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Mosaic offers wetlands for Altman mine OK

Published By: Herald Tribune


MANATEE COUNTY -- Phosphate giant Mosaic Co.'s bid to expand its mining operation in northeast Manatee largely hinges on whether it can restore almost 400 acres of wetlands that are rich in wildlife.

Mosaic officials are so sure they can, they are willing to bet almost 600 acres on it.

The company has already promised to build a new fire station and park in Duette providing that Manatee County allow it to mine the Altman Tract, a 2,048-acre plot of land in Duette.

The company told county officials Tuesday that it was willing to offer two other tracts of land as a guarantee that it would restore wetlands destroyed by mining.

The land would be put into a holding status until county officials sign off on Mosaic's restoration of wetlands.

The land Mosaic is offering as a guarantee includes 400 acres of wetlands, roughly the same number as Mosaic would destroy by mining the Altman tract. The land is located about 10 miles south of Duette.

"We're not Wal-Mart; we're not 7-11. We can't move to the next intersection," said Frank Matthews, an attorney representing Mosaic. "We have to extract the resource where it exists."

Mosaic has spent seven years battling local governments and trying to satisfy state and federal agencies to get permits to mine the tract.

The property is in the Peace River Basin, part of the headwaters of the Peace River, one of the region's main sources of drinking water.

Some local government officials and environmentalists fear that the mines, which strip land of essential minerals, will harm water quality.

Charlotte County, which gets drinking water from the Peace River, spent about $12 million and eight years fighting the project.

Manatee commissioners were lukewarm to Mosaic's idea, pointing out that the land being offered as a guarantee was not in the Peace River Basin.

They delayed voting on the project Tuesday, saying they wanted more information on Mosaic's success at restoring wetlands and whether mining would affect the flow of the Peace River. A second public hearing is scheduled for April 14.

Even with more information, the project will remain a tough dilemma for the county.

Florida law supports phosphate mining as an acceptable use of property that also promotes economic development.

But Manatee County's land use laws state that, where possible, damage to wetlands should be avoided or minimized.

In the last three years, the county has allowed only 25 acres of wetlands to be developed. Most were low-quality wetlands.

The 397 acres of wetlands that Mosaic would mine are mostly high quality. Many of them are connected to the site's central marsh system, which feeds into Horseshoe Creek, part of the headwaters of the Peace River.

The tract is also home to several rare and listed species including gopher tortoises, eastern indigo snakes and an eagle's nest.

At the hearing, environmentalists warned that in a time of drought, the county cannot risk harming the region's water supply. They also questioned whether wetlands can be successfully restored.

But residents from Duette urged the county to approve the project, saying the community needs the new $500,000 fire station Mosaic is offering.

The Duette Fire Department became a taxing district just last year. Its annual budget is less than $150,000.

"It benefits our personnel and increases our ability to respond," said Jim Leonard, Duette fire chief.

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