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Published By: bradenton.com

When the Manatee County Commission refused in September to grant Mosaic a permit to mine the Altman Tract, we hailed the decision to protect pristine wetlands that feed the river that supplies water for a quarter million people in southwest Florida.

That decision, though, came on the narrowest of margins — by a 4-3 vote. Two commissioners voting with the majority, Amy Stein Fucini and Jane von Hahmann, no longer sit on the board, defeated in their re-election bids by Larry Bustle and John Chappie, respectively.

Today, the commission will re-examine the issue, with Mosaic’s $618 million property-loss claim casting a dark cloud over the discussion. Mosaic, the world’s largest phosphate company, filed that claim against the county after the vote rejecting the mining permit application.

Other than that claim, the facts behind the issue remain the same.

The 2,048-acre Altman Tract in northwest Manatee County includes almost 400 acres of high-quality wetlands that feed into the Peace River, a source of drinking water for Sarasota and Charlotte counties. The river is also critical to the health of Charlotte Harbor’s estuary, the linchpin for Lee County’s tourism and seafood industries.

While Mosaic vows to restore wetlands destroyed by mining, scientific studies show man-made wetlands rarely re-create natural ones. A study of the Peace River region in 2007 discovered that thousands of acres of wetlands had disappeared, despite state requirements that developers and miners replace what they destroy.

Mosaic maintains wetlands restoration works while environmentalists say the company has never demonstrated that. The key is not what looks good on the surface, but what is happening beneath.

The mining giant is dangling a concession before commissioners — the preservation of more wetlands at another site. That’s not a good trade-off for the loss of pristine wetlands.

While we appreciate mining’s economic benefits to the county and Mosaic’s offer to build a fire station and community park, the threat to regional water supplies remains too great.

The company’s $618 million property-loss claim is a big threat as well. But whether Mosaic can prove its case is a complex and debatable issue. As we stated in September, the county stands on solid footing by determining that mining pristine wetlands does not give the public a significant benefit, as mandated by the county’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code regarding wetlands.

We’ve urged Mosaic to abandon plans to mine the wetlands in question. Had the company taken those wetlands and possibly others off the table, the county’s September decision might have gone the other way. We would have supported that, too. We’re not against mining, just mining that destroys pristine wetlands. Apparently, the phosphate deposits there are too valuable.

We urge the commission to stand firm in the protection of our regional water supply. Spare our environment from a grave threat.

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