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GREG MARTIN - Staff Writer

Scientists to discuss mining impacts

It's one thing to claim mining excavations are causing adverse impacts.

It's another to prove it.

A group of scientists, environmental consultants and environmental activists will soon share with the public what they know of those impacts, and what they don't know, at a public conference set for March 15 at Best Western in Punta Gorda.

The goal is inform people about the potential impacts just as the state legislative session gets under way, so they can participate more effectively as citizen-lobbyists, said Dr. Nora Demers, a Florida Gulf Coast University professor who also works as a secretary for the Responsible Growth Management Coalition.

The RGMC is one of several organizations co-sponsoring the event, dubbed the first-ever International Conference on Mining Impacts to the Human and Natural Environments.

Other sponsors include the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary Program and the Center for Remote Sensing and Mapping Science at the University of Georgia in Atlanta.

Topics to be discussed include impacts to water resources, the economy and human health.

“The purpose is outreach,” Demers said. “The only agenda I have is for public participation. This will provide the questions people need to be asking about health and welfare and resource protection, things that right now I don't see our government protecting.”

A medical doctor from Tampa General Medical School will report about the effect that mining operations can have on pulmonary health.

A professor from the University of Miami will present an analysis of the economic impacts of mining.

Several scientists and professionals will discuss various technologies that could be used to determine impacts to the underground movement of water. The technologies include remote sensing, dye tracer analysis and seismic testing.

Jim Flock, a geologist for the U.S. Geological Survey, will present a study on what he calls “seismic profiling.” The technology involves recording sound waves to map fractures, sinkholes, springs and caverns in the limestone layer that lies beneath much of Florida.

Seismic profiling is one tool that could be used to “provide invaluable information ... about onsite and offsite impacts,” Flock wrote, in a summary of his study.

Often, mining interests argue there's no scientific basis for claims that proposed mines will cause impacts, Demers acknowledged.

“We sure can't prove it if we're not looking for it and monitoring for it and reporting on it,” she pointed out.

Several environmental groups including the Sierra Club, Manasota-88 and the Gulf Restoration Network plan to tell of their efforts to protect natural resources from mining in several different regions.

Those speaking will include residents of the Withlacoochee River area north of Tampa. They will discuss what they learned about the impacts of the so-called Big Deep Dig, a large pit in that watershed.

Demers said the idea for the conference came as a result of an e-mail conversation she had with a scientist who had recently authored a study on excavation impacts.

Conference organizers were also considering the fact that controversies over mining have reared up lately. Recently, Lee County adopted a one-year moratorium on mining, and Charlotte County adopted a stricter mining code.

And a state task force, established to assure that big road projects will continue to have a source of gravel in the future, recently submitted a final report.

The report suggests, as one option, that such agencies as the state's Department of Environmental Protection take over the role of evaluating environmental impacts from counties.

Punta Gorda was chosen for the location of the conference because it's in the middle of the area where the outreach is targeted, Demers said.

The event runs from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. For more information, go to www.crms.uga.edu/MiningConference/Mining_Schedule.htm.

You can e-mail Greg Martin at gmartin@sun-herald.com.


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