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Balm-Boyette preserve to get makeover

TAMPA — Back in the 1960s, Florida phosphate companies were not required to restore land they ravaged by mining.

Luckily for the state’s environment, Florida law now mandates companies reclaim the land after they finish stripping the organic fertilizer from the rock and dirt. But tracts of pockmarked land mined before the restoration laws were enacted still exist.

One of those pockets, in the eastern third of Hillsborough County’s Balm-Boyette Scrub Preserve, is scheduled for a major makeover. The Southwest Florida Water Management District, commonly known as Swiftmud, will pay for and construct the restoration at a cost of nearly $2.3 million.

The 25 acres of county-owned land is gouged by steep-banked water pits. Before the mining, there were three wetland tributaries that formed the headwaters of forested wetlands known as Stallion Hammock. An interior creek called Pringle Branch meandered through the wetlands before feeding Fishhawk Creek and the Alafia River.

“Instead of there being a natural stream that would head into Stallion Hammock, which feeds into the Alafia River, you wind up with this disconnected mishmash of old mine pits,” said Forest Turbiville, Hillsborough County’s conservation and environmental lands manager.

“We’re going to be regrading all that,” Turbiville said, “and creating not only a stream bed but a series of connected marshes to reduce erosion and create wildlife habitat, especially for wading birds.”