Opponents challenge new Mosaic mining plan

Opponents challenge new Mosaic mining plan

Fort Meade Leader/Polk County Democrat
Staff Writer
Saturday, April 23, 2011 1:54 PM EDT
A plan unveiled earlier this week that would keep mining operations going for at least another year is being challenged by opponents who filed a lawsuit last year to stop an expansion at Mosaic’s South Fort Meade site.

An expansion into Hardee County that would involve mining about 7,800 total acres has been embroiled in legal wranglings since last summer. Mosaic is seeking the expansion to keep the mine operations uninterrupted, and avoid laying off about 140 workers.

A trio of groups, including the Sierra Club and People for Protecting the Peace River (3PR) filed suit to stop the expansion. A federal judge issued a halt to the expansion plan after the suit was filed, but earlier this month a federal appeals court sent that ruling back to the lower court with instructions to take a new look at its decision. It gave the lower court a 90-day stay of its injunction while it came up with a new ruling.

In the meantime, the two sides agreed last October to a deal that would allow Mosaic to mine 40 acres in Hardee County, thereby forestalling any layoffs. However, Mosaic said that would only allow them to mine there into early summer.

Late Tuesday, Mosaic revealed it had come up with a plan that would allow them to use those 40 acres to access another 700 acres on the site, dubbed Area 2, that did not involve any wetlands. As such, the phosphate giant said it did not need any further permitting for that idea, since permits were already in place before the lawsuit was filed.

But Dennis Mader, a Wauchula resident and president of 3PR, said not so fast.

“The 90-day stay was meant to preserve the status quo,” Mader told The Fort Meade Leader. “To mine Area 2 would affect adjacent wetlands, the very reason for which we challenged this permit in the first place.”

He also added that “by their (Mosaic’s) own previous arguments, to mine Area 2 would require re-permitting from the state.”

Mosaic described the 700 acres as “uplands” and not wetlands, in its court filing earlier this week.

The plaintiffs also argue that since the court case has currently stayed needed permits for expansion, “there is in effect no permit for Mosaic to comply with.”

Opponents note that the uplands proposal involves land that “surrounds and is immediately adjacent to the jurisdictional wetlands. Mosaic promises to ‘avoid’ the wetlands and not to ‘mine’ them. However, there would be adverse impacts to them.”

In addition, the plaintiffs noted that “any mining activity that affects the soils or subsoils of these adjacent uplands has the potential to alter the timing and volume of groundwater flows to these down-gradient wetlands.”

On Tuesday, Mosaic said it was planning on transitioning its mining operations to these 700 acres in the next 30 to 60 days. A company spokesperson said while mining only the uplands was less efficient than also including the wetlands for mining operations, it would allow them to “keep its workforce employed while it addresses the merits of the litigation.”

It is unclear if and when a court ruling might come on this latest plan.

On Tuesday, Mosaic officials said they didn’t expect a new ruling from the U.S. district court in Jacksonville on the larger lawsuit issue until July.