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Commission mines phosphate agreement

Published By: Sun Herald


Staff Writer

NORTH PORT -- Lawyers, hydrologists, utility managers and commissioners from both Sarasota and Charlotte counties gathered in North Port commission chambers Monday for a workshop on a proposed settlement pact with the Mosaic phosphate-mining company.

Although phosphate mining doesn't take place nearby, the industry can influence the regional water supply, including the Myakka River, the Peace River Basin and the Big Slough watershed area.

"A (Department of Environmental protection) study documented the accumulated impacts from mining, agriculture

and industry, and it found 591,462 acres of native uplands have been converted to other uses. That's 924 square miles," said Ed de la Parte, special environmental counsel for Charlotte County. "Also 213 acres of wetlands have been lost. That's why we're so very concerned with the impact on the water supply."

The agreement calls for Mosaic to take extra steps to mitigate its impacts to the flow of the Peace River. The deal also states a site for a 6.5 billion-gallon reservoir would be provided "at no charge." Monitoring of water quality will also take place. If a health and safety issue arises, an immediate injunction can be filed to stop mining.

In exchange, the local governments would agree not to litigate or oppose Mosaic's operations, unless such legal action was needed to protect citizens against an "imminent, serious threat to the health, safety and welfare." Negotiations between regional players and Mosaic have resulted in the company agreeing to protect some 20 creek areas.

"Because of state rules and regulations now, there's nothing that anyone can do to stop mining, but in the meantime, instead of allowing the litigation process to continue, this pact is, in essence, trying to get some sort of binding agreement to try and protect the environment to the best of our ability," Commissioner Vanessa Carusone summed up.

North Port has very little say in the matter, however. As they are not party to the litigation, the city can't trigger any of the provisions which Mosaic must meet.

Litigation has cost member governments between $14 million and $15 million so far, according to Doug Mason, general counsel for the Peace River/Manasota Regional Water Supply Authority.

"The compact creates an open dialogue on future issues," he said of the agreement. "If we have an issue, we can bring it to Mosaic. It provides a realistic ending to litigation."

The agreement is for 15 years, with an option to renew for another 15 years.

Commissioners had several concerns. Primarily, that cumulative impact analyses, which are mandated by federal statutes, are not being conducted.

"I think, we as a commission, we want to have some kind of input into this," said Commissioner Barbara Gross. "It looks like the agreement is going to go forward, and I think it has a lot of good things in it. But for the cumulative impact studies, I'd like to see that kind of thing go in there."

She said the commission should make their feelings known to county commissioners before they discuss the agreement later this month.

Several commissioners, including Carusone and Commissioner Jim Blucher, wanted to avoid being involved with litigation as much as possible.

"If we see something wrong, we can take action. I think our biggest key is communication," said Carusone. "I don't know what else we can do as a city with no voting rights."

The Charlotte County Commission will discuss and possibly vote on the agreement today. Sarasota County Commissioners will address the issue Nov. 27. Lee County has requested that the three counties hold a joint meeting, but no such meeting has been scheduled.

"Maybe we have a unique opportunity and we're lucky we're not part of the agreement, because I have a lot of concerns and unanswered questions," said Commission Chair Fred Tower III. "I think as a city, we need a strategy to look at this as we go down the line and work with the Peace River Authority. We are a customer, not a player, and we need to look at the data and keep track of it. We will have to make our own decisions. We need to look out for ourselves, because no one else is."

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