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11/14/2007

Phosphate public relations site to close

Published By: Sun Herald

By NEIL HUGHES
Staff Writer

The Charlotte County Commission says it's in the interest of positive negotiations.

The Charlotte County Commission opted to disconnect an anti-phosphate portion of its Web site Tuesday, but officials made it clear that all legal documents pertaining to mining negotiations will remain available on the county government's official page.

The County Commission had supported and linked to the public relations campaign, which included the officially sanctioned Web site, once it became engaged in a lawsuit with Mosaic Fertilizer.

The item was brought forward by Commissioner Tricia Duffy, who represents Charlotte County in the ongoing settlement negotiations. Duffy said good-faith negotiations can be difficult with a negative Web site being promoted.

She was adamant Tuesday that the proposal was not an effort to withhold information from the public.

"We're not trying to leave anybody out," Duffy said. "There's absolutely no under the table or any kind of bad things happening here." Her colleagues, with the exception of Commissioner Adam Cummings, agreed.

Cummings called the Web site information "hard truths," and said the public has a right to access the contents of the Web site. "I think that when we've got citizen groups asking us for this information, are we supposed to tell them no? That Web site has been up. It's now a public document. Anyone that has asked for it has a right to it. So now are we going to start printing up CDs and DVDs and sending them out?"

As of Tuesday afternoon, the county's Web site (charlottecountyfl.com) still links to the anti-phosphate Web site, thephosphaterisk.com.

"No, I don't think that we should be reducing our public information campaign," Cummings said. "I think all of that stuff that's been out there is a matter of public record, people have a right to it, and our job is to protect that right."

Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority are currently engaged in settlement negotiations with Mosaic. Under the latest draft of the so-called Phosphate Compact, the local governments would agree not to challenge permits for future phosphate mining, and Mosaic would take extra steps to prevent or mitigate its impacts to water quality and quantity.

"I think at any time you're in negotiations, you'd like to have your best business manners on," Moore said. "That's not silencing people. That's just showing a little common courtesy."

Moore said he feels there was a time and place for the Web site, but now the page is not appropriate.

"We instructed our staff to harassment," Moore said. "It was befitting at the time. It got us some things. But if you're going to sit down and try to work out problems and common ground, that's no time to be throwing eggs."

You can e-mail Neil Hughes at nhughes@sun-herald.com.

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