MANATEE -- Manatee County commissioners Thursday unanimously OK'd operating permits for three phosphate mines in East Manatee.
The three -- the Southeast Tract, Four Corners and the Altman Tract -- are working mines operated by Mosaic Fertilizer.
The commission voted to grant operating permits lasting five years each.
The Southeast Tract totals 2,611 acres; Four Corners, 11,715; and the Altman Tract, 2,048, according to county documents.
A handful of speakers representing environmental organizations urged the commission to deny the requests, but commissioners said Mosaic had fulfilled all requirements. They voted 7-0 in favor on each permit.
Manatee resident Barbara Angelucci said she was concerned about the company's water usage.
"There's going to be a definite problem in Manatee County," in accommodating its water needs, she said.
"What is the public benefit of shooting 69 million gallons a day into the ground as
opposed to giving us drinking water?" she asked.
Company officials said all their mining facilities combined are permitted to draw up to 69 million gallons of water a day, but they typically use much less, and observe the latest in reuse and water conservation techniques.
The company already has permission to mine the tracts since the commission has previously granted it master mining plans, said Rob Brown, county division manager for natural resources environmental protection.
The operating permit simply ensure the company is complying with all provisions of its mining plan, he said.
"These operating permits are a protection for you all," said Bart Arrington, Mosaic manager of mine permitting, since they also include financial assurances in the form of bonding obligations by the company to protect taxpayers.
The Southeast Tract mining site is complete, so the company will be doing reclamation only there over the next few years, Arrington told the commission at County Administrative Center.
But Sandra Ripberger, representing the Sierra Club of Manatee-Sarasota, said reclaimed wetlands do not function the same way natural wetlands do.
"The public needs to know phosphate mining is putting your drinking water in great jeopardy," she said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.