The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has lodged an objection to the Troyer Mine, highlighting fatal flaws in the state of Florida’s assumed wetland dredge and fill permitting program.
The Troyer Mine project would involve the construction and excavation of a new limerock mine, as well as associated rock processing and ancillary operations, within Lee County’s Density Reduction/Groundwater Resource (DR/GR) area. The DR/GR was designated to be protected as a major source of drinking water supply for Lee County, as 80% of the county’s public drinking water supply is generated in this area. The DR/GR is home to numerous listed species and wetland flowways, including the headwaters of multiple freshwater river and watershed systems.
The project site is 1,803.5 acres and would result in a 781-acre open mine pit. The site is primary and secondary panther habitat and the project would sever wetland flowways that sustain the Flint Pen Strand. As the Troyer Mine site is surrounded by the Airport Mitigation Park, Sam Galloway Tract Preserve, Imperial Marsh Preserve, and the Corkscrew Regional Mitigation Bank, the project also jeopardizes adjacent public preserved and mitigation lands, as well as regional water resources.
Development projects, such as new residential communities or mines, typically must receive authorization for these activities from the local, state, and federal governments. If these projects proposed impacts to wetlands, they need authorization through a state of Florida Environmental Resource Permit and a federal Clean Water Act 404 permit. Until December 2020, in Florida, 404 permits to allow destruction of wetlands were regulated by the US Army Corps of Engineers.
Unfortunately, in December 2020, despite serious objections raised by the Conservancy and many other concerned parties, the federal government gave the state of Florida authorization to process and issue Clean Water Act 404 permits. Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) now decides on these critical proposals.
This transfer of permitting authority is bad for wetlands, bad for listed species and bad for Florida. The Conservancy of Southwest Florida and our partners, represented by EarthJustice, are legally challenging the decision to allow Florida to assume the Clean Water Act permitting program
However, until our suit is decided in federal court, FDEP continues to process Section 404 wetlands permitting applications.
Regrettably, many of our concerns about Florida’s oversight of this process have come to fruition. This was clearly exemplified last month, when the EPA issued a letter of objection to FDEP for the Troyer Mine application, citing as the basis for their objection the fact that FDEP was not evaluating potential wetland impacts using the correct legal definition of wetlands, as is required under federal law.
This definition is the crux to many of the considerations going into review of a proposed project, including avoidance, minimization, and mitigation requirements. The state of Florida program is not allowed to be less stringent than federal requirements, but it appears that Florida has not been willing to incorporate these protections into their program, instead advancing many developments and other projects towards permitting under erroneous standards.
The Conservancy wants to first extend our appreciation to EPA for pointing out this flaw in Florida’s permitting program. The definition of wetlands is only one reason why the transfer of Clean Water Act permitting from a federal agency to the state of Florida has lowered the bar on the permitting review of Troyer Mine.
Prior to Florida’s assumption of the program, the Army Corps of Engineers had identified that the Troyer Mine and other projects within the DR/GR general area would need a regional Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA, a federal law, helps to ensure robust and transparent decision-making.
Unless the Troyer Mine permitting decision –or the entire Clean Water Act 404 program- is taken back by the federal agencies, NEPA is no longer a tool that communities can utilize to closely analyze the effects of deep mining pits on drinking water aquifers, the impact of mining traffic on public safety, and the impact of the wetland and habitat loses on hydrology, endangered species habitat, and downstream waters.
We encourage EPA to continue to closely monitor the Troyer Mine project, and the dozens of other environmentally damaging applications currently under review.
The Conservancy is on record opposing the proposed Troyer Mine, and we have requested a public hearing be held so that others in the community can share their concerns about the project’s unacceptable impacts on endangered and threatened species, wetlands and water resources, public lands, and other adjacent land uses.
Please sign up to receive the Conservancy of Southwest Florida action alerts https://conservancy.org/our-work/policy/take-action/ so you will know if a public meeting is scheduled. For more information about our work regarding the 404 program, visit www.conservancy.org/404.