BRADENTON -- On March 1, Mosaic was approved for rezoning on their 661-acre Wingate Extension mine, with a narrow victory of 4 to 3, awarded by Manatee County Commissioners. A repeat performance with the same results played out Tuesday when Mosaic returned for their operational permit. Although planning and staff supported approval, some commissioners saw just another rubber stamp in play for the can't-miss mining company.
When Mosaic completely filled the chambers with over 150 of their Florida employees for the March meeting, all wearing white shirts with a big MOSAIC across the front of them, they knew they were a shoe-in for their land use zoning request. The four commissioners that approved both Tuesday's and the March 1, request, haven't ever refused Mosaic a permit, but there were still concerns by others on Tuesday, and the same three commissioners that dissented on March 1 wanted answers.
Problems included insufficient bonds, vague descriptions as to how and when reclamation would be performed, and whether commissioners were aiding and abetting Mosaic in circumventing the description and spirit of the Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS), still in the works by the Army Corp of Engineers (ACoE).
The AEIS is an attempt to be a comprehensive, past, present and future study, to the economic and environmental impacts of phosphate mining. It was requested by the federal courts and the Environmental Protection Agency, to be performed by the ACoE before mining continued.
The Wingate Extension mine is a rename of the old Texaco Tract mine, one of the mines ordered to discontinue mining. But four of the commissioners seemed willing to accept an explanation Mosaic wanted to provide, as to why it was now not considered to be on the list.
Mosaic contended that the ACoE approved it, when in fact the ACoE doesn't approve mines, and in this case it only provided a "jurisdictional waterway" statement, claiming only that the mine had no U.S. jurisdictional waterways on the property. Although many felt the proximity of the nearby rivers that are under U.S. jurisdiction, was more than sufficient to qualify for endangerment.
Commissioner Joe McClash brought up some history as to why the bond amount Mosaic thought adequate, was insufficient for wetland protection. In a previous ordeal with the county in which wetlands were destroyed, the wetlands were valued at over $100,000 an acre. That was almost 40 times what Mosaic thought was sufficient for the 40-plus acres in question at Wingate.
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino got few if any answers to the many questions she had. When she asked Manatee Natural Resource Divisional Manager Rob Brown, "Who monitors usage," Brown fumbled around for answers never really making it clear when or how, in eventually saying "we do, in conjunction with the other agencies." It's well known that nearly all of Mosaic's usage is self-reported.
I asked Brown if when Mosaic files for a "Variance" from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), excusing them from reclamation because of a proclaimed hardship, does that preempt Mosaic's responsibility to the county? He wasn't sure at first, then said "yea, I mean no, they are still bound to the contract." I asked if that verbiage was in the contract, making the distinction clear. He didn't answer.
I then turned to Natural Resource Department Director, Charlie Hunsicker, who was standing there also. Hunsicker asked me to please write my questions out and send them to him. The truth is, these distinctions are nearly always made later, in the courts, after millions of dollars are spent fighting them.
I felt that with all of the questions about responsibility to reclamation, covering a loophole that Mosaic has used many times to be excused from reclamation to thousands of acres in the past, this was something that needed to be covered prior to approval.
Commissioner Michael Gallen wanted to know, "Where does the water come from?"; Rob Brown answered, "Surficial aquifer, the one that contributes to the tree growth." When Dr. Sydney Bacchus testified to how the water mining extraction was killing the surrounding trees at the March meeting, Brown might have said something then.
Prior to the Mosaic item being heard during Citizen's comments on future agendas, Barbara Angelucci got all of their attention when she said, "A consideration for future agendas must be a critique of chamber protocol and a study of how citizens are treated in these chambers."
Angelucci spoke about how the commission chair rushed citizens through comment, about how the county attorney consistently shielded the applicant from meaningful questions, and how rows of seats were roped-off for the applicant's out-of-town employees, forcing local taxpayers to watch the meeting on TV from the 4th floor. Angelucci said she was displeased and frustrated with the performance of the governing body and wondered how commissioners could allow such treatment to those who pay their salary. She said, "One wonders who you are working for."
When public comment came up on the Mosaic issue, Sandra Ripburger spoke saying that "mining should not destroy wetlands, and this is in the Myakka Watershed." Linda Jones said, "This is inconsistent with the comp-plan," and also argued the insufficient bond for the wetland. Mary Shepard testified that there was once a back-up water reservoir planned next to the property. Hunsicker played that comment down saying the decision "doesn't change that."
Commissioner Bustle, who's been a solid vote on Mosaic-related issues, only said two things through the entire two hours of discussion: "I don't know why we are even discussing this," and "I'd like to make a motion to approve the permit."
The operational permit was approved, 4 to 3; McClash, Gallen and DiSabatino dissenting.