News And Updates
Published By: The Ledger
LAKELAND | A federal judge ruled Friday to ban the Mosaic Co. from expanding its South Fort Meade Mine until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reviews less environmentally damaging alternatives to the project.
Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. of the U.S. District Court in Jacksonville issued the ruling after considering written and oral arguments at a July 22 hearing in his court.
Rich Mack, executive vice president for Mosaic, said in a written statement issued Friday that he is still analyzing the decision but is disappointed.
"The permits for the Hardee County Extension underwent seven years of regulatory, judicial and public scrutiny and are the most stringent of any phosphate mine permits in the history of Florida," the statement says.
The company plans to file an appeal, he said.
Still unclear is how the ruling will impact the jobs of 221 workers at the nearly depleted South Fort Meade mine who were sent layoff notices July 12 pending Adams' decision. Russell Schweiss, a company spokesman, said that's too early to tell.
"We are still evaluating the implications of the ruling and what that might mean in regards to the operations," he said.
The current mine does not have enough phosphate rock to continue mining operations at its current level, Schweiss said.
The Sierra Club Inc. filed the lawsuit June 30 joined by People for Protecting Peace River Inc. of Wauchula and ManaSota-88 in Nokomis. It sued the Corps of Engineers based in Jacksonville, and Adams subsequently allowed Mosaic to join the litigation.
The lawsuit challenges a June 14 permit the Corps of Engineers gave Mosaic to strip-mine 10,750 acres in Hardee County just past the Polk County line and at the southern edge of the existing mine. The permit runs for 18 years.
The mine would disturb 534 acres of wetlands and 56,661 feet of streams that run into the Peace River, according to the Corps' website.
Thomas Reese, a St. Petersburg lawyer representing the environmentalist groups, considered the ruling a victory for the groups.
"This is telling Mosaic and the Corps to go back and sharpen their pencils, come back with the facts," Reese said.
Reese has argued that the judge could halt mining only the wetlands, allowing Mosaic to mine other "upland" areas while the environmental study is in progress.
But Mosaic has rejected that option because wetland areas pockmark the site, making it impractical for mining equipment, called "draglines," to work around them.
The Mosaic Co., headquartered in Plymouth, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb, employs 2,166 workers at its Polk County facilities, including three phosphate rock mines (Four Corners and Hookers Prairie in addition to South Fort Meade) and two fertilizer plants near Bartow.