Mosaic wants 4 months to extend South Fort Meade Mine

Mosaic wants 4 months to extend South Fort Meade Mine

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 12:56 PM

(Source: The Ledger)By Kevin Bouffard, The Ledger, Lakeland, Fla.

Aug. 17–HAINES CITY — A Sierra Club lawyer has rejected a Mosaic Co. request to agree to limited phosphate mining in northern Hardee County that could avoid up to 221 layoffs at the company’s South Fort Meade Mine.

“The judge found the mining permit was illegally issued. It’s an illegal act they’re proposing,” Eric Huber, a lawyer at the Sierra Club Inc.’s Colorado office, said Monday.

Mosaic last week asked U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams Jr. in Jacksonville to modify a preliminary injunction he issued on July 30. The injunction halted Mosaic’s plan to extend the South Fort Meade Mine, which employs 260 people, into 10,750 acres in northern Hardee.

The ruling stemmed from a June 30 lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and two Florida environmental groups challenging a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit to extend the mine. Adams agreed the Army Corps had failed adequately to explore alternative mine plans that might cause less environmental damage to the area, which includes 534 acres of wetlands and 56,666 feet of streams that feed into the Peace River.

After the Adams ruling, Mosaic announced it would shut down the South Fort Meade Mine in September. On July 12 it notified 221 mine workers they faced layoffs in 60 days if the Sierra Club prevailed in the lawsuit.

Mosaic has asked Adams to modify the injunction to permit the first phase of the mine extension into an area that contains only nine acres of wetlands that had already been disturbed, said Russell Schweiss, a company spokesman. That would allow mining for about four months.

“We’ve asked the Sierra Club to support the motion so that we do not have to resort to layoffs,” Schweiss said in an e-mail statement on Monday. “A lot of lives hang in the balance, and they have the opportunity to spare a lot of families from significant hardships.”

But Huber said he had already informed Mosaic’s lawyers on Friday that the environmental groups, including ManaSota 88 and People for Protecting Peace River Inc. in Wauchula, would not agree to the proposed modification.

“The truth is it’s the Mosaic Co.’s inept strategic planning, not the Sierra Club, that’s at fault (for layoffs), and it’s certainly not the employees,” Huber said.

The Sierra Club has until Aug. 30 to file its written response to the Mosaic offer with the Jacksonville court. If Adams declines to change his ruling, the case heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which will consider Mosaic’s plea to reverse Adams.

Adams has set an Oct. 28 deadline for all parties to file written arguments on the lawsuit’s ultimate request for a permanent injunction against the mine extension. That would prohibit any further work in northern Hardee at least until the Army Corps further reviews environmental impacts, which could take one to three years.

Mosaic employs 2,166 workers at its Polk County facilities, which also include the Four Corners and Hookers Prairie mines and the Bartow and New Wales fertilizer plants.