-up surveys by drilling, etc.”

Seismic monitoring at the New Wales facility means increased communication with the state, as the FDEP letter called for “a deeper dive into the data and we are working to achieve that,” Barron said.

Meanwhile, the Center for Biological Diversity appealed to the United States Environmental Protection Agency to “veto” the permit for the extension of the gypsum pile in New Wales.

The EPA acknowledged last week that the agency received the CBD letter in emails from Robert Daguillard, the agency’s public affairs manager in Washington, DC, and Dawn Harris-Young, press secretary in Atlanta.

Asked about the status of the letter, Harris-Young wrote in an email, “The EPA has received the letter and it is currently under review.”

The letter, addressed to EPA director Michael Regan, was sent on September 28 by JW Glass, an EPA policy specialist for CBD at its headquarters in Washington, DC.

“We are asking the EPA to regulate the regulators,” Glass said. “Although this is rare, we are asking the EPA to intervene.”

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The letter was also signed by the leaders of 14 other national and statewide environmental groups, including the Sierra Club.

“On behalf of our organizations, we are writing to ask you to veto a blatant permit (EPA National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) issued by the State of Florida to expand a pile of toxic phosphogypsum waste, which does not does not include the guarantees necessary to prevent a probable environmental risk. disaster, ”Glass wrote in the letter.

Glass used the recent incident at the Piney Point facility in Manatee County as an example. Piles of gypsum there – not owned by Mosaic – containing radioactive waste from fertilizer processing recently dumped millions of gallons of toxic water into Tampa Bay. He also highlighted the 2016 incident at the New Wales Gypsum Pile where a sinkhole formed and spilled 200 million gallons of process water into the Florida aquifer.

“In the wake of these environmental disasters, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is now seeking a permit to expand the sinkhole-prone New Wales phosphogypsum pile with no reasonable assurance that these all-too-common disasters will not continue. not, ”Glass wrote. “At this point, regulatory standards for licensing, even under Florida law, have not been met. ”

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Following the notice that FDEP had announced its intention to issue the gypsum pile expansion permit, individuals or groups had 14 days to request an administrative hearing, but none were filed.

“The EPA letter only raises more questions about why these organizations did not file a state-level challenge, a process that the letter’s author is familiar with,” said Barron. “Given the behavior of a few at the August public meeting (an FDEP open house at the RF Funding Center in Lakeland) on the draft permit, a request for a hearing was expected. In fact, CBD said it would do just that. And yet, no request for a hearing has been filed.

“Perhaps, despite the months of intense public engagement on the licensing process, they just weren’t prepared – their extension requests said the same,” Barron added. “Or maybe, they realized that a challenge would not prevail, given the unprecedented standards built into the permit. We just don’t know.”

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Barron continued: “What we do know, however, is that this permit is born out of years of study, is deeply rooted in science and, in addition to extensive financial assurance, includes a multitude of approaches. to protect the environment and the local community, a commitment we take seriously as our experts work to decipher the data and share our findings. ”

The New Wales facility has been in service since 1975.

As one of the largest agricultural fertilizer manufacturing facilities in the world, the New Wales plant processes phosphate from four Florida mines in four counties. The facility sends fertilizer and animal feed to farmers across the country.

Paul Nutcher covers business and industry for The Ledger. He can be contacted at [email protected]


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