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Mining proposal back before county today

Published By: BradentonHerald.com

Mosaic Co.’s eight-year effort to win Manatee County approval to mine a 2,048-acre tract for phosphate could end today.

Opponents, though, are vowing to extend the fight — possibly in court.

They’ll clash again today before county commissioners, who are scheduled to hold a second pair of public hearings on Mosaic’s plan to mine the Altman Tract in the county’s northeastern corner.

The hearings focus on a master mine plan and an operating permit, both of which would outline how Mosaic is to mine the land and ultimately restore it. Commissioners previously approved adding the site to Mosaic’s existing Four Corners Mine and rezoning the tract to allow mining.

If commissioners approve both of today’s items, Mosaic would need only a federal dredge-and-fill permit to begin scooping phosphate-rich ore from beneath the surface.

The hearings are part of a settlement the county and Mosaic reached after commissioners split in rejecting the controversial mining proposal in September. The majority said the company’s plans did not provide enough of a public benefit to outweigh the potential destruction of almost 400 acres of high-quality wetlands.

Mosaic quickly filed a $618 million property-rights claim and two legal challenges against the county. That led to the settlement, more concessions by Mosaic and the county’s reversal, with new commissioners Larry Bustle and John Chappie the swing votes. That dismayed dozens of environmentalists and mining opponents who had packed the Jan. 15 meeting to argue that mining Altman would imperil the Peace River, a major source of drinking water for Southwest Florida.

They’re organizing carpools for today’s meeting, hoping a show of force will persuade commissioners to vote against Mosaic this time.

“We think the commission made a grave mistake, and we hope (today) the commission will fix that mistake,” said Cris Costello, a regional representative for the Sierra Club.

Mining opponents contend the settlement and subsequent commission votes are invalid, largely because Bustle and Chappie met with Mosaic officials — but not mining opponents — and toured the company’s mining operations before voting in Mosaic’s favor.

County attorneys say the meetings, which took place before Bustle and Chappie took office, were legal fact-finding trips. Opponents also question whether the county guaranteed Mosaic’s predecessor the right to mine Altman as part of a 1996 land swap. If so, that would be illegal, Costello contends.

She acknowledged those arguments could form the basis of a lawsuit if the county gives the final two approvals.

“We are certainly looking into a legal avenue by which we could challenge their decision,” Costello said.

Mosaic also has hinted it would resurrect its claim and challenges against the county if it again changes course and votes against the company. A Mosaic spokesman was out of the office and unavailable for comment Wednesday.

Duane Marsteller, transportation/growth and development reporter, can be reached at 745-7080, ext. 2630.

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