Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Phosphate mining giant cuts deal with environmentalists that allows mining but saves wetlands

The world's largest phosphate miner has cut a deal with the environmental groups that sued it two years ago to block its plans to dig up thousands of acres of wetlands.

In exchange for allowing mining to proceed near Fort Meade in Hardee County, Mosaic Fertilizer will buy a 4,400-acre ranch and donate it for use as a new state park.

In addition, the company has agreed to pull back its mining from the Peace River, which supplies water to people in Sarasota and Charlotte counties. The company will preserve 400 acres of land between the southwest mine border and the river, and also preserve about 70 acres of a type of wetlands known as bayheads that are difficult to re-create or restore.

"This is a great outcome," said Mosaic public affairs manager Russell Schweiss. "We're encouraged we were able to reach a reasonable agreement."

For Mosaic, this means a green light for a long-sought expansion of a mine on the border of Hardee and Polk counties that employs 225 people and would produce 30 percent of the rock that its Florida plants process into diammonium phosphate fertilizer, known as DAP. Without the new mine, Mosaic might have to import rock from Morocco or Peru at a higher cost to keep its fertilizer plants running at full capacity.

Environmental groups hailed the settlement as a major victory.

"This is much better protection for the Peace River than if we had not sued in the first place," Sierra Club spokeswoman Beverly Griffiths said.

Mosaic's original plan for the 7,687-acre mine expansion called for destroying 534 acres of wetlands, 26 acres of open water and more than 10 miles of streams associated with the headwaters of the Peace River.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved a permit for the wetlands destruction.

To make up for the environmental damage, the corps required Mosaic to create about 480 acres of new wetlands — something scientists say is often difficult, if not impossible.

The corps' own rules require looking for less environmentally damaging alternatives when a project does not have to be built in wetlands.

If the agency relies on the applicant to do that analysis, then the corps must double-check the work.

But according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Mosaic and the corps failed to meet their responsibilities.

For example, the EPA said, Mosaic should have considered a smaller mine that wouldn't destroy so many wetlands. And the corps didn't independently verify the company's findings.

So in 2010 three environmental groups — the Sierra Club, ManaSota-88, and People for Protecting the Peace River — sued to block it. They cited the corps' own findings that phosphate mining had already led to the loss of 343 miles of streams and 136,000 acres of wetlands in the Peace River region.

Using the EPA findings, they persuaded U.S. District Judge Henry Lee Adams to issue a temporary injunction to halt the mining of the Fort Meade expansion.

Mosaic officials said they would be forced to close the mine and notified its workers they faced layoffs in 60 days unless the judge lifted the order. Instead, Adams indefinitely continued the ban.

In November 2010, though, the two sides cut a deal to allow mining on about 200 acres.

Meanwhile, Mosaic's attention turned to the Peaceful Head Ranch in DeSoto County, at the confluence of the Peace and Horse Creek. Florida officials have long wanted to acquire the property, in part because its 10 miles of riverfront "is largely pristine with a wetlands corridor consisting mostly of sabal palms, cypress, and live oak," according to a state report on the land.

However, with the Florida Forever land-buying fund cutbacks in recent years, the state could not afford it. So when the property came up for auction in December, Mosaic bought it for $10 million. That's the land it will now donate to the state for use as a park under the settlement.

The Fort Meade mine settlement does not affect the legal challenge by environmental groups to another proposed mine expansion in Manatee County.

Craig Pittman can be reached at

Phosphate mining giant cuts deal with environmentalists that allows mining but saves wetlands 02/21/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 12:29am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Search for missing Army helicopter crew suspended in Hawaii


    HONOLULU — Officials have suspended the search for five Army soldiers who were aboard a helicopter that crashed during offshore training in Hawaii last week.

    Water safety officials hand over possible debris from an Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crash to military personnel stationed at a command center in a harbor, Wednesday in Haleiwa, Hawaii, a day after. an Army helicopter with five on board crashed several miles off Oahu's North Shore. Officials  suspended the search for five Army soldiers in a helicopter crash during offshore training in Hawaii on Monday. [Associated Press]
  2. Rubio praises Trump for 'excellent' speech on Afghanistan


    Sen. Marco Rubio praised President Donald Trump's "excellent" speech on Afghanistan. Sen. Bill Nelson was less effusive but agreed with the goal.

  3. Gov. Rick Scott blasts report of shifting words on Charlottesville


    Gov. Rick Scott, one of the most scripted politicians in modern Florida history, said Monday that "both sides” bear blame for Charlottesville.

  4. Record $417 million awarded in lawsuit linking baby powder to cancer


    LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles jury on Monday ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay a record $417 million to a hospitalized woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene.

    A bottle of Johnson's baby powder is displayed. On Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, a Los Angeles County Superior Court spokeswoman confirmed that a jury has ordered Johnson & Johnson to pay $417 million in a case to a woman who claimed in a lawsuit that the talc in the company's iconic baby powder causes ovarian cancer when applied regularly for feminine hygiene. [Associated Press]
  5. Search under way for missing sailors; Navy chief orders inquiry


    SINGAPORE — The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after the USS John S. McCain collided with an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters, leaving 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

    Damage is visible as the USS John S. McCain steers toward Singapore’s naval base on Monday.