News And Updates
Published By: heraldtribune.com
Mosaic Fertilizer owns land in our region by the tens of thousands of acres.
Yet its refusal to protect 107 acres of high-value wetlands -- at a key location critical to the health of regional creeks and rivers -- led the Manatee County Commission to narrowly reject Mosaic's application to mine the 2,000-plus acre Altman Tract.
The company's plan for the Altman Tract, in northeastern Manatee, did call for preserving 527 acres of wetlands, as Mosaic officials reiterated last week during testimony before the County Commission.
However, Manatee's mining ordinance clearly states that wetlands -- such as those on the 107 acres -- can't be destroyed unless there is an "overriding public benefit."
The county's environmental staff and expert consultants recommended rejecting the permit application, and for good reason -- despite the mining giant's threat to sue.
Property rights vs. public benefit
Mosaic contends, in essence, that enforcement of the county's wetlands-preservation ordinance and denial of the mining application would amount to a denial of property rights.
Perhaps a court will buy that argument.
But it ignores the clarity of Manatee's ordinance, the benefits of wetlands protection, the strategic location of those wetlands and the fact that Mosaic would have been granted approval to mine most of the tract if it avoided all the wetlands. Plus, the company has mined, and has plans for mining, tens of thousands of acres in a region that includes Manatee, DeSoto and Hardee counties.
In fact, business is so good at Mosaic -- a global company -- that its net earnings quadrupled during the last quarter to $862 million. That means the company has deep pockets and, as Assistant Manatee County Attorney Bill Clague told the commissioners, "It's not going to be cheap or easy to litigate ... this is a well-financed applicant with a lot of dollars at stake."
Land and water at risk
There is a lot at stake for the public and the environment, too.
The Altman Tract mining would occur near the headwater marsh of Horse Creek and other critical wetlands and upland habitats. Horse 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.
Mining companies don't extract phosphate ore gently, either: The process involves extensive excavation that scars the land, disrupts streams, interrupts shallow-water flow and displaces wildlife.
Mining tactics have improved over the years and, as Mosaic officials contend, the company 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. And, make no mistake, Mosaic has contributed substantially to those cumulative impacts.
A difficult decision
The 4-3 vote by the Manatee commissioners to reject Mosaic's request for significant zoning changes and a "substantial deviation" from its regional development plan shows that this was a difficult decision in light of the company's threatened lawsuit.
Commissioners Ron Getman, Joe McClash, Amy Stein and Jane von Hahmann made the right call in opposing the plan, though, especially since Mosaic could probably settle the dispute -- simply by following the mining ordinance and staying out of all the valuable wetlands.