Mosaic reaches settlement with environmental groups on phosphate mining expansion near Peace River

02/22/12 Seán Kinane
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Late Tuesday, three environmental groups, including Sierra Club Florida, announced a settlement with the world’s largest phosphate miner, Mosaic. The company will be able to expand its mining operation near Fort Meade in Hardee County in exchange for a buffer protecting the Peace River and for property upstream.

We spoke with Bev Griffiths, chair of Sierra Club Florida’s phosphate committee, about the settlement.

“We filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers in June of 2010 and we were very fortunate to get a judge who agreed with us and that preliminary injunctions should be put in place to prevent mining until he could rule on the merits of the case. The Sierra Club’s co-plantiffs are ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River. The Sierra Club and these organizations have been working on wetlands issues and mining issues for a long time. The South Fort Meade is such a large mine and we were very concerned about impacts to the Peace River Watershed and downstream communities so we decided to take action.”

“How do you think the mine would have effected the Peace River had it been built closer?”

“Mining, when you dig that gigantic pit, you’re eliminating, not only just taking all of that, what they refer to in mining as overburden which is all of our soils that have taken thousands of years to form, but you're also destroying a lot of underground streams and pockets of water that connect to larger water bodies like rivers. So it can cause de-watering. Also during the process of mining, the Corps allows a certain amount of wetlands to be destroyed and that have impact on here by rivers.”

“In the settlement the mine will be moved further from the river, that’s one thing. Also, the state will get some land. Can you talk about that please?”

“Mosaic appealed the preliminary injunction and the court also ordered the parties to go to mediation. That’s when we started working on our proposal. Part of our proposal was that we insisted on greater setbacks from the river. These weren’t just things that we were thinking about; these were actually recommended by EPA. So our proposals consisted of Mosaic, we requested Mosaic to require some conservation easements to create big buffers between the mine site and the river. This is on the West side. Also, we were able to acquire a much larger buffer up in the Northwest section of the mine that EPA had recommended they not mine. We didn’t get all of it but we got a good section of it. We got some larger buffers along the stream that are on site and also Mosaic agreed to purchase a parcel of land that would be conserved. We looked at several parcels and we really liked Peaceful Horse Ranch because of its location and significance. It was on the Florida Forever list, on their wish list. It’s also a piece of land that will be part of a wildlife corridor one day. So that’s why we chose Peaceful Horse Ranch and Mosaic was able to acquire that parcel at a good price because it had gone into foreclosure. So it’s going to become a state park and we’re very, very excited about that.”

“So is this the end of the story or are there still legal battles to continue?”

“There are many other mines that are planned. In fact, the Sierra Club is working on an AEIF where we’ve submitted voluminous comments of making recommendations for ways the Corps should improve the permitting process when it looks at new mining. Also we just wanted to say that Sierra Club is very pleased to have reached the agreement with Mosaic. It took several months of back and forth to hammer out the details and we’re happy to have achieved greater protection for the Peace River Watershed by way of increased buffers, conservation easements and the acquisition of Peaceful Horse Ranch. Our proposal is based largely on recommendations by EPA upon their review of the federal mine permit."

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