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11/09/2007

Team refines Phosphate Compact

Published By: Sun Herald

By GREG MARTIN
Staff Writer

The latest draft of a local government team's proposed litigation settlement pact with the world's largest phosphate mining company now clarifies how a water quality monitoring program would be established and specifies that Mosaic Fertilizer will donate a reservoir site at no charge.

The so-called Phosphate Compact also now calls for Mosaic and the local governments to review in the future whether the company's site-specific environmental impact statement for its proposed 20,676-acre Ona mine satisfies Charlotte County's call for an area-wide Environmental Impact Statement.

But the pact fails to state what happens if the county still feels the area-wide study is needed.

"I think we've done way more than tweaked the compact," Commissioner Tricia Duffy, who was appointed to represent the county in the negotiations, said at the county's monthly roundtable discussion Tuesday.

But the deal doesn't go far enough, according to County Commissioner Adam Cummings. He called for the pact to require Mosaic to participate in an Area-wide study and adopt an "effective resource management plan" based on that study.

"I don't think we're there yet," Cummings said, "and we're not in any hurry."

But at least two county commissioners lobbied for the county to press ahead this month to consider adopting a finalized pact. Commission Chairman Richard Loftus and Duffy both said they feel the time is at hand to settle the county's costly litigation with Mosaic.

In fact, Loftus and Duffy also said they see no need to wait for a joint meeting requested by the Lee County Commission before Charlotte decides whether to sign the pact.

Mosaic plans to mine at least another 100,000 acres within the lower Peace River watershed.

The pact calls for Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority to agree not to oppose Mosaic's mining activities.

However, the agreement would allow the counties to lobby for stronger legislation or regulations over the mining. And, if the counties felt Mosaic wasn't fulfilling its obligations, the local governments could take the company into a binding arbitration process.

In exchange, Mosaic offers to take extra steps to protect the Peace and Myakka rivers. The company offers to adopt extra rules for storing topsoil, building clay-settling areas and keeping wetlands adjacent to mine pits from drying out.

The company also offers to establish a monitoring program, provide a reservoir site and keep mining out of the 100-year flood plain of the Peace and Myakka rivers and a now-clarified list of streams.

For example, Mosaic, in the latest round of negotiations, agreed to add Bud Slough, Mud Lake Slough, Wildcat Slough and Big Slough Canal in the Myakkahatchee Creek watershed. North Port utility officials had expressed concerns about mining in the watershed of the city's water supply.

Ed de la Parte, Charlotte County's special environmental attorney, pointed out that Lee County may refuse to sign the pact if the joint meeting it requested isn't held.

Mosaic representatives have said they would reject the deal if all four local governments don't sign, he said. However, Mosaic spokesman David Townsend said Thursday the company would leave open its option to sign the pact even if Lee doesn't. De la Parte was set to attend a Lee commission meeting to discuss the pact later Tuesday afternoon.

Loftus recalled that when he met with Mosaic's vice president, Rich Mack, last month, the chairman agreed that his county would "expedite" its consideration of the deal. Loftus also pointed out that Duffy had tried to call the Lee County chairman several times to arrange a joint meeting, and the chairman didn't return her calls.

"I don't see that putting everyone in one room together to argue this out will accomplish anything," Duffy added.

Charlotte County Commissioner Tom Moore said he believes Mosaic will sign the pact even if Lee County doesn't. But Cummings warned that "rushing" the deal is putting the county's expert negotiators at a disadvantage.

"We're not trying to rush," Duffy said. "This (settlement talks) has been going on for months."

She added that the county can settle with Mosaic or "go back to litigation."

"I don't think that's what the citizens want," Duffy said.

Cummings, however, argued the community has expressed a desire for the county not to rush into a settlement that may prove counter to the public interest.

The Charlotte Assembly and the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce have both taken positions that support county actions to protect Charlotte Harbor from phosphate mining impacts, Cummings added.

"That's funny, Commissioner Cummings, because I must be talking to different people," Duffy said. She said some members of the assembly and chamber have told her that they don't endorse more litigation.

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

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