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Agency reconsiders approval to dig up wetlands

Published By: tampabay.com

Federal officials have backed off their decision to allow the world's largest phosphate mining company to tear up 480 acres of wetlands south of the Sunshine Skyway bridge in Manatee County.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the federal agency in charge of protecting wetlands, had issued a permit five months ago allowing Mosaic to dig up the wetlands even though they feed into one of the region's primary water supplies.

State officials approved the mining too, because Mosaic promised to restore the wetlands when it's done mining.

But the Manatee County Commission voted 4-3 last month to reject Mosaic's mining of the 2,048-acre Altman tract because of the impact on the Peace River — a decision that led Mosaic to file a $600-million lawsuit against the county last week.

Meanwhile, a coalition of environmental groups sued the corps, challenging the permit. On Monday, a Department of Justice official notified the environmental groups that the corps had suspended the permit, halting any mining while it reconsiders the situation.

"The corps has determined that it is in the public interest to revisit the analysis in support of the permit decision," Col. Paul Grosskruger wrote to Mosaic officials in a letter dated Friday.

The environmental groups — the Sierra Club, Earthjustice, ManaSota-88, the Gulf Restoration Network and People for Protecting Peace River — hailed the decision as a victory. They also hope it's a sign of what will happen with Mosaic's plans to mine another 34,000 acres in the same region.

"This is a turning point," predicted David Guest of Earthjustice.

Mosaic officials could not be reached for comment.

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