Since the turn of the twentieth 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 include “sovereignty lands”. Florida’s state agencies charged with “permitting” the phosphate industry to strip mine 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 cannot be altered in any way that disrupts natural processes.
Much of west central Florida landscape consists of lowlands and marshlands. Florida’s highest court historically rules against claims of “swamp deeds” and claims of “overflow lands” in the Peace River watershed because the Peace River is defined as a “navigable waterway.” The argument by Florida’s Supreme Court against swamp deeds and overflow lands is based on The Public Trust Doctrine of Florida. The Court refers to the Public Trust Doctrine in cases including marshlands, lowlands, and flood lands as well.
The Court offers “examples of sovereignty lands”. They can be shallow vegetated shores that are submerged during the rainy season and are lower than the high water boundary surrounding all water bodies in question (lakes, rivers) and are considered “sovereignty lands” by definition based on The Public Trust Doctrine. The Court’s rulings also reflect the riparian lands on the farthest reaches of the navigable waterway. The Court explained areas not always submerged on the outer edges of the waterway were still riparian in nature and sovereignty lands in fact because they lie below the high water marks of the water body in question. In this case, the water body in question is the Peace River and watershed.
In the cases heard by the Florida Supreme Court concerning sovereignty lands; the Court rejects all claims of deeds to properties on related navigable waterways and riparian lands or “sovereign lands.” The Court rejects these property deeds when the agencies involved in selling the land have no right to “convey sovereignty lands”, based on The Public Trust Doctrine, a constitutional doctrine. Meaning large tracts of land sold to the phosphate industry may not be legal to sell because “these” large tracts of land in west central Florida are “sovereignty lands” based on the Peace River watershed and The Public Trust Doctrine.
The definition of sovereignty lands are those lands beneath navigable water bodies in question. Ownership of sovereignty lands is not based on a legal description, but on the nature of the water body in question. Navigable waterways are defined by the water body’s natural characteristics, not by any record of deed or tittle all of which are discussed in The Public Trust Doctrine. Florida’s navigable waterways are clearly established by the Public Trust Doctrine and Florida’s Supreme Court rulings on the subject.
The Peace River watershed is known to be a public navigable “water body” in west central Florida. In areas where the landscape is flat, much of these water bodies do not have a permanent location marked on the ground for high and low watermarks because the watermarks are ambulatory in nature. Historically, they shift gradually, responding to natural processes like erosion or accretion (build up). In cases where the high or low water marks are difficult to ascertain, due to natural causes, the Florida Supreme Court ruled this type of landscape as riparian (public) in nature or sovereignty lands.
The mighty phosphate dragline is the culprit, severely altering or removing navigable waterways and sovereignty lands in west central Florida strip mining operations. Operators are instructed by operations’ managers to remove all in their path to reach the valuable phosphate ore just beneath the “sovereignty lands” and “navigable” water bodies.
Many large tracts of land sold to the phosphate industry in west-central Florida hold navigable waterways and sovereignty lands. This is no secret; all of west central Florida mining operations can be seen from Google© Maps. However, the property may have been conveyed illegally. The Peace River watershed covers almost 2500 square miles. The Upper Peace River watershed encompasses Bartow, Mulberry, and, Pinecrest, FL phosphate facilities. (2) The phosphate facilities in Bartow and Mulberry are two of the largest strip mining operations in the United States.
It is very probable Florida’s phosphate industry has a negative (1) impact on the Peace River watershed because production facilities are located within the boundaries of the Peace River watershed. Historically, the facilities in Mulberry and Bartow cause severe environmental impacts based on billions of gallons of highly toxic waste by-product “releases” over time from each facility.
It may be “impossible” for Florida’s phosphate industry “not” to have a severe negative impact on the Peace River watershed. The particular points mentioned against the phosphate industry are controversial if not unknowingly illegal based on the Public Trust Doctrine and “sovereignty lands” doctrine. However, ignorance is no excuse for breaking laws.
1. Review of the EPA’s Economic Analysis of Final… – nap.edu/read/13376/chapter/3.
2. Additional Phosphate Mining Information. – 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 Navigable… – floridabar.org/divcom/jn/jnjournal01.nsf/Author/8D98D298C0060C0785256B110050FFB7.