Manatee phosphate mine expansion advances
Published: Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 4:10 p.m.
MANATEE COUNTY – Mosaic Fertilizer plans to expand its phosphate mining operations on more than 3,000 acres of Duette pastureland, east of an existing 7,300-acre tract that has been mined since the 1970s.
But while the new land is tied up in a federal environmental study, Mosaic has gone to Manatee County to get started on a separate 600-acre extension located between State Road 64 and State Road 62.
On Thursday, the Manatee County Planning Commission gave preliminary approval to the world’s leading producer of concentrated phosphate to extend its Wingate Creek Mine operation.
Local environmental groups and a Duette resident opposed the extension, arguing that the existing mine already threatens park land and rivers, and degrades the rural landscape with constant noise and light.
“It is a historical mistake,” said ManaSota-88 Chairman Glenn Compton. “To expand upon an existing mistake is irresponsible.”
Mosaic contends that its operations are safe, environmentally viable and provide the county with hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in economic impact.
“It’s unfortunate that these groups would like to derail the permit, those jobs and that economic output based on concerns that really aren’t relevant for what the permit contemplates,” said Mosaic spokesman Russell Schweiss. “The mine has operated for 30 years without detriment to the downstream water bodies they are concerned about.”
The Manatee County Commission will make the final decision on the Wingate extension at its Feb. 2 meeting.
Mosaic is unable to mine 3,000 acres southeast of the Wingate Mine and cross over Duette Road until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes an environmental impact study in about a year.
If approved, mining at the 600-acre extension would begin in 2014.
Mosaic is seeking permits now in anticipation of any delays. Streamlining the process could prevent the mine from shutting down and laying off workers as mine reserves run out, Schweiss said.
The existing mine employs 130 people and provides $19 million in annual wages, the company said. An economic report projected the extension of the mine would generate an average of about 300 jobs annually for six years.
The Mosaic mine would destroy 49 acres of wetlands; the company says it would replace those with what it promises would be higher quality wetlands. The company has also committed to working with the county on a water improvement project at the Duette Preserve.
“This is a temporary impact,” said Bart Arrington, Mosaic’s permitting manager. “We put it back better than we find.”
John Henslick, a Winding Creek subdivision resident about a mile from the mine, said the noise and light are already intolerable.
“A lot of us moved out east to enjoy the country and the evening sky,” he said. “But at night, looking at the Mosaic property is like looking at St. Pete.”
Compton and Sierra Club member Sandra Ripberger had concerns over how the mining threatens fish and wildlife that rely on the Wingate and Johnson creeks, which feed to the Myakka River.
Though Mosaic assured that dams follow rigid quality standards, Compton said habitats could be destroyed if the mine’s holding ponds were to fail and release toxic waters.
“We are one hurricane away from finding that out,” he said.