Environmental Groups Sue Army Corps of Engineers Over Rock Mining in the Everglades

Project Would Undermine Multibillion Dollar Restoration

WASHINGTON, D.C. (August 20, 2002) -- To stop what they consider a major threat to the Everglades and the viability of a historic environmental restoration project recently launched there, three national environmental groups are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, over the Corps' permitting of a massive mining operation on the national park's border.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council), Sierra Club and NPCA (National Parks Conservation Association) announced that they are filing suit today in federal district court in Washington D.C. to reverse an Army Corps decision approving deep-pit limestone mining on over 5,000 acres of Everglades wetlands. The approvals are part of the mining industry's long-term plans for a total of over 22,000 acres of mining in the eastern Everglades, an area the size of the City of Miami. The Army Corps has issued the twelve permit approvals to ten companies over the last several months, after announcing its decision on April 11, 2002.

In their legal complaint, the environmental organizations assert that the approvals in the so-called "Lakebelt" area violated numerous federal environmental laws, including the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Federal agencies, including the EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, had previously objected to the mining project because of the thousands of acres of rare habitat that would be destroyed and the increased water seepage out of the Everglades caused by the mining pits, among other things. Department of Interior reviewers wrote at the time that "[t]he conversion of the … wetland habitat within the Lakebelt area to deep, open-water lakes removes an extensive area of this critical wetland habitat from the system, replacing it with non-natural habitat of little or no value to the Everglades ecosystem. The size, habitat type, and location of this area makes it critical to the ecological integrity of the Everglades ecosystem." These objections were later withdrawn after the Bush Administration took office.

Local officials have also objected that the mining project, which is located next to drinking water wellfields, will expose public water supplies to contamination, like deadly Cryptospiridium, and cost hundreds of millions in treatment fees.

"This huge mining project directly conflicts with the billions of dollars that the Corps says it's going to spend to restore the Everglades," said Barbara Lange, Everglades chair for Sierra Club Miami Group. "To top it off, the project will do incalculable damage to this precious American natural resource."

In 2000, Congress approved a 30-year $8 billion program to protect and restore the vast Everglades wetlands that have suffered from a century of habitat loss, pollution, and water diversion.

The Corps has promised further studies and non-public reviews of the mining project's environmental problems, but will allow mining to go forward in the meantime. "This mine first, study later process makes no sense, considering the colossal scale of the environmental and health issues. And excluding the public from any later reviews is simply frightening." said Brad Sewell, Senior Attorney for NRDC. Limestone is a major building material in south Florida and newspaper accounts have reported more than $800,000 worth of campaign contributions by mining companies and their executives in simply the last 5 years.

The Corps also claims that some of the pits in the highly porous limestone might eventually be used to store water to deliver to the Everglades, and that the mining industry is promising to turn over other Everglades lands in exchange for the mining approvals. "We're getting promises for pits -- the Corps doesn't know whether these holes can be made to hold water," said John Adornato, Regional Representative of NPCA. The environmental groups also criticize the planned land exchange as grossly inadequate.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Washington, D.C., law firm of Meyer and Glitzenstein.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Sierra Club is a non-profit corporation with approximately 700,000 members in chapters and groups in all 50 states, including approximately 30,042 members in Florida. Sierra Club's mission is to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment. Sierra Club and its members are actively involved in species and habitat protection in Florida and throughout the country, as well as water quality, air quality and environmental justice issues. Sierra Club has been actively working to preserve and restore the Everglades ecosystem.

NPCA (National Parks Conservation Association) is a non-profit membership corporation with approximately 350,000 members, including approximately 19,900 members in Florida. NPCA is America's only private, nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated solely to protecting, preserving, and enhancing the National Park System. NPCA's mission, as a watchdog for the National Park system, includes battling damaging projects at individual park areas, fighting national policies that may harm all the parks, and working to incorporate safeguards that will protect the future of all national parks. NPCA and its members are actively involved efforts to protect and restore South Florida's ecosystem, including the Everglades, and to ensure compliance with State and federal mandates for protection and restoration of these areas.