News And Updates
Published By: heraldtribune.com
In principle, these are easy calls: Local governments and regional authorities should vigorously fight phosphate mining that would damage vital streams, rivers or wetlands -- even when state and federal regulators approve the mines.
In practice, protecting valuable natural resources from the effects of mining is difficult and expensive: Local and regional officials often face tough calls -- especially when regulations are inadequate and the mining companies have deep pockets.
For example, the Manatee County Commission is scheduled to consider today whether to approve significant zoning changes and a "substantial deviation" from a regional development plan, so Mosaic Fertilizer LLC can mine another 2,048 acres (known as the Altman Tract) in northeastern Manatee.
The Altman Tract mining would occur near the headwater marsh of Horse Creek and other critical wetlands and upland habitats. Horse Creek. The creek is one of six major tributaries of the Peace River, a significant source of drinking water in the region comprising Charlotte, Sarasota, DeSoto and Manatee counties.
'Overriding public benefit'
Manatee County's existing ordinance provides that wetlands cannot be destroyed unless there is an "overriding public benefit." The county's staff and expert consultants have previously recommended that the County Commission reject Mosaic's zoning and planning proposals.
As Mosaic officials have contended, the company has offered and accepted substantial improvements and conditions as part of negotiations for permits.
But the harm to natural resources -- the dredging and filling of wetlands, the disruption of stream flow -- outweigh the potential benefits, especially at this key location in the stressed Peace River watershed.
Furthermore, the state Department of Environmental Protection has yet to fully implement its "resource management plan" for the watershed -- a plan based on a long-overdue study of the cumulative impacts of mining throughout our region.
Mosaic contends that local rejection of its mining plans would amount to denial of its property rights. Unfortunately, state and federal agencies and the courts might buy that argument.
Mosaic proposals fail the test
But the Altman Tract proposals fail the public-benefit test, in our view, especially in light of existing zoning and planning rules and since Mosaic owns tens of thousands of other acres for mining.
The fear of costly litigation and the likelihood of state and federal permitting have deterred locally elected officials from continuing to challenge plans by Mosaic. Manatee County commissioners have stated those concerns and, this week, the Charlotte County Commission and the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority declined to challenge another mine -- the South Fort Meade Mine, located near the river in Hardee County.
Local and regional governments, and their constituents, should be willing to make decisions based on principle. In practice, that strategy is difficult to sustain when state and federal regulations don't provide a platform for standing firm.
The shame is that the most compelling public benefit of condoning mining proj-ects is the avoidance of lawsuits.