On April 1st, while most residents of this county were sitting down to their evening meal, the Hardee County Planning and Zoning Board and Board of County Commissioners amended our county Comprehensive Plan Mining Overlay to include 3600 acres of producing citrus groves for future phosphate strip mining. By the time your meal was over it was a done deal, and the county’s agricultural base was further eroded. I attended this hearing and felt both saddened and outraged by what I witnessed there….
First of all, it seems that a joint meeting of the two boards is a privilege reserved only for the pleasure of the phosphate mining industry. Any other party seeking an amendment or special exception to the Comprehensive Plan has to meet with both boards individually and in succession. Once a party has the approval of the Planning and Zoning Board they then have to take their case before the Board of Commissioners… but not the phosphate industry. Mosaic enjoys the presence of both boards at the same meeting. In this way they can save the expense of having to pay their consultants to present their case more than once, with the added benefit of expediting the whole process in one evening before the public really knows what just happened or can prepare to do anything about it.
In fact that evening another party did appear before planning and zoning for a special exception to locate a double-wide mobile home on a lot. According to that individual it was a two-year process just to fulfill the requirements necessary to appear before the board. The board deliberated on his request and asked more questions than they subsequently would ask in regard to Mosaic’s request to include 3600 acres of active citrus groves to the mining overlay. When the request for the double-wide was finally granted, the individual was told he would need to return at a later date for approval by the County Commission.
I would add here that the Planning and Zoning Board announced that the process of granting a special exception for the double-wide was a quasi-judicial hearing, and that all parties who testified would have to take an oath. This formality was ignored during the second phase of the hearing when the two boards considered Mosaic’s request for a comp plan amendment. No one, including Mosaic’s consultants and representatives, was sworn to tell the truth – a convenient omission which subsequently proved to be greatly advantageous to them before the hearing adjourned.
Mosaic’s case was presented by a Lakeland consulting firm called Kimley-Horn. It lasted about 15 minutes and consisted of about ten slides showing various maps and quoting those aspects of the comp plan which supported their case. At the end of the presentation there were neither questions nor comments by either of the two Hardee County boards.
When comments were allowed from the public I took the lectern and brought to the attention of the boards that Comprehensive Plan Policy C4.1 provides not only for the “protection of areas suitable for extraction of phosphate rock” (as the consultant quoted), but also says, “These provisions shall also protect other land uses from adverse effects of mining operations.”
Since 87% the 3600 acres of land in question were productive citrus groves I also brought to the attention of the commissions the Land Use Suitability Index prepared by the Central Florida Regional Planning Council and adopted by Hardee County in 2002. Only 3 of the five county commissioners professed to have any familiarity with the study. The study points out that: “According to SWFMWD’s 1999-2000 land use/land cover mapping, of the estimated 48,775 acres of mined soils in Hillsborough and Polk counties, only 675 acres (just over 1%) are in citrus.” The study concludes: “… that future land use patterns, in particular the ability to support various types of commercial agriculture and urban development, may be substantially altered as a result of large-scale phosphate mining in Hardee County.”
I also introduced to the commissioners a March 10, 2010, letter from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency calling for an area-wide EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) to address “extensive cumulative impacts” to the Peace River watershed. According to the EPA letter: “The Area Wide EIS could assess the cumulative and secondary (indirect) impacts associated with the redevelopment of former phosphate mining lands into subdivisions, recreational facilities, and commercial/retail uses. The EIS could assess potential radiation issues associated with post-mining lands… An Area Wide EIS could provide an analysis of which these sites may present increased levels of radiation exposure.”
Following my comments one planning commissioner, Gordon Norris, asked the Mosaic representative: “Do you know of a study that might occur for the South Fort Meade Mine Extension?” Mike DeNeve, permit superintendant for Mosaic, answered by saying, “… the letter that Mr. Mader quoted from did not specifically say that EPA is requesting that this study be done before the South Fort Meade Mine is permitted. That’s not what it says at all….”
Indeed the letter I quoted says: “The need for such an EIS has once again been brought to our attention because of issues identified during the review of Mosaic Fertilizer’s request for a 21-year permit to mine phosphate at the South Fort Meade Mine Extension….” A letter from the EPA to the Army Corp of Engineers dated January 15, 2010 said specifically, “EPA recommended denial of the proposed project (South Fort Meade Mine Extension) in letters dated July 26, 2007 and August 23, 2007, because the proposed project did not comply with various requirements of the Guidelines.”
Jim Mercer, a resident of Norris Road, also rose to remind the commission that there is not only existing agricultural but residential land-use as well adjacent to the proposed 3600 parcel that requires protection from the adverse effects of phosphate mining.
Despite his concerns and the information I brought to the commissioners, Mosaic’s request for a comp plan amendment was passed unanimously by both boards with the exception of Roger Conley, vice-chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board, who cast the only dissenting vote.
All EPA letters quoted in this letter and the Soil Suitability Index are available in their entirety on-line at www.protectpeaceriver.org
(This letter was published in the April 14, 2010 edition of the Wauchula Herald-Advocate)