News And Updates
Published By: Herald Tribune
Mine deal approved despite public protests
Charlotte County OK is first of four needed
By KATE SPINNER
CHARLOTTE COUNTY -- Despite vigorous public outcry, county commissioners on Tuesday approved the signing of a compact that will drop all lawsuits against Mosaic Co. over its phosphate mine permits and prevent the county from opposing any new mines for 15 years.
The agreement requires that Mosaic follow more rigorous environmental standards to protect water quality in Charlotte Harbor.
But 26 people, most of them from Charlotte County, pleaded with commissioners to take a more cautious approach.
The only commissioner who voted against the compact was Adam Cummings.
Residents worried that the agreement still did not protect their interests as citizens who value clean water and a healthy Charlotte Harbor.
The county's own environmental legal adviser, Ed de la Parte, had also urged the county to insist on a 30-year agreement because most of the environmental protections Charlotte stands to gain will be realized in the contract's later years.
De la Parte said he expects the length of the contract to be a major obstacle to approval by Lee and Sarasota counties.
The compact will not become effective unless it is approved by Sarasota and Lee counties and a regional water supplier.
Without legal challenges, most of Mosaic's mines will receive state and federal permits within 15 years. Once that time frame is up, protections, particularly conservation buffers for streams and rivers, will no longer be guaranteed.
That buffer was a concern for leaders in the city of North Port at a meeting Monday. Mosaic's Pine Level property is near Myakkahatchee Creek, an important water source for the city.
The compact will go to the Sarasota County Commission for consideration on Tuesday, at which time the county can vote to make amendments.
Any amendment would have to be approved by all three counties and the water authority.
Charlotte Commissioner Tricia Duffy objected to the ability of other counties to amend the contract, saying that Charlotte worked hard to hammer out an agreement.
"What else would another county want?" Duffy asked.
The counties, the water supplier and Mosaic have been seriously negotiating the compact since May, amid concerns that six years of litigation has so far cost more than $12 million.
Mosaic is also eager to see an agreement to move its stalled mining projects forward while the price of phosphate -- a key ingredient in fertilizer -- is rising.
But Charlotte residents who spoke on Tuesday said they want their tax dollars to be used to protect clean drinking water and Charlotte Harbor.
"My dollar would be well spent to ensure you are protecting those things," said Lawrence Martin, a resident and small business owner in Port Charlotte.
Only two persons spoke in favor of the county's entering into the compact right away. Most questioned the need to settle without hearing from Lee and Sarasota.
"I just want to know why we have to have the vote today," said Punta Gorda resident Karen Bennett. "It's not like we're asking for a couple of years."
Last minute changes to the contract raised additional concerns among residents.
The compact was changed because De la Parte and County Attorney Janette Knowlton expressed reservations about the contract's enforceability. Originally, it would have required commitments from Mosaic but would not have been tied to Mosaic's land.
At the last minute, Mosaic presented a plan to record a reference to the compact with each mining permit it receives. If another mining company takes over the operation it would have to agree to be bound by the contract.
Commissioners accepted that deal, which de la Parte said was a gain.
Commissioner Thomas Moore said he was "intrigued and hurt" that so many citizens thought the commission was rushing into the agreement.
"We've done a heck of a job, and I think this is it, and I think we are far, far better off with this," Moore said.
Cummings said the commission was "not supposed to be unbiased. We're on a side.
"Our job is to be representatives to the citizens of Charlotte County."