News And Updates
Published By: HeraldTribune.com
A lot has changed since the Mosaic Co. said in late September that it would sue Manatee County for $618 million. Global economic conditions have continued to erode. Financial outlooks for local governments have deteriorated further. And two new Manatee County commissioners have taken office.
Those factors provide the backdrop for a the County Commission's discussion today of a proposed settlement with the multinational phosphate mining company.
On Sept. 29, Mosaic declared its intention to sue the commission unless it reversed a 4-3 vote cast two weeks earlier and let the company mine 2,000-plus acres -- including 107 acres of environmentally invaluable wetlands -- on the Altman Tract in north Manatee.
The money figure cited by Mosaic got a lot of attention at the time and probably will today as well. But since Mosaic placed a value of about $600 million on the phosphate lying underneath the tract, the county commissioners and their counsel should recognize something else that has changed in the last three months: The worldwide demand for phosphate has fallen suddenly and dramatically. In fact, Mosaic recently announced that it would substantially reduce phosphate production this month, maintaining a recent trend; other phosphate companies are doing the same.
Yet Mosaic still seeks to mine hundreds of acres of high-quality wetlands -- albeit with additional conditions -- and wants the county to approve a "substantial deviation" from the company's original plans.
Demand for phosphate products may well rebound, but the value of wetlands has either remained steady or increased. County ordinances clearly prohibit the destruction of high-quality wetlands unless there is an "overriding public benefit."
The county attorney's office recommended the settlement for what it said were "reasons that will be explained" at today's meeting. Even if a settlement is reached, Mosaic would have to get the County Commission's approval of permits and changes in plans and ordinances.
A good explanation of the settlement would include details about what steps, if any, Mosaic could take to show an overriding public benefit of mining in the wetlands.
Specifically, what impacts would the settlement have on the previous proposal to mine 107 acres of wetlands near the headwater marsh of Horse Creek and other critical habitats? A lack of protection for those wetlands led several commissioners to vote against Mosaic's plan, and for good reason: Horse Creek is one of the six major tributaries of the Peace River, a significant source of drinking water in the region comprising Charlotte, DeSoto, Manatee and Sarasota counties.
There is never a good time for Manatee County to be sued. On the other hand, Mosaic's stock has dropped from $161 per share in July to about $31 recently, so it's probably not looking to spend money on litigation.
The formula for avoiding a lawsuit is simple: Mosaic should follow the ordinance and stay out of the high-quality wetlands.