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Hardee planners approve Mosaic mine

Published By: Sun-Herald

WAUCHULA -- The Hardee County Planning and Zoning Board gave its approval to a deal Thursday that would

allow Mosaic Fertilizer to excavate a 10,856-acre mine along the Peace River -- and pump $42 million into county economic development projects as mitigation.

Now, all that remains separating Mosaic's draglines is approval from the Hardee County Commission, which could come at a second public hearing Aug. 14, and a wetlands dredge-and-fill permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The planning/zoning board's decision came at a joint meeting with the commission to consider a development order that sets out how Mosaic would comply with a variety of comprehensive plan policies and a development agreement.

The development agreement may prove monumental for Hardee County, which is a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern, because it calls for Mosaic to pay $42 million over 10 years for "economic mitigation."

The company would pay $5 million for each of the first two years and $4 million for each of the next eight years.

Of that, the county's general fund would get $500,000 each year, and the rest would be deposited with the county's Industrial Development Authority to finance roads, waste water systems and other infrastructure.

It could also be used to provide incentives to bring industry to the county, said Bill Lambert, county economic development director, who negotiated the deal with Mosaic's Parker Keen, assistant vice president for land management.

An important aspect of the plan is that it gives Mosaic a stake in the county's economic future, Lambert said. That's because Mosaic owns 20 percent of the land in the county, and if it does a good job in reclamation, and the county spends the money wisely to spur economic growth, the value of Mosaic's land will rise, he said.

"I fully understand the weight of doing a good job with this money," Lambert said.

Keen gave a speech about the history of Hardee County and mining that dated back to 1882, when phosphate was discovered in Zolfo Springs.

"We have an opportunity to work in more of a partnership." Keen said. "The timing is now. We are stepping up to the plate initially."

He was referring to Mosaic's contribution of $10 million to the county in the first two years to jump start the local economy.

Several commissioners and members of the audience expressed hope the money will create jobs for Hardee County's future.

"It's the defining moment of Hardee County since I've been living here for the past 63 years," said Donald Samuels, a Hardee County Commission candidate in District 1, in comments after the meeting.

At least two residents were critical of the deal, however.

Frank Kirkland, who lives in Bowling Green within a short distance of the proposed mine, said the blight of mining will make houses in his area "worth 2 cents."

"The money is to be laid aside to be played with by the big shots," he complained.

Dennis Mader, founder of People for Protecting the Peace River, questioned whether the economic development plan accounts for the limitations on growth that will be caused by Mosaic's demand for well water -- in a county where ground water resource is already about tapped out.

"Can there be any economic development if you can't get enough water?" he asked.

A Mosaic engineer explained the company has a permit to withdraw 12 million gallons of water per day to operate both its Fort Meade and South Fort Meade mines. No new production wells are planned in Hardee County, he said.

Mader also questioned whether $42 million was enough to mitigate for the economic loss of 16 square miles of agricultural lands being turned into mine sites. A county study earlier this decade has shown that the postmining landscape is not well suited for agriculture.

Mader said his group hired an economist who suggests the costs of mining would amount to $8 million per year in economic losses.

"There will be environmental degradation; there will be agricultural losses," he said.

Vanessa Hernandez, chairwoman of the Hardee County Chamber of Commerce, expressed a fear that some of the residents were "missing the bigger picture."

The economic boon will provide jobs for the county's children, she said.

"I think it's just a tremendous amount of money and a tremendous opportunity, and I just think we need to be very careful that we manage this money wisely," Commissioner Minor Bryant said.

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