A Plan for Reclamation
The HPS families are dedicated to continuing agricultural operations on the land they have ranched for generations. During mining, excavation will only take place on 50 to 100 acres at a time in Bradford and Union counties. The HPS families will continue agricultural operations outside of the mining areas. The families’ long traditions of tending this land fuel their desire for a quick, complete, and correct restoration of the property, and every aspect of the mining process is designed with that goal in mind.
The phosphate matrix on the HPS site is a mixture of phosphate ore, sand, and clay. The matrix is located beneath a layer of topsoil, and about 15 to 50 feet of sandy earth known as “overburden.” Mining begins with removal of the layer of nutrient-rich topsoil, which is set aside for reuse. Next, overburden is removed and separately set aside for use in reclamation. Finally, the phosphate matrix is excavated and transported to the beneficiation plant for separation and processing.
Once the phosphate has been removed, the processed sand and clay are combined, then mixed with the previously set aside overburden. This sand/clay/overburden (SCO) mixture is customized to the location then used to backfill the mine cut. Backfilling will follow quickly behind mining, minimizing the amount of time mine cuts are open. The innovative techniques used to make SCO, as well as its many benefits, will be discussed in our next post.
After the mine cut is backfilled, equipment with laser levels will complete a final grading and contouring to achieve the post-reclamation topography approved in the Conceptual Reclamation Plan, which will match the pre-mining topography as closely as possible. The conserved topsoil, wetland muck, or green manure will be spread over the SCO, then planted with the appropriate vegetation or allowed to re-colonize naturally, depending on the ecological community being formed.
As in pre-mining conditions, the most prevalent land form will be improved pasture conducive to agricultural operations. It will be planted with native species to the landowner’s specifications, so it can be returned to its original use. Removal of the phosphate from the matrix results in a loss of about 10% of the volume of materials. This loss will be offset by the creation of 547 acres of lakes in the post-reclamation landscape.
As discussed previously, wetland communities and streams on site must be replaced in at least the quantity they existed prior to mining. However, the HPS reclamation plan exceeds state requirements by creating additional wetlands—including more than 130 additional acres of mixed forested wetlands. Also, restored streams will be returned to a natural state without existing agricultural ditches, which will improve flow. These recreated wetlands and streams will be protected by 25-foot upland buffers of mixed forest. Slash pine, oaks, sweetgum, and pignut hickory will be planted at a density of 250 trees per acre in this area. These reclaimed communities will provide ecologically high-value wildlife habitat, and that value will be enhanced by perpetual conservation easements.
 “Reclamation: Bringing the Land Back,” posted May 29, 2019.