Reclamation: Bringing the Land Back
Before a single shovel of dirt is moved, phosphate mine applicants must assure the state that the mining area will be returned to a functional condition. The process of reshaping and revegetating former mine sites is called “reclamation,” and it is the mechanism to ensure that phosphate miners return the land to the same—or better—condition than they found it. Every square inch of land that is part of the mining activity—whether it is a mine road, a stream crossing, or an excavation area—must be reclaimed after mining. This includes both pastures and forests, streams and wetlands. This is why Florida law considers mining only a temporary land use.
Phosphate mines have to comply with special rules for the reclamation of wetlands in addition to the requirements for all projects affecting wetlands. Reclamation requires that wetlands be restored “acre-for-acre” and “type for type.” This means that if, for example, 2.3 acres of freshwater marshes are disturbed by mining, after mining at least 2.3 acres of freshwater marshes need to be restored on-site. Likewise, streams must be replaced on a foot-for-foot basis; if 25.4 feet of stream are disturbed, at least 25.4 feet of streams are restored. This ensures these landforms will provide important functions such as wildlife habitat, sediment retention, nutrient absorption, and water storage after mining is completed.
The regulations governing reclamation are detailed and thorough. The first step in fulfilling these requirements is to study the potential mine site and develop a Conceptual Reclamation Plan (CRP). This requires identifying and quantifying important features of the land and the ecosystem, including geology, topography, water resources, plants, animals, and their habitats. Together, this information is used to develop a reclamation strategy. Years of careful study and planning have gone into crafting the quickest, most site-appropriate way to reclaim the land. When finished, HPS will submit a CRP to the Mining and Mitigation Program within the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Mining cannot begin until all required permits have been obtained and the CRP is approved.
Once mining and reclamation is complete, reclaimed land may be used for agriculture, recreation, pasturage, fishing lakes, and wildlife habitat, among other possibilities. When HPS finishes reclamation, more than 4,700 acres of the site will be placed under a perpetual conservation easement and the remainder will be returned to primarily agricultural use. The land subject to the easement is expected to become a refuge for wildlife, offering waterfowl places for feeding and resting during their migrations and broad riparian corridors for wildlife movement.
Please return to this space for details of how HPS plans to meet and exceed state regulation and rapidly return the property to its agricultural use using state-of-the-art techniques.
 The values and functions of wetlands are further described in “Introduction to wetlands and their protection,” posted May 24, 2019.