Beginning in the early 20th century, the phosphate industry purchased large tracts of land in west central Florida, including the upper Peace River watershed. Florida’s phosphate industry is mining in the Peace River Basin, which also includes “sovereignty lands.” Florida state agencies accused of “allowing” the phosphate industry to clear mines in the Peace River region may be doing so illegally based on the Public Trust Doctrine (3). Sovereignty lands are expressly public in Florida and may not be altered in any way that disrupts natural processes.

Much of the landscape of west central Florida consists of lowlands and swamps. Historically, the Florida Supreme Court rules against “wet deed” claims and “spill land” claims in the Peace River watershed because the Peace River is defined as a “navigable waterway.” The Florida Supreme Court’s argument against wetland and floodplain deeds is based on The Public Trust Doctrine of Florida. The Court refers to the Public Trust Doctrine in cases that include wetlands, lowlands, and floodplains as well.

The Court offers “examples of sovereign lands.” They can be shallow shorelines with vegetation that are submerged during the rainy season and are lower than the upper limit of the water surrounding all water bodies in question (lakes, rivers) and are considered “sovereignty lands” by definition according to the Public Trust Doctrine. The Court’s rulings also reflect riparian lands in the farthest reaches of the navigable waterway. The Tribunal explained that the not always submerged areas at the outer edges of the waterway remained riparian in nature and sovereign land, in fact, because they lie below the highest water marks of the subject water body. In this case, the water body in question is the Peace River and its watershed.

In cases heard by the Florida Supreme Court on Sovereign Land; the Court rejects all claims to property deeds to related navigable waterways and riparian lands or “sovereign lands.” The Court rejects these property titles when the agencies involved in the sale of the land do not have the right to “transmit lands of sovereignty”, based on The Public Trust Doctrine, a constitutional doctrine. Which means that large tracts of land sold to the phosphate industry may not be legal because “these” large tracts of land in west central Florida are “sovereignty land” based on the Peace River watershed and The Public Trust Doctrine .

Sovereignty lands are defined as those lands below the navigable water bodies in question. Ownership of sovereign lands is not based on a legal description, but rather on the nature of the water body in question. Navigable waterways are defined by the natural features of the water body, not by any record of deed or title, all of which are discussed in The Public Trust Doctrine. Florida’s navigable waterways are clearly established by the Public Trust Doctrine and Florida Supreme Court rulings on the subject.

The Peace River watershed is known to be a public navigable “body of water” in west central Florida. In areas where the landscape is flat, many of these water bodies do not have a permanent location marked on the ground for high and low water marks because the water marks are ambulatory in nature. Historically, they change gradually, responding to natural processes such as erosion or accumulation (accumulation). In cases where high or low water marks are difficult to determine due to natural causes, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that this type of landscape is riparian (public) nature or sovereign land.

The powerful phosphate dragline is to blame, severely altering or eliminating waterways and sovereign land at west central Florida’s open pit mining operations. Operations managers instruct operators to remove anything that stands in their way of getting to the valuable phosphate ore just below “sovereignty lands” and “navigable” water bodies.

Many large tracts of land sold to the phosphate industry in west central Florida have waterways and sovereign land. Its no a secret; all West Central Florida mining operations can be viewed from Google© Maps. However, the property may have been illegally transferred. The Peace River watershed covers nearly 2,500 square miles. The Upper Peace River Basin encompasses the Bartow, Mulberry and Pinecrest, FL phosphate facilities. (2) The Bartow and Mulberry phosphate facilities are two of the largest surface mining operations in the United States.

The Florida phosphate industry is likely to have a negative impact (1) on the Peace River Basin because production facilities are located within the Peace River Basin boundaries. Historically, the facilities at Mulberry and Bartow cause severe environmental impacts based on billions of gallons of highly toxic waste byproduct “releases” over the time of each facility.

It may be “impossible” for the Florida phosphate industry “not” to have a severe negative impact on the Peace River Basin. The particular points made against the phosphate industry are controversial, if not unknowingly illegal, under the Public Trust Doctrine and the “sovereign lands” doctrine. However, ignorance is no excuse for breaking the law.

Reference

1. EPA Final… Economic Analysis Review – nap.edu/read/13376/chapter/3.

2. Additional information on phosphate mining. – mymanatee.org/home/government/departments/parks-and-recreation/natural-resources/environmental-protection/mining-services/phosphate-mining-overview/additional-phosphate-mining-information.HTML.

3. The Public Trust Doctrine: Historic Protection for Florida’s Waterway… – floridabar.org/divcom/jn/jnjournal01.nsf/Author/8D98D298C0060C0785256B110050FFB7.