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Mining opponents sue county

Published By: bradenton.com

MANATEE — A controversial phosphate-mining proposal is back in a familiar place: court.

Mining opponents sued Manatee County and Mosaic Fertilizer on Tuesday, contending county commissioners wrongly approved the company’s plans to mine the 2,048-acre Altman Tract near Duette.

The county’s approvals “were not legitimate and they were illegal,” said Cris Costello, a regional representative for the Sierra Club, which joined ManaSota-88 and three individuals in filing two suits in Manatee County Circuit Court.

The individuals are John Korvick and Joseph John Rehill, who both live near the proposed mine, and environmentalist Mary Sheppard, a member of the county’s planning advisory board.

County Attorney Tedd Williams and Mosaic spokesman David Townsend declined to comment on the suits because they had not seen them.

But Townsend said, “we certainly stand by the process that occurred and know that we conducted ourselves in an up-front manner.” That process reached a decision point in September when commissioners denied the project because of wetlands issues. Mosaic quickly filed a nearly $618 million property-loss claim against the county and two legal challenges of the denial.

In the ensuing three months, new commissioners Larry Bustle and John Chappie joined the board — replacing two who had voted against Mosaic — and a settlement to reconsider the denial was reached in the property-loss claim. Commissioners approved the settlement in December, with Bustle and Chappie the swing votes.

They also were the swing votes in four decisions, made in mid-January and early February, to approve the project as a result of the settlement.

The opponents’ suits contend those decisions are null and void for several reasons: n Commissioners lacked power to vote on the settlement because Mosaic’s court appeals of the September denial were still pending at the time.

• The board violated its procedures, which state an already decided issue can only be reconsidered within 30 days and at the request of a commissioner who had voted with the majority the first time. Neither happened when commissioners approved the settlement and the project, the suits said.

• Bustle, Chappie and county attorneys violated opponents’ constitutional rights to due process by meeting with Mosaic, but not with opponents, before the settlement vote was taken.

“Absolutely everything the county has done since those (Mosaic) appeals were filed is null and void,” contends Monica Reimer, an attorney for Earthjustice, an environmental-law group that filed the suits on opponents’ behalf.

The suits also contend Mosaic and the county engaged in “illegal contract zoning” when the company offered to construct a fire station, build a community park and give up to $75,000 to the county’s environmental-education efforts if the mining proposal was approved.

Mosaic has not yet begun mining the site because the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has suspended a permit pending further review, a result of a lawsuit filed by mining opponents.

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

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