Renewed worries over plan for phosphate mine – May 8, 2010

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.