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Mosaic makes its case — again

Published By: BradentonHerald.com

By ROSALIE SHAFFER Special to the Herald

The Mosaic mining company may be getting a long-awaited decision from Manatee County on Monday.

After many deferrals, its request for a land-use change to mine for phosphate in the 2,048-acre Altman Tract Parcel 4 is scheduled to be heard on Monday before the county commission.

The proposed mine site is in the northeastern part of the county, adjacent to Mosaic's Four Corners Mine complex.

Manatee County commissioners will be determining whether the plan to remove an estimated 8 million tons of the mineral - used mainly to manufacture fertilizer - complies with the county's rules and serves the public interest.

Mosaic says its environmental safeguards go far beyond what should be necessary to obtain approval. Opponents say the impacts to wetlands and risk to water quality and quantity make it a project that should be denied.

"We feel we've taken every step we can to provide the scientific, financial and regulatory assurances that should give the Board of County Commissioners the confidence to vote in favor of the permit," said Mosaic spokesman Dave Townsend.

Glenn Compton of the Manasota-88 environmental organization disagrees, citing the high-quality wetlands on the site and its location at the headwaters of Horse Creek.

"There are some places that should never be strip-mined for phosphate," he said. "Clearly, Parcel 4 of the Altman Tract is one of those places."

This will be Altman's second hearing before the commission.

On Feb. 4, commissioners raised questions about mining's effect on downstream water supplies and whether the high-quality wetlands on the site could be successfully recreated. County staff, the Mosaic Company, and consultants will address those questions and the public will have an opportunity to comment.

Mosaic's current plan, which has changed over the years, is to mine 1,521 acres of the site, which will include excavating 397 of the site's 732 acres of wetlands.

In addition to its plan to restore the wetlands and wildlife habitats, the company has also offered to fund a fire station and park in Duette.

The Manatee County Planning Commission voted against the proposal in December, citing its impact on wetlands, doubts that the wetlands could be successfully recreated, and possible effects on the flow or water quality of Horse Creek and the Peace River, a major source of drinking water for the counties downstream.

The county's planning and environmental staff recommend that the county not approve it. Karen Collins-Fleming, director of the county's Environmental Management Department said, "Basically what we are going to be doing, assisted by our consultant, is to address all the questions raised by the board last time, such as the hydrological and downstream impacts that may affect the Peace River. We will also discuss what would be a reasonable expectation that would constitute success for a reclaimed site."

Karen Collins-Fleming, director of the county's Environmental Management Department, also noted that it's hard to restore the soil structure after it's been mined. "You can't recreate it since you've taken out a couple of layers. Even if you put strata back in the same sequence, you are missing layers, since phosphate and clay have been removed." She said the impacts of those changes are among the issues that will be addressed by the county's consultant.

Mosaic stands by its Altman application. Citing eight years of working with federal, state and local permitting agencies and collaborative efforts with several counties, Townsend said the Altman permit is the most scrutinized application ever brought before Manatee County.

"Our view is that the permit application provides unprecedented environmental protections and sets an unprecedented standard for a phosphate mining permit in Florida," he said.

Townsend said Mosaic has a long history of successful reclamation. "We have clearly demonstrated our ability to restore the wetland functions, with respect to all the key ingredients of restoration and we will be prepared to speak on that in detail on Monday," he said.

Another issue for the commissioners is whether Altman is consistent with the county's comprehensive plan, which requires avoidance of wetland impacts unless there's an overriding benefit to the public. Mosaic has said that farmers need this strategic mineral, so its mining is in the public interest. Opponents have held that the mining comes with risks that are too great to take.

If you go:

Mosaic mining land use change for the Altman Tract

Public hearing, 9:00 am

Manatee County Commission chambers, 1112 Manatee Avenue West

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