"The permits are required to extract limestone from the Lake Belt, home to four of Florida's largest mines, which supply about half of the state's cement," the Associated Press noted in a dispatch on the case. "The 57,500-acre region, which borders the eastern edge of Everglades National Park, also provides 40 percent of Miami-Dade County's drinking water."
The tale, which we told in some depth in "Paving Paradise," is a tangled one that climaxes with a ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler blasting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for issuing new wetland permits to the miners despite the possible risk to Miami-Dade County's water supply. Hoeveler threw out all the permits and told both agencies to do everything over.
On Thursday, an appeals court upheld Hoeveler's ruling. In it, the appellate judges noted, "As the mining companies conceded at oral argument, the extraction of limestone in general is not water dependent; mining limestone does not always require that the mine be located in a wetland."
That water-dependent determination, which has been the rule since the Marco Island case in 1976, is one that the Corps routinely fudges in order to say yes to permits for destroying wetlands, according to the sources we talked to for "Paving Paradise."
Does this mean the Lake Belt saga is over? Far from it. In fact, the Corps may be on the verge of re-issuing those same permits that Judge Hoeveler previously threw out, along with new permits that Natural Resources Defense Council attorney Brad Sewell says "would authorize an additional 10,000-12,000 acres of wetlands loss. Together with existing mining pits, this amounts to an approximately 30 square mile expanse of mining pits potentially lining the eastern side of the remaining publicly-owned Everglades." So stay tuned.