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Should Manatee County approve phosphate mining permit?

Published By: bradenton.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: Phosphate mining giant Mosaic Fertilizer is seeking approval of a mining permit for a large piece of land in northeast Manatee known as the Altman tract. County commissioners will examine the request during an all-day work session Tuesday.

Yes: Altman request sets high mark of protections

The Altman mine permit has been perhaps the most scrutinized land-use application ever brought before Manatee County, and after nearly eight years of legal, environmental and regulatory review and compromise involving multiple entities, it sets an unprecedented standard for phosphate mines in Florida.

Against that background, it's surprising and disappointing that Manatee County staff has recommended that it be denied. We appreciate this opportunity to provide readers with clarifying facts about the permit and its many protections.

The Altman parcel is comprised of 2,048 acres in northeastern Manatee County and is part of our Four Corners mine, which has been operating for 23 years. In the permitting process since 2000, it has undergone rigorous review by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and even the Environmental Protection Agency. It has also been the subject of litigation. After the addition of numerous protections, it was subsequently approved and all legal challenges were dropped.

The highly successful Horse Creek Stewardship Plan was a positive outgrowth of this process. A partnership between Mosaic and your regional water authority, it provides ongoing water-quality monitoring and fish surveys as a measure to gauge the health of the system and any potential impacts the mining industry may have. Since its inception in 2003, it continues to demonstrate that our mining operations are not adversely impacting Horse Creek. Three separate judges in three separate permit proceedings have also concluded that Mosaic's proposed mining will not adversely impact water quality, water quantity or the region's water supply. Nevertheless, Manatee County staff has taken a position that no level of protection we can offer is acceptable - for all practical purposes, denying us the right to mine the valuable and essential natural resource underlying our property. We believe this position is unreasonable and far overreaches the boundaries of the county's comprehensive plan, against which our application is supposed to be measured.

Among its numerous protections, the permit preserves 26 percent of the total Altman site and 46 percent of its wetlands from any disturbance by mining. Preserved areas include the headwater marsh of Horse Creek and other critical wetland and upland habitats. It also places 560 acres into a conservation easement for perpetual protection. This conservation easement interconnects with wildlife corridors in Manatee, Hardee and Hillsborough counties.

Reclamation will re-create premining natural landscapes and surface flows. We will restore all premining wetlands and create more than 100 acres of new wetlands. They will be designed to ensure functional hydrology along with diverse native flora to re-create a thriving habitat. Yes, it will take time for these systems to fully re-establish, but Mosaic has a demonstrated history of wetlands reclamation success and the expertise to ensure it at Altman.

We are also a recognized leader in innovating successful wildlife habitat management. Numerous plans have been approved for Altman to maintain viable wildlife populations and promote recolonization after reclamation.

These are just a few examples of the protective measures embodied in the permit.

Our offer to build a fire station and public park for the community of Duette has been publicly mischaracterized as a trade-off for wetlands impacts. The fact is the public park project was in the works long before the Altman permit was presented for county approval and will be constructed regardless of the outcome. While it's true the offer to build a fire station arose during permit discussions, it represents a very legitimate need and was an effort on our part to meet the public benefit aspirations of the county's comprehensive plan. We're proud of our record of community support and make no apologies for offering to help the deserving citizens of Duette in this way.

We trust Manatee County commissioners will weigh the Altman permit application objectively and on its factual merits, as opposed to opinion or the sentiment of special-interest groups. They can do so with the knowledge and confidence that this permit provides unprecedented environmental protections, while allowing our company the right to produce a product that's critical to our nation's farmers and food supply.

Tom Myers, assistant vice president of mine planning and reclamation for Mosaic, has been closely involved in the Altman permit process.

Tom Myers Commentary

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