A common theme has played out in the nine-hour long public comment session regarding Mosaic’s request to approve its Master Mining Plan and rezone 3,596 acres of their Wingate East property phosphate for mining.
“Deny, deny, deny,” citizens and organization representations have overwhelmingly asked of the Manatee County commissioners. The majority of the public comment on both Thursday and all day Monday called on commissioners to deny Mosaic’s request while a handful — many Mosaic employees — asked the commission for approval.
“Everyone who did come to this building was afforded the opportunity to speak,” Assistant County Attorney Bill Clague said at the end of Monday’s proceedings. “There is no additional opportunity for public comment. Public comment is closed.”
While public comment has come to an end, the commission will now have the opportunity to ask questions of the applicant and staff when the public hearing resumes at 9 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, in the first floor commission chambers. After deliberations during the hearing, the commission could take action on the matter. In addition to asking permission to rezone Wingate East from agriculture to extraction, Mosaic is asking commissioners for approval on setback waivers and special permission to mine in the Peace River Watershed Protection Overlay District.
“We have many items of discussion and questions that we will have from this board,” Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac said.
At 10 a.m. Monday, the public comment session resumed and lasted until after 5:30 p.m. when the final speaker addressed the commission. Since the hearing was a continuation from Thursday, some people who signed up were not there while some additional people signed up Monday.
The majority of individuals who addressed the commissioners spoke against the proposal, asking that the commissioners think of the destruction of wetlands, how Mosaic handled the New Wales sinkhole and how mining would be in the public interest.
The question was also raised during Monday’s public hearing about campaign contributions from Mosaic to elected officials. According to the Manatee Supervisor of Elections’ website, Hugh McGuire, attorney for Mosaic, has contributed to the campaigns of five county commissioners. McGuire gave $500 to District 3 Commissioner Steve Jonsson in his 2016 campaign, $200 to District 7 at-large Commissioner Betsy Benac in her 2016 campaign, $200 to District 2 Commissioner Charles Smith in his 2014 campaign, $100 to District 6 at-large Commissioner Carol Whitmore in her 2014 campaign and $100 to District 5 Commissioner Vanessa Baugh in her 2012 campaign.
Ricky Mafera, a Myakka City resident whose property is directly adjacent to Wingate East’s southern border, also spoke to the planning commission in August when they approved the plan on a vote of 5-1.
“They call it ‘master mining,’” Mafera said on Monday, referencing the name of the standard plan that Mosaic is asking the commission to approve. “I call it ‘master manipulation.’”
Glenn Compton, with ManaSota-88, said he has to question the overriding public benefit.
“Wingate Mines are located in the worst possible place,” he said, adding that the commission’s approval would be extending a historic mistake. “We are giving you 40 reasons to deny this today.”
Barbara Angelucci said she had combed through the public comments sent to commissioners. More than 2,100 comments were in opposition of the rezone, she said. Only six comments were in support of it.
Representatives for Center for Biological Diversity and Suncoast Waterkeeper also took to the lectern.
An environmental attorney with the center, Elise Bennett, said the lack of some species in the area correlated with poor environmental health.
The canaries in the coal mine: scarlet kingsnake, eastern fence lizard and the Florida crowned snake.
Andy Mele, speaking on behalf of Suncoast Waterkeeper, claimed Mosaic didn’t meet the burden of proof in showing the economic benefits of reclaimed land.
“Reclamation is far from restoration,” Mele said.
He also claimed that Mosaic was turning the region into a “banana republic.”
“There are post-mining towns that can’t even support a grocery store,” Mele said.
A handful of individuals spoke in favor of Mosaic’s request on Monday including Philip Brown, president of the United Way of Manatee County.
“You can count on Mosaic to do what they promise,” he said. “Mosaic has advocated for the work of the United Way.”
Frank Harrison, a supporter of Ducks Unlimited, said Mosaic has repeatedly proven to be an outstanding corporate citizen.
“Mosaic is a beneficial and responsible neighbor,” he said.