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Manatee commission to hear Mosaic dispute

Published By: bradenton.com

MANATEE -- A Tuesday discussion before the Manatee County Commission pits the environmental concerns of a vocal minority against landowner rights, a new Duette fire station and a potential economic shot in the arm.

Phosphate mining giant Mosaic Fertilizer wants to mine a huge expanse of land in northeast Manatee known as the Altman tract. But pristine wetlands - close to 400 acres on the 2,000-acre tract - stand in the company's way. The debate over protecting the wetlands versus simply recreating them elsewhere has been at the heart of the matter as it's taken shape over the past six years.

Mosaic thinks its latest proposal is its most generous: In exchange for mining rights on 1,500 valuable acres, including the wetlands, the company says it will chip in another $1 million for a new fire station and a park for Duette, a rural community whose residents sometimes feel neglected by the county. Mosaic contends new jobs will be created, meaning higher tax revenues for the state and for the county.

Duette fire officials are on board with the plan, having told Manatee's planning commission in December that a new station is sorely needed in the community. Fire operations are now housed in a refurbished pole barn and firefighters rely on outdated equipment to service a 136-square-mile area.

County planners and environmentalists question whether Mosaic could adequately restore the wetlands. They're also concerned about the possible effects on Horse Creek and the Peace River, one of the region's main sources of drinking water.

Mosaic has had to iron out myriad concerns with its plan over the years. Complications and more than 30 postponements have kept it from being heard at the highest level for more than six years. But an all-day discussion on the Altman tract is planned to begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday in the first-floor chambers of Manatee County Administrative Center, 1112 Manatee Ave. W.

The wetlands are peppered across the site and Mosaic says it's not worth it to work around them. The company has strongly defended its track record in restoring mined lands, especially wetlands, to their pre-mined state.

"It's probably the most scrutinized application ever brought before Manatee County, and we believe it's the highest quality in terms of balancing environmental protections with the rights of a property owner," Mosaic's David Townsend said Friday.

It's unclear whether commissioners will take a final vote on the project Tuesday.

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