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Best of 2013: USACE Adopts Flawed Study ... Again

Published Sunday, December 29, 2013 12:02 am

BRADENTON -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced that the Areawide Environmental Impact Statement for Phosphate Mining in the Central Florida Phosphate District was reviewed and approved in its entirety by the Corp. However, it failed to mention that CH2M HILL, the company that performed the impact statement, has numerous ties to both of the phosphate companies at the center of the study. 

 

A consent decree from the federal courts ordered the USACE to perform the AEIS before any further permitting of phosphate mining in the Central Florida Phosphate District (CFPD). 

 

The AEIS objective is to study past, present and future cumulative effects of phosphate mining in the CFPD. The primary sectors to be focused on in the study: the environment, human health, economics, natural resources, animal habitat and navigational waterways.

 

There is serious question as to whether CH2M HILL's evaluations were accurate in the AEIS they submitted to the USACE. Critics claim that insufficient data and missing submissions were a problem, along with more conflicts of interest than having Bernard Madoff rewrite the ponzi scheme laws.

 

Conflicts of interest

 

CH2M HILL stated it had no conflict of interest, with either CF Industries or Mosaic Mining LLC. It failed to mention that the company has numerous contracts in Florida, making large amounts of money on projects that are promoted as "alternative water sources" in areas where the water supply has been compromised by mining operations.

 

Over a billion dollars in taxpayer funds have been spent to construct and repair the CW Bill Young Regional Reservoir and the Apollo Beach Desalinization Plant. During the 10-year period of construction and repair, the price of water from Tampa Bay Water (TBW) has almost doubled, even though a successful water conservation program reduced the overall use of water, throughout the region TBW services. 

 

That's because water retrieved from the Bill Young Reservoir cost TBW customers twice as much as it did to retrieve ground water from the aquifer. The desalinization plant water cost three times the amount to produce and process, than if retrieved from the aquifer.

 

There is no mention in the AEIS of the financial burden placed on Tampa Bay Water customers, who were bamboozled into more expensive alternative water sources to subsidize mining costs.

 

CH2M HILL is in the water business and a global leader in supplying the very expensive membranes used in desalinization plants. One could easily say that it behooves CH2M HILL if water conditions remain in peril. There are currently 11 desalinization plants under construction or in operation in Florida. 

 

The Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) contributed $75 million of taxpayers' money to construct the problematic desalinization plant and spent more than $200 million to repair the equally troubled Bill Young Reservoir. Developing alternative sources has allowed SWFWMD to permit Mosaic Mining and CF Industries to draw the more than 25 billion gallons of Florida aquifer water they use annually. That is nearly twice the total amount of the capacity of the B.Y. Reservoir. 

 

The additional cost to Tampa Bay Water customers, for having to pay for the inflated price of water, from 2001-2010, would have covered the cost to build the Sunshine Skyway and Tropicana Field. Those costs are already gone from the pockets of Tampa Bay Water customers, and the mining companies pay next to nothing for the billions of gallons they take from the aquifer. 

 

The CH2M HILL / Mosaic Mining conflict of interest gets even more egregious when factoring in the relationship they have with fluoride. CH2M HILL is in the water supply business, and fluoridation makes them millions of dollars annually.  

 

Just weeks prior to being announced as the USACE's choice to perform the phosphate mining AEIS, CH2M HILL signed a $55 million water contract with Ft. Campbell, in Kentucky, and the fort's unstable-fluoride was the issue in canceling their predecessor's contract. 

 

CH2M HILL is in the fluoridation business, and the primary source for industrial fluoride is phosphate mining. They have water plants throughout the world, and nearly all of their facilities fluoridate the water. In that sense, it's not in their interest to put a strain on phosphate mining operations.

 

None of this was noted in CH2M HILL's signed disclosure agreement. 

 

Equally disturbing is the methods by which the Hydrologic/Water Quality Modeling was performed. I emailed John Fellows and requested that information and the name of the USACE agent that examined the results. Fellows replied:

 

John.P.Fellows@usace.army.mil 

to: John.Rehill@thebradentontimes.com 

Dated 6/25/2013 

 

I am working with the third-party contractor to get the data files you have requested.  

 

I can respond to your request for "the name of the ACOE agent who did the evaluation". As stated in the FAQs, CH2M HILL, the third-party contractor, wrote most of the AEIS, with some parts written by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Florida Department of Environmental Protection. The AEIS was reviewed and approved in its entirety by the Corps. In the specific cases of the surface water hydrology, water quality, and economic analyses, those analyses were performed by CH2M HILL staff under the direction of the Corps.

 

USACE Regulatory Project Manager,

John Fellows

 

 

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (Who's guarding the guardians?)

 

Under the direction of the Corps is not the same as, overseeing the process; the Corps stated it would be overseeing the AEIS process. I have been unable to find a single example of someone checking the math, or validating data in the study. Fellows clearly didn't answer my question, nor did he get back to me with additional data. 

 

Also clear, is that the modeling data I requested in the final AEIS submitted by CH2M HILL, was constructed from both of the phosphate company's self-reported-data, taken from different submissions to regulatory agencies (dating back a decade). The modeling profiles were spit out of a number crunch program that used parameters presented by the phosphate companies that were being evaluated. What was produced was a "simulated simplification" report, that is based on assumptions.  

 

Excerpt from the report: 

 

For the predictive simulations, ground-water pumpage for the Applicants was based on information provided by the Applicants or allocated quantities in the Applicants’ SWFWMD WUPs, and are described in greater detail in the discussions below for each alternative.

 

It was assumed that withdrawal rates in the base year conditions of 2010 were the same as those in 2006, as there was very little growth in demand between 2006 and 2010. 

 

Par for the course for the USACE to endorse an AEIS so flawed.

 

The USACE has earned its troubled reputation as being synonymous with boondoggle, and there is a long list of failures to support that claim. Hurricane Katrina, MRGO (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet), Kissimmee River and the near destruction of the Florida Everglades, are just a few of their multi-billion dollar blunders.  

 

In 1951, Harold Ickes said, "no more lawless or irresponsible federal group than the U.S Corps of Army Engineers has ever attempted to operate in the United States, either inside or outside the law." Ickes believed the Corps was outside of presidential control and working for special interests at the expense of the general public. 

 

Ickes was the appointed U.S. Secretary of Interior from 1933 to 1946, and simultaneously served as Public Works Director for Franklin D Roosevelt. He pioneered FDR's New Deal and ordered the desegregation of all U.S. national parks. His opposition to corruption earned him the name "Honest Harold."   

 

Twenty years later, there was an even more critical view of the USACE, by Arthur Morgan in his book Dams and other Disasters. In it, Morgan chronologically critiques a century of disastrous failures by the USACE resulting in enormous unnecessary cost and environmental disaster. 

 

Morgan was a former chairman of the Tennessee Valley Authority and a highly respected engineer. In his book, he covers the shoddy engineering practices of the Corp, and describes how the Corp mistreated Native Americans, lied to the public, pursued environmentally damaging projects, hid information and demonized any opposition to silent dissent.

 

Today, it seems the USACE has refined its tactics, pretending to have a public participation program that solicits citizen input. They have vowed to change their image.

 

The problem with their new program is that they are still lying to the public, hiding information, supporting projects devastating to the environment, and I don't believe there are any Pow-Wows on their calendar. 

 

John Fellows, was appointed to oversee the AEIS. He announced that the citizen input program would be extended, allowing additional letters to the hundreds already submitted. That means the people that pay his salary will continue to pour their heart and soul into their story, with hopes that the devastation to the land and people in the CFPD will cease.  

 

But I think Fellows knew the decision was made before the question was asked. He might be merely trying to exhaust the efforts of those who oppose mining, while giving the impression that the USACE cares what you think.

 

As the old saying goes -- with friends like that, who needs enemies?

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