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Mine pact falls short of goals, attorney says

Published By: Sun Herald


Staff Writer

Charlotte to consider mine pact

Charlotte County's environmental attorney says he plugged at least one "loophole" in a proposed phosphate mining pact, but warns that several other problems with the agreement remain.

However, Ed de la Parte, the county's special attorney on the deal with the Mosaic phosphate mining company, said he had not determined whether or not he would recommend the County Commission sign the pact at its meeting today. The commission is set to discuss the proposed agreement at 1:30 p.m.

De la Parte, who has been the county's phosphate litigation attorney for more than five years, said he won some concessions from Mosaic in recent negotiations.

"I think a lot of the items in the agreement that I raised were addressed and made better and more definitive," he said.

He was asked about one clause which states Mosaic will take extra steps not required by law as necessary to ensure that its future mining operations do not "cumulatively cause adverse impacts" on water quality. The company also states it will mitigate its adverse impacts on water quantity.

However, the previous draft also had stated that, if Mosaic implements a series of specific measures listed in "Exhibit C," then it will be deemed to have satisfied the no-impact clause, regardless of whether those measures satisfactorily addressed the impacts.

For example, most of those measures were focused on the storage of topsoil during mining. That may help guarantee there will be enough topsoil to re-establish vegetation after the mining, but that wouldn't necessarily ensure the hydrology of the landscape would be restored.

De la Parte said the pact was modified so that the requirement to ensure that no adverse impacts take place was was merely repeated in Exhibit C. That was done to ensure "they cannot escape from the requirement (of) preventing adverse impacts," he said.

"So, we closed that loophole," he said.

However, de la Parte said the pact still contains some problem provisions.

For example, Mosaic refused to state in the pact that the company would support an Areawide Environmental Impact Study, provided it encompasses not only phosphate mining but also agriculture and urban impacts, despite a request for that language.

Also, the pact contains a "gray area" that may prohibit the county from asking the federal government for the study in the future.

That's because the pact includes language prohibiting the county from submitting verbal or written comments about mining to the U.S. Army Corps and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, de la Parte said.

Another retired environmental attorney, Richard Nelson of Punta Gorda, has also submitted a critique of the pact.

Nelson questions whether the county should be signing a statement that declares Mosaic has a "right to conduct mining operations."

Nelson argues Mosaic's offer to provide $50 million in insurance coverage against a catastrophic clay slime spill is inadequate. Such a disaster could cost $200 million to clean up, he warns.

Also, Mosaic's offer to provide a reservoir site is "an illusion" because the pact doesn't spell out the location or condition of the site. It could be located adjacent to mining operations or affected by other "hydrological impacts," he wrote.

The site may also be far from the water authority's other facilities and customers, Nelson warns.

Charlotte County Commissioner Tricia Duffy, who has been appointed to represent the county in negotiations on the pact, pointed out that the county's other attorneys have not expressed the same concerns as Nelson.

She said she's been discussing the pact with various people and experts in the community, including scientists, environmentalists and activists.

"I've tried to get the various perspectives and viewpoints on this, but I guess everybody seems to be involved," she said of finding a neutral party in the phosphate debate.

Monday morning, Duffy continued meetings preparing for today's discussion. Among those she spoke with Monday included Don Ross, president of Earth Balance.

"I'm kind of glad I've had this opportunity to participate in this discussion," Duffy said. "I've really enjoyed learning such a great deal and asking questions and looking for solutions.

"My perspective may be different from other people, but I respect other's opinions and hope they respect mine," she added.

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