When Manatee County commissioners meet Thursday to discuss land use issues, the Mosaic Fertilizer LLC request for rezoning of some 650 acres from agriculture to extraction will be on the agenda. But this request for an expansion of the Wingate Creek Mine near Duette comes before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completes the area-wide environmental impact study currently under way.
Why the rush? The evaluation is expected to be finished later this year. The county should wait for those results before reaching a decision, especially considering Mosaic’s plan to disturb a nearly 50-acre wetland.
Despite company assurances that mitigation will produce a “bigger and better” wetland, scientists maintain man-made wetlands rarely if ever replicate nature’s creations. Strip-mining wetlands to a depth of some 50 feet may destroy the natural hydrology. The “overriding public benefit” here is the protection of wetlands, not a reason to approve an exception to county regulations. The county commission should await the Corps of Engineers’ impact study to understand the full implications of this mining proposal.
Just last week, Mosaic, one of the world’s top producers of phosphate and potash crop nutrients, reached an agreement on an expansion of its South Fort Meade mine with the environmental organizations that sued to block the proposal. The company originally sought to mine an additional 7,700 acres at the expansive site, which stretches across the border of Hardee and Polk counties.
That plan also called for the destruction of some 530 acres of wetlands, 26 acres of open water and more than 10 miles of streams an unacceptable threat to the Peace River watershed, which serves water customers in Sarasota and Charlotte counties.
The Sierra Club, Manasota-88 and People for Protecting the Peace River sued two years ago, winning a temporary injunction that blocked the expansion. In arguing that case, the organizations cited U.S. Environmental Protection Agency findings that the Corps of Engineers failed to follow its own rules on wetlands and its responsibilities to check Mosaic’s environmental analysis, thus convincing a federal court to issue the injunction.
Mosaic came up with a commendable solution. In its accord with environmentalists, the company agreed to preserve some 70 acres of the most difficult wetlands to re-create and set aside 400 acres near the mine’s border and the Peace River. Mosaic will also deed a 4,100-acre ranch at the confluence of the Peace River and Horse Creek to the state for a park, preserving 10 miles of pristine riverfront and wetlands.
This outstanding settlement, which awaits final court approval, should serve as a model for Manatee County to pursue. Mosaic has shown a willingness to preserve wetlands.To ensure due diligence, wait until the Corps of Engineers determines the regional long-term and cumulative environmental effects before deciding the fate of the 50-acre wetland in question and the entire tract.