News And Updates
Published By: Herald Tribune
During a hearing Tuesday to decide whether Charlotte County would challenge a phosphate company's permit to mine along the Peace River, commission chairman Tom D'Aprile called for a 10-minute recess.
OK? he asked.
He did not pose the question to his peers on the dais. Nor did he address several members of the public who had spoken in favor of the challenge.
Instead, D'Aprile looked into the audience at David Townsend, a vice president for Mosaic Co., as if he needed the man's permission.
Considering that phosphate-connected contributors have donated more than $5,000 toward D'Aprile's re-election, the deference is not surprising.
If nothing else, the glance identified the center of gravity for the meeting.
Later, at D'Aprile's invitation, Townsend got his chance to speak.
The county's representative, attorney Ed de la Parte, had already presented a detailed list of potential problems with Mosaic's plans as presented to and approved by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
De la Parte said the permit ignores the cumulative impact of disruptions to the watershed, will not protect nearby streams and wetlands from losing water, relies too little on preservation and too much on reclamation, fails to ensure that soil quality will be restored and does not reserve enough money to cover the replacement of sand removed during mining.
Townsend said he could refute each of de la Parte's claims. No one asked. The commissioners apparently took him at his word.
No one questioned why a company that has more than quadrupled its earnings over the previous year couldn't afford to go beyond the minimum environmental requirements.
Instead, the commissioners voted 4-1, Adam Cummings dissenting, not to oppose the permit.
Charlotte County has spent close to $13 million fighting phosphate mines along the Peace River, which feeds the Charlotte Harbor estuary and supplies most of the county's drinking water.
Although no one said the new 7,756-acre mine would do anything but harm, the commissioners refused to spend the $2,000 or so it would have cost to file a challenge.
In all fairness, county commissioners aren't supposed to regulate phosphate mines. That's the state's job.
As the Peace River runs dry, and the DEP's study of the watershed shows a loss of 49,000 acres of wetlands and 312 miles of streams, it's clear the agency hasn't lived up to its name.