County reverses stance on Mosaic mining plan

DUANE MARSTELLERdmarsteller@bradenton.comMANATEE -- Despite the pleas of more than two dozen opponents, Manatee County commissioners reversed course today and gave the first set of approvals to Mosaic Co. to mine the Altman Tract for phosphate.

In a pair of 5-2 decisions that came at the end of a three-hour public hearing, commissioners approved adding the 2,048-acre tract in northeastern Manatee to the company’s existing Four Corners mine and rezoning the tract to allow mining.

The decisions come less than a month after commissioners, facing a potential $618 million lawsuit by Mosaic, agreed to reconsider their previous denial of the project.

The board’s newest commissioners – Larry Bustle and John Chappie – were the swing votes today, supporting the company when their predecessors did not.

The rest of the board voted as they did before on the controversial proposal: Commissioners Gwen Brown, Donna Hayes and Carol Whitmore supported Mosaic’s bid, while Commissioners Ron Getman and Joe McClash did not.

The board’s decision dismayed environmentalists, who said allowing mining would damage nearly 400 acres of high-quality wetlands and the headwaters of Horse Creek, a tributary of the Peace River.

Mosaic officials and their scientific consultants disputed that, saying the company would successfully restore the mined wetlands and that Horse Creek would not be damaged.

Today’s approvals are two of four the company needs to mine the tract. The other two, a master mine plan and an operating permit, are the subjects of public hearings scheduled for Feb. 5.