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Rays' spring naming-rights deal meets heavy resistance

Published By: tbo.com

The Charlotte County Commission met Tuesday morning to decide 'yea' or 'nay' on the new name for the Tampa Bay Rays spring training site in Port Charlotte, but the matter never came to a vote.

Both the Rays and the Mosaic Co., citing backlash from one Charlotte County Commissioner and two environmental groups, asked the commission to postpone the vote.

"We asked to withdraw the vote from (Tuesday's agenda) because we felt the controversy would prevent an impartial vote," David Townsend, Mosaic's assistant vice president of public affairs, said. "Both we and the Rays decided to regroup and decide our next step."

The Rays' comment came in the form of this statement issued by Rick Vaughn, the team's vice president of communications: "We requested that the Charlotte County Commission postpone its vote in order give us adequate time to gauge community sentiment."

A segment of the Charlotte County population is opposed to the 15-year deal the Rays struck last week with the Mulberry-based Mosaic Co., which produces phosphate-based fertilizer, to call the facility Mosaic Field at Charlotte Sports Park.

Charlotte County spent $12 million over the past 10 years fighting the phosphate company's plans to strip mine in the Charlotte Harbor watershed.

"I told the Rays' (general manager) that was the dumbest idea you've ever come up with. I said it was going to be a public relations nightmare, and it was," Bob Starr, Charlotte County Commissioner chairman, said.

Townsend said the county brought litigation against four permits.

"In each case the courts ruled their complaints were invalid," Townsend said.

The Rays and Mosaic reached the agreement Feb. 3. The deal called for the county to receive $77,250 this year with a 3 percent increase per year for the next 14 years. Townsend said the county commissioners were briefed early in the day before the news was made public.

Opposition to the Rays' agreement with Mosaic has been led by Commissioner Adam Cummings, the Greater Charlotte Harbor Group of the Sierra Club and 3PR, an environmental group that serves to protect the Peace River watershed.

"For those of us who know the environmental damage and the threats to our water supply which this company causes, it's a disgrace," Sue Reske of the Greater Charlotte Harbor Group of the Sierra Club said in a release. "Mosaic's latest water permit request is for three times the amount which all 250,000 of us downstream use each day. It's simply outrageous for the Rays to ask Charlotte County, which has been working to reinvent itself as a green community, to consider selling our primary public symbol to this greedy polluter."

Added 3PR president Dennis Mader in the same release: "It's indisputable that the Peace River basin is suffering from the effects of wall-to-wall phosphate strip mines."

Townsend disputed those comments and claimed the opposition came from a small group. He noted Mosaic's named appeared at Charlotte Sports Park last season, including on top of the dugouts.

"And no one said a word then," Townsend said.

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