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Appeals court rebuffs mining opponents

Published By: Bradenton.com

The legal battle over Mosaic Fertilizer’s plans to expand its Four Corners phosphate mine has ended in state court, but will continue in federal court.

A Florida appeals court rebuffed mining opponents last month, saying it would not review several Manatee County land-use approvals needed for the mine expansion. The Second District Court of Appeal in Lakeland did not give a reason for its decision, which was issued Dec. 3 and became final on Dec. 21.

Opponents won’t appeal the decision, instead pinning their hopes on an environmental permit challenge now pending in federal court, an attorney said Monday.

“This is the end of the road” for the state case, said Monica Reimer, a Tallahassee attorney for Earthjustice who represented the Sierra Club, ManaSota-88 and three individuals in the state case.

Mosaic spokesman Russell Schweiss said the decision was no surprise to the company. “We were expecting they would not prevail with the arguments they were making,” he said of mining opponents.

The state case stems from a series of county commission votes taken two years ago that reversed a previous denial and allowed Mosaic to mine the 2,048-acre Altman Tract in the county’s northeastern corner. Newly elected commissioners Larry Bustle and John Chappie were the swing votes.

Mining opponents quickly sued, saying the approval process was tainted. Opponents said Bustle and Chappie unfairly met with Mosaic officials but not with them before voting. They also said Mosaic’s initial threat to file a $618 million takings claim, then subsequent promise to build a fire station and park in Duette, unduly swayed commissioners.

A Manatee County circuit judge twice refused to review and overturn the approvals, leading to the appeal.

The battle now shifts to Jacksonville, where opponents are challenging U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits for Altman as well as for an expansion of Mosaic’s Fort Meade mine in Hardee County. Both challenges are on hold while Mosaic appeals a temporary injunction issued against the Fort Meade permit.

“The federal court case is probably where phosphate mining needs to be looked at,” said Glenn Compton, director of ManaSota-88. Mining opponents already have scored one victory: The Corps is launching an in-depth environmental study on the impacts of phosphate mining in parts of Manatee, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough and Polk counties. The study is expected to take at least a year.

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