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Lawsuit delays Mosaic decision

Published By: heraldtribune.com

MANATEE COUNTY - Area environmentalists scored a victory on Thursday, albeit a temporary one, in their effort to block a controversial expansion of phosphate mining in Duette.

The Manatee County Commission again delayed a vote on a plan by Mosaic Phosphate Co. to dig into 1,521 acres in the so-called Altman Tract and destroy about 400 acres of wetlands in the process.

Formal consideration of the mining plan will now come Sept. 16.

Four environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. They claim the Corps improperly granted a dredge and fill permit to the Mosaic Phosphate Co. in May.

Manatee County was not named as a defendant in that suit, but county attorneys say they must determine if a county vote on the project would drag it into that case.

"I'm going to need some time to see how that plays into our process," said Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague, who recommended the delay.

The Sierra Club, Manasota-88, the Gulf Restoration Network and People for Protected Peace River claim in their lawsuit that the Corps of Engineers issued the permit without properly considering the environmental ramifications of the plan.

County approval is the last regulatory hurdle Mosaic faces before it can expand into the Altman Tract.

The groups suing the Corps of Engineers had hoped commissioners might delay the vote. To hammer that point home, they held a press conference Tuesday in front of the county's administrative offices in downtown Bradenton.

Cris Costello, regional representative for the Sierra Club, said she counts the delayed vote as something of a win.

"Postponing the decision is always good," Costello said. "We would have preferred them to vote 'no' and get it over."

Mosaic officials said they also were ready for an up-or- down vote. Company attorney Frank Matthews told commissioners he did not believe the federal lawsuit would affect the county in any way.

Commissioners said they were in a tight spot on the issue. On the one hand, county policy is to protect high-quality wetlands in most development cases. On the other, they said they worried a rejection of the plan would prompt Mosaic to sue the county for $400 million -- the estimated value of the phosphate.

"This is probably the toughest piece of property ever to be mined in Manatee County, in the history of mining," Commissioner Joe McClash told Mosaic representatives. "You have a right to ask, and we have the responsibility to figure out whether the public's interest is protected."

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