By JESSICA VANDER VELDE | Times Staff Writer
WIMAUMA — Mosaic Fertilizer's territory in southeastern Hillsborough grew by about 1,500 acres Tuesday, and nearby residents fear the phosphate company's next steps. County commissioners decided to allow Mosaic to include seven new parcels in a 25-square-mile area in far southeastern Hillsborough that can be considered for mining. Though it doesn't mean the digging will start immediately — it will take about a year to get permits to mine any new land — nearby residents worry about noise and potential pollution moving into new areas.
Norma Killebrew, who lives on about 100 acres near Mosaic's mines east of Wimauma, said the mining will make it difficult to sell the house she bought in 1964.
She wants to move because the dust kicked up by the mining isn't good for her husband, who uses oxygen at night.
"This property was going to be our investment for us and our children," she said. "But we're probably going to be here until we die."
Killebrew attended Tuesday's meeting to try to persuade commissioners to reject Mosaic's request. Despite the presence of a dozen opponents, commissioners approved Mosaic's request
6-1. Commissioner Rose Ferlita voted against it, saying she was concerned about possible environmental impacts.
The commissioners said they'll consider residents' complaints as Mosaic seeks approval to mine the land.
Killebrew said she has become accustomed to having her requests overlooked. She has been fighting Mosaic since 1975, and she says it hasn't made a difference.
For every complaint she has about mining, Mosaic officials have a response.
She says she can write her name on her furniture because of all the dust that filters into her home from the mines. Mosaic officials say they have berms — raised, grassy barriers —- to keep dust off residents' property.
She says the noise from the large draglines is bothersome. Mosaic officials say the electric machines emit noise well below the state's maximum level.
Some residents are also concerned about their businesses.
Kim Skidmore owns a tropical fish farm about half a mile from a parcel near Wimauma that Mosaic added to its master plan Tuesday. She's afraid that when Mosaic mines there, the water table levels will drop and her ponds will dry up, killing the fish.
Mosaic officials say she has nothing to worry about because they build ditches that store water along the perimeter of their mines. That water flows back into the pit and prevents surrounding areas from draining, they say.
Tampa Bay Water officials also have reservations about new mining. They want more tests at Mosaic's mining sites, especially the parcel near Hurrah Creek that was added Tuesday.
They're concerned about arsenic, lead and aluminum leaking into the creek. Hurrah Creek leads to the Alafia River, a drinking water source for the region.
Mosaic officials plan to apply for a permit to mine the 80-acre parcel near Hurrah Creek soon, spokeswoman Diana Youmans said.
If approved, the mining would start there in a year, she said.
The additional tests weren't endorsed by the county, but Tampa Bay Water officials plan to press for the changes as Mosaic applies for mining permits.
"Our goal is to make sure the environment and public health are protected," said Paula Dye, the chief environmental planner for Tampa Bay Water.
Mosaic has run the Four Corners mine since 1984, Youmans said. It now sprawls from southeastern Hillsborough County into Polk and Manatee counties.
Mosaic will be there until 2027, when mining and reclamation will be complete, said Dee Allen, Mosaic's superintendent of permitting and reclamation.
After that, they'll probably go south into Hardee and De Soto counties, spokesman David Townsend said.
Though Killebrew's efforts haven't led to any changes, she says she'll keep fighting new mining operations. She says she wants to protect and conserve water for future generations.
"If a person works hard and long enough, there's going to be changes," she said. "You can't push the little person around for that long."
Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.