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12/06/2007

Authority puts off phosphate deal

Published By: Sun Herald

Board at odds over Mosaic settlement

BRADENTON -- The Peace River water authority followed the advice of its attorney and put off making a decision on whether to sign a settlement pact with the Mosaic phosphate mining company Wednesday.

Doug Manson, attorney for the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority, pointed out that two of the four counties that make up the authority, Charlotte and DeSoto, have officially endorsed the Phosphate Compact. But the commissions of the other two counties, Sarasota and Manatee, have raised concerns over the deal.

So, the authority's vote would have likely come to a 2-2 tie, Manson noted.

However, he also pointed out that the Charlotte County Commission had already addressed some of the concerns to some extent, in modifications negotiated by the commission at its Nov. 20 meeting.

Also, Mosaic has expressed intentions to continue talking with Sarasota and Manatee county officials in hopes of gaining their support for the compact.

In the pact, Mosaic offers to take extra steps to prevent adverse impacts to water quality and mitigate its impacts to water quantity. Among the steps, Mosaic promises, in 15 years, to create water storage capacity on its mine sites to help supplement the Peace River during low flow periods. Also, in 20 years, the company offers to provide a reservoir site in DeSoto or Manatee counties.

In exchange, Charlotte, Sarasota and Lee counties and the authority would agree to drop all litigation and never comment again to state or federal agencies in opposition to Mosaic's mining activities.

Ed de la Parte, Charlotte County's special phosphate attorney, had said that the reservoir site was the only "clear benefit" for the local governments contained in the pact, pointed out Randee LaSalle of the Greater Charlotte Harbor Group of the Sierra Club, in comments during a public input session Wednesday.

However, LaSalle said even the reservoir's benefit is not so clear. She cited a comment from at least one Charlotte commissioner, Tom D'Aprile, who had pointed out the cost of pumping water from a reservoir in the middle of DeSoto County may prove more costly than if the authority built a third reservoir on its own land, the R.V. Griffin Reserve.

LaSalle also expressed a concern that locating the reservoir on a mine site could expose the public's drinking water supply to toxins unearthed on adjacent mined lands.

"This would really be taking a big risk," LaSalle said.

LaSalle also pointed out that the deal calls for Mosaic to create a monitoring program 180 days after the counties sign the pact. Mosaic would also conduct the monitoring.

Instead, the compact should enlist the Peace River Scientific Peer Review Panel, a team of scientists that currently reviews the authority's own withdrawal monitoring program, she said.

Sarasota County Commissioner Shannon Staub pointed out that her county was split 3-2 over whether to sign the pact. Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson, considered the swing vote, had expressed only one concern -- the way a draft version of the pact would have prohibited the local governments from recording it in official property records, Staub said.

Recording the document would make sure Mosaic's obligations under the pact "ran with the land" in the event the company sold its mine sites in the future.

However, the Charlotte commission already negotiated a compromise to address that concern, Staub pointed out. The compromise calls for Mosaic to record a memorandum of the agreement after each permit is obtained.

At least some Lee, Manatee and Sarasota commissioners have also expressed a concern that the deal fails to require Mosaic to support an areawide impact study.

Manatee County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann cited another concern -- that the compact would put a muzzle on the local governments just before such an impact study could get completed. So, the local governments would be prohibited from "using that information," because that would require "making comments," she said.

Manson said he'll provide an update at the authority's next meeting in January.

You can e-mail Greg Martin at gmartin@sun-herald.com.

By GREG MARTIN

Staff Writer

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