Mining in the everglades with big cypress rock mine gas in oil tank

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Before mining can begin, however, lots of prep work has to be done, including the placement of pumps to control the water level. “We have two pumps in the area being mined that pump the water into a large holding area,” Beckett explains. “We regulate the water level with the pumps to keep it at a certain level, so that a lot of what we dig up is dry.”

Once the water level is low enough, the rock is dug out with an excavator and placed on the ground to dry. It can take a week or so for the material to dry enough to be moved to the processing plant where it gets crushed, screened, and placed in stockpiles.

“The mine is owned by the tribe,” Beckett says. “We supply the reservation with whatever materials it might need, whether it’s for roads or house pads, but we also sell to outside companies. Because we are DOT-certified, we supply material for road work.”

The mine also provides material to the South Florida Water Management District, which is always working on projects in the Everglades, repairing canals and dikes. “We just finished a contract for them where they got a couple thousand tons of material from us,” Beckett notes.

The mine has faced many challenges over the years, one of which was the fact that there was no electricity in the mine when it first opened. Everything was run by generators for years. Electricity was only brought into the mine two years ago.

“Years ago, there were bee hive boxes out here for them to nest in,” Beckett notes. “I guess it attracted them, and they never left, even when the boxes did. They get in the shakers, the stackers, anywhere they can. They get in such small places that, when the bee guys come, they can’t get them out.”

When Hurricane Irma blasted its way through Florida in late 2017, it cut a path right through the Everglades, and the mine and reservation weren’t spared its wrath. Parts of the reservation and mine were flooded, and the wind caused a lot of damage.

“Our shop was damaged, and we had damage to one of our pumps. A lot of trees were down across the road and around the scalehouse, too. But the rest was just the amount of water that came in on us,” Beckett notes. “All the canals were up to the road, and the canal that runs beside the access road was over the road. The reservation was flooded, so they had pumps pulling it out, and that all came this way, too.”

There are no problems with the surrounding community at the mine, because it’s in the middle of the Everglades. The nearest neighbors on the reservation are some ranchers, but the nearest town is several miles away. And those on the reservation are happy to have the mine, because it supplies the material they need for all kinds of projects.

“There’s no issue there, unless we get a lot of dump trucks coming in that aren’t driving right, and the tourists get upset,” Beckett says. “We get a lot of tourists coming to the reservation to visit the Billie Swamp Safari and the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, and school kids sometimes come to the reservation on buses to tour the museum.”

The only neighbors that might be bothered by the operation are the wild animals that live around it. It’s not unusual to see bears, turkeys, deer, hogs, panthers, alligators, and all kinds of birds around the mine, but they don’t seem to mind the activity. They just stay away from it.

“We’ll see them up the road, but they don’t mess with us, and we don’t mess with them,” Beckett explains. “The pit area is all open, so they don’t usually come into it. But they’ll come around the scalehouse in the bushes and the areas on the outskirts. We see them when they cross from one bushy or wooded area to another. Part of our agreement is that we’re not allowed to touch anything on the other side of our access road, which helps protect the animals.”

When it comes to environmental requirements, Big Cypress Rock Mine is under the same requirements as every other mine in the nation. It deals with the Environmental Protection Agency, the South Florida Water Management District, and, when they need a permit, the Army Corps of Engineers.

“The tribe has departments that mirror those agencies, and they work with them to make sure all our permitting is done right,” Beckett says. “We’re surrounded by canals. We mine near them, but not in them, and we don’t discharge into them. We have monitoring stations around the outside edge where the tribal water department takes samples to make sure the water is not too high and that there’s no sediment coming out of the pit into the canals.”

The mine has to keep everything contained within its area of operation. When the water is pumped out of the pit, it goes into a large, 100-plus-acre area where it just seeps into the ground and gets filtered naturally. The area is surrounded by berms, so the water from the pit doesn’t run into the nearby canal.

Once an area is mined out, it is reclaimed. The sides are sloped to a certain degree, and the rest is left up to the tribe. “That’s a long time in the future, though,” Beckett says. “We’ll be mining here for another 20 or 30 years. There’s still a lot to dig.”

Those who are not from Florida might not be familiar with the Native Americans we call Seminoles. The Seminole people originate from the southeastern portion of North America and are descendants of the Maskókî peoples who lived throughout that area.

The Seminoles first encountered white people when the Spanish arrived in the 16th century. The Spaniards brought with them all kinds of diseases, which quickly decimated the population of the tribes, but those who survived remained in Florida.

Shortly after the United States government was established, it turned its eyes toward the Florida peninsula. During the subsequent violent removal of Seminoles to Indian Territory, present-day Oklahoma, hundreds of tribal members, led by the medicine man Abiaki, retreated into the Everglades to continue fighting against U.S. colonization.

During the war, thousands of Seminoles were deported and many more died in battle or along the route to Oklahoma. By the mid-19th century, military hostilities ended between the United States and the Seminole, though a formal peace treaty was never signed. The U.S. simply called it quits. The entire Seminole conflict had lasted more than 40 years and was the most costly Indian war ever fought by the government, both in terms of money and casualties.

In 1938, the U.S. government set aside 80,000 acres in the Everglades as a reservation for the Seminoles. Then, when the government threatened to terminate services to the tribe in 1957, the tribe organized a formal government. The Seminole Tribe of Florida ratified a constitution and appointed a democratically elected Tribal Council. Today, citizens of the Seminole Tribe of Florida maintain their languages, culture, and traditions while looking toward the future.

Visitors are always welcome on the reservations. Many come for the casinos and to watch the Seminole men wrestle alligators, but others come to learn more about the tribe’s culture and history. The Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum, which means “a place to learn, a place to remember,” is located on the Big Cypress Reservation in Clewiston. It tells the story of the Seminoles. A boardwalk through the swamps behind the museum takes visitors back in time to an authentic living Seminole village made up of “chickees,” the thatch-covered buildings the Seminole lived in years ago.