Manatee Planning Commission Recommends Duette Phosphate Expansion

Manatee Planning Commission Recommends Duette Phosphate Expansion

Published Friday, January 13, 2012 2:11 am

by John Rehill

BRADENTON — At the Planning Commission meeting Thursday, the seats were full of Mosaic suits. They were there to explain why they should be allowed to mine a 660 acre expansion to the Wingate mine, located in eastern Manatee County.

Many environmental organizations feared Planning’s rubber stamping of phosphate mining would continue and Thursday’s meeting certainly demonstrated that. The increasing concerns over the depleting number of quality wetlands, which ultimately threatens water supplies, has yet to find a sympathetic ear.

There will be 50 acres of wetland destroyed next to the Duette Preserve. These “wet prairie” wetlands are not low grade wetlands as Manatee’s Environmental Manager Joel Christian described. They are highly valued and can’t be duplicated.┬áBut that isn’t the only problem that the proposed mining will provoke. Glenn Compton from Manasota 88 claims Wingate Creek is a Class III water. It is designated as a “Outstanding Florida Water” and is to be afforded the highest protection, as is Johnson Creek. Both are also tributaries to the Myakka River.

Linda Jones, one of two who spoke against the proposed mine expansion claimed only 354 of the 14,000 acres have completed reclamation. Estimates by the EPA put the reclamation of thousands of acres of mined land in the billions of dollars range. Bonds secured with the county by Mosaic for reclamation are only in the tens of millions. Jones also mentioned that 60 percent of Phosphate is shipped overseas. Planning Commissioner Chairman Richard Bedford later replied when referencing Jones’s statement, “I had hoped it would be more.”

This demonstrates the hypocrisy concerned citizens find in those governing this process. If phosphate is of a dwindling and sparse supply, why spend so much of our precious water supply retrieving it, if it is going to China or India? That would make the soon to be burden fall on the residents that would ultimately be in need of both, and here is an official who seemingly wishes to expedite that.

After the meeting, I attempted to ask Commissioner Bedford a couple of questions. I mentioned that he and another commissioner spoke to the economic prosperity that comes from mining phosphate. I asked, “Since four out of five of the most economically depressed counties in Florida are mining-dominated counties, and the fact that Hardee County brought that to Mosaic’s attention before they settled on a $40 million dollar package for compensation, how exactly by crossing the county line, just miles away, is it now prosperous? Bedford said “I don’t know.” I asked him, “If each year, we have fewer and fewer wetlands, why are we downgrading them? Don’t the ones we have left become more and more valuable, the more of them we lose? He said, “I don’t know.” He then turned and left.

It was obvious staff had spent much time hashing out the plans with Mosaic, if only from all of the “thank you for all your help” that kept going out to the staff.” And the commission was eager to provide double the allotted time to the applicant to state their case, considering their agenda items 4 and 5 were being heard simultaneously. But when citizens Linda Jones and Sandra Ripberger spoke, they were restricted to just three minutes each.

Commissioner George Mendez never missed an opportunity to express a narrow vision of the mining process. He spoke several times, if only to fill in what compliments Mosaic forgot to give to themselves.

It was of no surprise that the Commission voted 6 – 0 to recommend Mosaic be permitted to mine the Wingate extention, or that staff went out of their way to accommodate them, yet cancelled a meeting with concerned citizens. The issue will now go to the Manatee County Commission for a final vote.

I will say, I too have stood before the Commission in an effort to keep Mosaic out of my back yard. I am reminded every minute and a half when the ground shakes and I hear the roar. You see, that’s the sound of the rubber stamp, and it would seem that we’d better get used to it.