from The DeSoto Sun
By CLINTON BURTON
DESOTO COUNTY — The Florida Department of Community Affairs has objected to proposed changes to DeSoto County’s Future Land Use map. The DeSoto County Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously on May 25 to seek state approval of a map overlay that specifically defines where in the county a company may make an application to mine phosphate.
The application to amend the county’s land use plan was made jointly by the county planning department and Mosaic Fertilizer which owns most of the property within the proposed map overlay area in the northwest part of DeSoto County near Pine Level.
Following the BOCC approval, the application was transmitted to the Florida Department of Community Affairs to begin a comprehensive review process that included other state agencies.
On Aug. 16, the DCA communicated its objection to the proposed overlay in a memorandum to county officials.
“When the county updated its comprehensive plan in 2008 many of the mining-related policies that established criteria, buffering and protection of natural resources were deleted,” the memo says. “The deletion of these polices reduced the strength of the protection area for the land. The mining overlay and related policies do not adequately protect and conserve wetlands and fail to direct incompatible uses away from wetlands. The overlay does not restrict land uses that would adversely affect the quality of the water resource … the overlay does not protect the natural functions of the soils, fisheries, wildlife habitats, river and floodplains and does not meet the requirements of Rule 9J-5.013 (20)(b)4, F.A.C. that requires the conservation, appropriate use and protection of wildlife and wildlife habitat,” the written objection stated.
But DeSoto County Planning Manager Jason Green said some of the objections raised by the DCA do not take into account polices that the county already has in place.
“They are looking only at what we sent to them,” he said.
Mosaic spokesperson Russell Schweiss said the company is working with DeSoto County to respond to the DCA’s concerns.
“Some of the issues that were raised are going to create logistical problems and we are working to address those issues,” he said. “This is nothing unusual. It’s just something that has to be worked through.”
The DCA’s objections echoed concerns raised by some neighboring counties and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
In a letter to the DCA from that agency, the FDEP’s Director of Intergovernmental Programs, Sally Mann, wrote, “The department believes that the proposed GOPs (goals, objectives and policies) supporting the overlay do not adequately protect important floodplain and wetland resources in the area” and the proposed GOPs “should be strengthened to provide for the adequate protection of tributaries and floodplains connected to the Peace River and Horse Creek.”
Lee County also commented on the proposal. “The mining overlay area will result in substantial impacts on areas designated for protection or special treatment within Lee County jurisdiction. The proposed plan amendment must be augmented to include goals, objectives and polices to establish measurable objectives so there is a clear basis for evaluating the effectiveness of those policies in accomplishing in the goal of protecting the ecosystems that depend on the Peace River,” according to Lee County commissioner Tammy Hall who asked the DCA to urge DeSoto county to establish “specific and measurable objectives” so that the effectiveness of protecting the ecosystems could be evaluated.
Hall’s objections were supported by Manatee County Commissioner Joe McClash who also wrote to the DCA.
Roland Ottolini, director of Lee County’s Division of Natural Resources, said decisions made in DeSoto County could have far-reaching effects,
“Some of the reasons we’ve challenged the changes to the comprehensive plan is the potential impacts downstream. Phosphate mining involves a lot of major landscape changes and that can mean a major change to the quality of water,” he said. “Charlotte Harbor is a major economic draw for us.”
Ottolini said Lee County is not necessarily against phosphate mining but county officials believe DeSoto’s overlay plan was not done properly.
“There was not enough detail. We need a lot more information,” he said.