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Judge urges EPA to OK phosphate mine permit

Published By: news-press.com

An administrative judge has ruled against Lee and Sarasota counties' request to stop a permit to extend phosphate mining into Hardee County.

The administrative judge late Thursday recommended the permit sought by Mosaic Fertilizer be approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

The permit will allow Mosaic to expand its South Fort Meade Mine, now in Polk County, to a 10,856-acre tract in Hardee County.

Officials in Lee and Sarasota counties say the danger is that the growth of phosphate mining in the Peace River basin will ultimately harm Charlotte Harbor, a vast coastal estuary, most of which lies in Lee County.

The Peace River is the main source of fresh water for the harbor, which in turn generates billions in value as a seafood factory and recreational resource.

The administrative judge said the expansion of the mine won't adversely affect water quality downstream. He made his decision after a two-week hearing in November.

This is the fourth time a judge has concluded the proposed mining will not hurt water quality.

"We are pleased with the judge's ruling and his careful review of the facts,'' said Richard L. Mack, Mosaic's senior vice president and general counsel.

He said 71 percent of the on-site wetlands will not be disturbed by mining, and 2,100 acres will be placed in a permanent conservation easement.

Lee County has spent around $4 million in legal fees to fight the permit. Charlotte County, which spent about $12 million, gave up its fight in August.

Now it's up to Lee's commissioners to decide what to do next.

"I have supported the majority of the commission in continuing our litigation to make sure everything was done to protect our waterways, particularly Charlotte Harbor," Lee County Commissioner Frank Mann said. "I still have to talk to our attorneys about this (case), but we may have done all we can."

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