The city of North Port in Sarasota County braces for phosphate mining in the Myakkahatchee Creek watershed, their source of drinking water.
By JASON WITZ Correspondent
Published: Saturday, May 8, 2010 at 1:00 a.m.
NORTH PORT – Renewed worries about the impact of future phosphate mining have prompted city officials to consider asking state and federal regulatory agencies to assess the potential risks phosphate mining would have on the area’s water supply.
On Monday, the City Commission will recommend sending a letter urging the agencies to conduct an environmental impact statement before any permits are issued for mining on land controlled by the Mosaic Co. north of the city.
“The letter is basically saying, ‘Be careful,'” said David Garofalo, City Commission chairman. “We’re not taking a stance either way at this point, but this is our drinking water.”
Mosaic could potentially mine two sites, called Pine Level and Keys, spanning portions of Manatee and DeSoto counties in the Central Florida phosphate mining region known as the “Bone Valley.”
Garofalo said officials are concerned about the possible downstream impacts any mining there would have on the Myakkahatchee Creek, the city’s primary water source.
A Mosaic spokesman said the company has no pending applications with any agency to begin operations at the two sites. The company’s current operations are centered farther north, largely in the Peace River basin.
“It is in our long-term plans,” said Russell Schweiss.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has issued two general environment resource permits authorizing construction of a fence and 20 monitoring wells at the Pine Level site, west of Arcadia.
For the last three years, the Southwest Florida Water Management District in Bartow has been reviewing a water-use permit which would allow ground water withdrawals of up to 76 million gallons per day to supply all Mosaic sites, including a Pine Level mine.
Mosaic representatives reportedly told city staff in April its intent is to install a phosphate processing plant and develop the portion of the mines located within the Peace River watershed. Any actual mining at the sites in question would be at a “much later date,” the letter said.
This week, the DeSoto County planning commission opposed Mosaic’s proposal to amend the county’s comprehensive plan for land use. The matter will go before the DeSoto County Commission May 25 at 1 p.m.
Representatives of the Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, a regional coalition and longtime opponent of phosphate mining, question Mosaic’s intentions.
“We don’t trust them,” said Becky Ayech, president of the organization.
In Brazil phosphate prices have more than doubled in six years – Mosaic makes big profits from “feeding the world.”
By Lucia Kassai
May 7 (Bloomberg) — Farmers in Brazil have teamed up to drill an area the size of New York for phosphate-based fertilizers, seeking to cut dependency on producers including Vale SA and Mosaic Co. after prices surged.
Farm groups representing about 4,500 soybean and cotton producers in Brazil bought drilling equipment worth about 500,000 reais ($270,000) to prospect for phosphate on 80,000 hectares (197,700 acres) in the center-western state of Mato Grosso. They plan to expand prospecting to another 400,000 hectares and drill 300 to 400 holes in the next 30 days, said Gilson Pinesso, the head of the project.
Mosaic and Vale, which agreed in January to pay $3.8 billion for Bunge’s fertilizer assets in Brazil, control 45 percent of the country’s fertilizer production, said Carlos Florence, the Fertilizer Distributors Association’s managing director. Phosphate prices have more than doubled in six years to about $266 a ton, Florence said by telephone from Sao Paulo.
“Farmers are in the hands of those companies,” Pinesso, owner of eight farms in the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, said in a May 4 interview in Sao Paulo. “We want our independence.”
The Mato Grosso Soybean Producers Association and the Mato Grosso Cotton Producers Association formed an exploration company, hired two geologists and 20 other people to conduct the prospecting, Pinesso said.
“We are looking for phosphate, but we may even run into gold here,” Pinesso said, while checking for soybean future prices on his iPhone. He was referring to the history of the state of Mato Grosso, which was developed after a gold rush in the 18th century.
Brazil is the world’s largest producer of sugar and coffee and the second-biggest for soybeans, trailing the U.S.
Nothing less than a historical victory for the Peace River Watershed was won last night! In an opening volley of what is sure to be an ongoing battle to preserve and protect the Peace River and its attendant watershed and nearby environs, the will of the people was honored.
On Tuesday, May 4th, during a public hearing before the DeSoto County Board of Adjustments and Planning, a diverse group of Floridians, including a courageous 16 year old boy, an implacable Octogenarian Matriarch, a nationally recognized economist and a local photographer, spoke out in ways simple and complex against the adoption of a General Phosphate Mining Overlay prepared by Mosaic that would have opened the door to eventual strip mining of approximately 26,000 +/- acres in the fragile ecosystem of the Pine Level/Big Slough watersheds.
The wonderful news is that the Board listened attentively enough to the numerous people that spoke against the amendment of the Future Land Use Map, that they voted 5-2 to deny initial transmittal of Mosaic’s request to the Department of Community Affairs!
This important decision will be at the center of further discussion when the DeSoto County Commissioners meet to consider the same proposal on May 25, 2010.
We the People of this region are the only voice the Peace River has. We have the power and the responsibility to halt the expansion of the ravages of phosphate strip mining that has made an uninhabitable “moonscape” of huge portions of Polk, Hillsborough, Manatee and portions of Hardee Counties.
It up to us to make sure that DeSoto County remains pristine and beautiful and that the unsound mining practices of the multinational conglomerate that is Mosaic, never, ever has the opportunity to creep into DeSoto county to wreak permanent environmental destruction on our River, creeks, farms and groves.
This, our collective and mutual, Home, is precious and unique in Florida. The Peace River is the lifeblood, the primary artery that feeds and sustains us all. Let us, each and everyone, whether a public servant or private steward be informed of all the facts available so as to make an informed choice of how our Peace River is sustained and protected for generations to come.
The preservation and protection of a time honored way of life is at stake. The proposed “mining overlay” that Mosaic has cobbled together with the help of DeSoto County staff, is nothing less than a death warrant for our way of life.
A coalition of several area citizen groups, including Protect Our Watersheds, Sierra Florida, ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) submitted to DeSoto County a 7 page letter, along with a table of 11 Exhibits, that gives an excellent overview of concerns about the impacts of phosphate mining on our environment and on the health and well being of our communities.
Since these documents were submitted to become part of the public record they are available for your inspection. I urge every Citizen in the area to “Get the Real Story” of the permanent, irreversible destruction of our watershed that a “Phosphate Mining Overlay” would usher in.
You may also review this document and others that pertain to this critical issue on the People for Protecting Peace River website:
Please mark your calendars and tell everyone you know to join you at the next meeting of the DeSoto County Commissioners on Tuesday, May 25, 2010. Let our voices ring in the halls of our Elected officials: Tell them: We the People, don’t want phosphate strip mining in DeSoto County!
This excellent letter was drafted on behalf of a coalition of concerned environmental organizations (Protect our Watersheds, Sierra Florida, Manasota-88, and 3PR) by Percy Angelo of the Sierra Club Phosphate Committee. It was submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commissioners and the Board of County Commissioners of DeSoto County, Florida, in preparing for a series of hearings that would include 26,000 acres of farmland in Desoto County in the Generalized Mining Overlay. This is the first step in preparing for a local mine permit. Anyone interested in a point by point outline of the case against phosphate mine expansion in central Florida should check this out.
As a result of the presence of elevated concentrations of radium-226 and other radionuclides in phosphate ores and mining wastes, many individuals residing in Central Florida are exposed to undesirable levels of radiation. In the absence of adequate measures to protect public health, many more could be exposed in the future, depending upon developing mining and land use patterns. The major exposure problem is associated with structures, principally residences, that are constructed on, near, or using radium-bearing materials related to phosphate ores…. In the United States, the phosphate deposits of Florida contain concentrations of uranium and its decay products at levels about 30-60 times greater than those found in average soil and rock. The presence of this radioactive material in extensive land areas in Central and Northern Florida creates the potential for radiation exposure of the general population living on or near this land.
Charlotte Sun April 20,2010 – Notice of Public Meeting
Tues. May 4, 2010 5:30pm
Tues. May 25,2010 6:30pm public hearing:
1. LS 010-01 General Phosphate Mining Overlay for future land use Map and Comprehensive Plan – Transmittal
Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC and Desoto County have prepared an application to amendment the Future Land Use Map (FLUM) to create an overlay category identifying lands with a high potential for Phosphate Mining. Supporting policies regulating density, intensity and permitted uses within the overlay are included as an amendment to the Comprehensive PLan Future Land Use Element text. The proposed overlay includes lands not owned by Mosaic Fertilizer LLC or their subsidiaries. The overlay is approx. 24,000 +/- acres and located west of the Peace River and the city limits of Arcadia and covers an area to the Manatee/DeSoto County line, often referred to as the PINE LEVEL area. Portions of the overlay are approx. 3 miles or greater north of SR70 and approx. 2 miles south of SR72. A map showing the general location is provided herein A legal description is on file with the application in the Planning Department office.
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)
The EPA reiterates its recommendation that the Army Corps of Engineers order an ‘area-wide Environmental Impact Statement before issuing a 404 Dredge and Fill permit for the South Fort Meade Mine Hardee County Extension (10,885 acres). The environmental community and various counties have been calling for this study for 18 years. It would require the mining industry to account for all past, present, and future impacts on the Peace River basin – including clay waste disposal, radio-activity on reclaimed land, and phosphogypsum stacks.
Protect Our Watersheds, 3PR, Manasota-88, Gulf Restoration Network and Sierra Club specify their case to the Corps of Engineers for ordering the phosphate mining industry to commission an area-wide Environmental Impact Statement. The case includes recent court decisions, prior and similar instances, USGS data, the failure of the FDEP to protect the environment, and other cogent reasons to conduct the study. This is essential reading to those who seek a broad understanding of the negative impacts of phosphate strip mining in central Florida.