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Environmentalists Prevail Over Big Phosphate in Desoto

ARCADIA – In a landmark action, the Desoto County County Commission recently stood up to big Phosphate. The board dismissed county planning staff eager to facilitate an approval and said no to what was expected by many to be just another rubber-stamp vote in favor of the toxic industry.

On July 25, the Desoto County BOCC voted 4-1 to deny billion-dollar phosphate mining giant Mosaic's application to rezone 18,000 acres in northwest Desoto County from agricultural to phosphate mining/industrial. On a sweltering day and in very hot and stuffy chambers, over 200 citizens showed up to oppose the application and condemn the destructive practices associated with phosphate mining. On July 24, more than 100 citizens, experts and activists gave 11 hours of testimony. In a marathon meeting that lasted until 7:00 p.m. the next day, the people finally prevailed, sending shock waves through the environmentalist community.

"I would have bet money they were going to vote for the rezone," said Andy Mele, director of the phosphate program at Suncoast Waterkeeper. "Their facial expressions, body language, the questions they were asking Mosaic, all pointed to them having not heard a word we said, despite there being over a hundred speakers who opposed mining with targeted and substantial testimony."

Mele said that groups and individuals from all over Florida that were united in the fight had held two public workshops, sent dozens of email blasts, put up hundreds of posts on social media platforms and distributed thousandsof flyers in the months preceding the hearing.

"This is a true milestone," said Dennis Mader, Executive Director of People for Protecting the Peace River (3PR). "After 16 years of activism, I have never witnessed such a decisive victory for those of us who opposed phosphate mine expansion. Approval of the rezoning would have allowed the unimpeded advance of phosphate mining to the very southern extent of the Bone Valley formation, but now the door is closed to Desoto County."

Mele added that it would be difficult to overstate the significance of the win, which was abetted by Desoto's lack of history with the industry.

"We drew the line at Desoto County," said Mele. "It is the only county in the Bone Valley that has no active mines, and has never permitted a mine. Therefore, the county commission could realistically deny Mosaic without the expectation of losing a multimillion-dollar Bert Harris Act lawsuit."

Phosphate mining is a very dirty industry, and its mine sites not only leave behind poisonous, radioactive water and sludge byproducts in their clay settling areas and line the landscape with toxic phospho-gypsum stacks, but also put a huge strain on our state's already compromised water supplies, as billions of gallons are removed from the aquifer to be used in the mining process, weakening the water table and making sinkholes more likely.

"Phosphate strip mining is without question the most egregious environmental problem in Florida today," said Mele. "There is no other state where a mining operation could get away with destroying the biological, hydrological, economic and geological integrity of over 800 square miles."

The fight may not be over, but those on the front lines are confident that now that having prevailed, they'll be tougher to beat going forward.

"Mosaic will probably be back for another bite at the apple," said Brooks Armstrong, President of 3PR, on the possibility of an appeal. "But we will be there, and so will all those people. We aren’t going anywhere. This is our home."

Groups represented at the hearing included Suncoast Waterkeeper (Waterkeeper Alliance), 3PR, the Center for Biological Diversity, Friends of Horse Creek, Captains for Clean Water, the Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club Group, the Ancient Islands Sierra Club Group, Charlotte Harbor Sierra Club Group, and the Sierra Club Florida Chapter Phosphate Committee.


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