News And Updates
Published By: Herald Tribune
Mosaic Co. is offering to build a fire station and a 70-acre park in Duette as part of the deal to mine approximately 2,028 acres for phosphate. The Manatee County Commission has scheduled a Feb. 5 public hearing on the plan, which would expand Mosaic's sprawling Four Corners mine in northeastern Manatee near the Hardee County line.
The property, known as Parcel 4 of the Altman Tract, contains a significant percentage of wetlands and listed plant and animal species. Many of the wetlands are high quality. Of the 2,028 acres, 732 acres are wetlands. Overall, Mosaic is proposing to impact 397 acres, or 54 percent, of these wetlands.
The majority of Parcel 4 is in the Peace River Overlay District, and Parcel 4 contains a system of wetlands that form the headwaters of Horse Creek. Parcel 4 lies almost entirely within the watershed of Horse Creek.
Horse Creek is a major tributary of the Peace River. Portions of Horse Creek downstream of the site are designated Class 1 waters (excellent quality), and Charlotte Harbor, at the mouth of the river, is a designated National Estuary Program. The Peace River is a major source of drinking water for Southwest Florida.
Rather than risking our drinking water and environmental resources for phosphate strip mining, we should be protecting our surface water supply with all the means we have available.
Why would a phosphate company offer to build a fire station and a park in Duette in exchange for wetland impacts? It is apparent that Mosaic cannot meet the Manatee County comprehensive plan requirement that wetlands cannot be destroyed unless there is an "overriding public benefit."
A decision in favor of Mosaic will likely establish a precedent that a for-profit business can satisfy the "overriding public benefit" requirement by trading the destruction of valuable environmental resources for infrastructure deficiencies.
Some things, such as a safe drinking water supply and high-quality wetlands, should not be negotiable.
Manatee County staff has found the proposed mine to be inconsistent with the comprehensive plan. The staff is recommending denial because Mosaic has failed to demonstrate avoidance of wetlands before causing an impact.
The Manatee County Environmental Management Department states that mining results in the total destruction of all vegetation and permanent disturbance of soil. Wetland functions can be lost for 20 to 30 years as a result of mining, and there is a concern for the cumulative impacts of mining within these systems.
Mosaic's proposed wetlands reclamation activities may not be sufficient to maintain or improve the water quality and the function of the biological systems present at the project site before the commencement of mining activities.
The direct impacts of mining in the headwaters of Horse Creek will likely result in alterations in the primary productivity downstream of Horse Creek that will permanently affect the food chain.
Horse Creek will likely suffer a loss of complex, diverse and unique wetlands, forested and marsh ecosystems that cannot be easily restored, if restoration is even possible.
The mining area contains significant habitat for bald eagles, scrub jays, gopher tortoises, eastern indigo snakes and four plant species listed on state lists of endangered, threatened, or commercially exploited plant species (the giant airplant, wild coco, cinnamon fern and royal fern). The Manatee County comprehensive plan requires that endangered and threatened species be appropriately protected.
The County Commission should deny Mosaic's proposal to mine Parcel 4 based on the adverse impacts to fish and wildlife due to the loss of high quality wetlands. The mining activities involving destruction of wetlands are contrary to the public's interest. Soils altered by reclamation activities are less pervious because of the clay content in the surface horizons, and this will likely cause adverse impacts to surface and ground-water resources and the potential for reduced flow into Horse Creek.
There are some places that should never be strip mined for phosphate, and clearly Parcel 4 of the Altman Tract is one of those places.
Glenn Compton is chairman of ManaSota-88, a regional environmental group. Web site: www.manasota88.org