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Mosaic to Briefly Open Mine

Published By: The Ledger

Some 140 phosphate mine workers will see a brighter Christmas holiday after being called back to work for about four more months.

The Mosaic Co. on Friday announced it would reopen the disputed South Fort Meade Mine by Nov. 30, three weeks after it made an agreement with environmental groups to extend the mine to about 200 acres in North Hardee County.

The company will call back all 140 workers laid off in September, spokesman Russell Schweiss said. Some of those workers have worked in temporary positions at other Mosaic facilities since then.

The 200 acres open to mining will allow South Fort Meade to run at full capacity into March, he said.

"Our hope is (that) by then there would be some movement in the litigation or some further results from negotiations" that would allow the mine to operate longer, Schweiss said.

The mine workers' fates are tied to resolving a lawsuit filed June 30 by the Sierra Club Inc. and two local environmental groups, ManaSota 88 and Wauchula-based People for Protecting Peace River Inc., at the federal District Court in Jacksonville. It has challenged the mining permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to extend South Fort Meade onto a 10,583-acre Hardee tract.

Federal Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. in July halted the mine expansion and ordered the Army Corps to study less environmentally damaging mining alternatives.

Mosaic appealed that ruling to the Atlanta-based U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals and also sought a modification of Adams' order to allow mining on the 200 acres just south of the Polk County line. Mosaic had prepared that property for mining before the lawsuit, Schweiss said, so environmental impact was minimal.

In court-ordered mediation, the Sierra Club and its partners agreed to allow mining on the 200 acres if Mosaic agreed to leave approximately 40 acres, including 14.3 acres of wetlands, untouched.

The settlement includes a conservation easement that will permanently protect those 40 acres.

All parties have filed written arguments with the Atlanta appellate court, which has agreed to expedite its decision, Schweiss said.

Schweiss had no estimate on how long an expedited decision may take.

The court could decide the case on written arguments alone or could ask for oral arguments before ruling.

Meanwhile, Mosaic and the environmental groups continue to negotiate the mine extension dispute in hopes of reaching an out-of-court settlement, Schweiss said.

A Sierra Club spokeswoman could not be reached to comment Friday.

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