BRADENTON -- It was business as usual for fertilizer giant Mosaic when they went back before the Manatee County Commission last week, even while the sting of the company's decision to abandon the county's port continues to be felt. Through a client company, Mosaic pulled out of Port Manatee this year, costing the port around $750,000 annually, while leading to furloughs for the the port's full-time employees.
In January, Port Manatee began furloughing each of its 54 full-time employees for one day each month for an "indefinite" time period, following the multi-billion dollar company's announcement that it would shift its shipments from Port Manatee to a company-owned terminal south of Tampa.
Because Mosaic was not a direct customer of the port, but rather a customer of port tenant Kinder Morgan, Port Manatee officials were "not in a position to avert or even negotiate" the loss of their business.
Mosaic, who spends millions of dollars advertising in the region despite not having a product that is sold retail, has earned the ire of environmentalists and other Manatee citizens for mining operations that have proven to typically range between environmentally destructive and disastrous, while sucking out hundreds of billions of gallons of water from the region’s already strained aquifer.
The billion dollar phosphate giant has, however, been very generous to members of the Manatee County Commission, who in return, have proven very pro-phosphate when it comes time to vote. The company has been able to consistently win zoning approvals, even amidst widespread public opposition, including controversial changes to its Wingate Creek Mine last year, which passed 5-2 (Commissioners Gallen and DiSabatino dissenting).
In the past, the board routinely cited the company's economic impact on Manatee County and specifically its port, though no mention was made of all that lost revenue on Thursday. While phosphate mining is a very non-labor-intensive endeavor, requiring only around four employees per acre mined, such ancillary economic activity has long been hailed as a key reason to accept the considerable environmental risks associated with the industry.
As phosphate related shipping accounted for the bulk of the port’s rail operations, it is unclear whether rail will continue to be sustainable there without Mosaic’s business. The loss has already had a deep impact on the port’s bottom line, with its operating revenue budget for this year being the lowest it has been in the last decade.
Last Thursday, the company was seeking renewal of mining permits in the county and despite hours of discussion and in-depth commentary from local landowners and environmentalists, the board approved the permits 7-0, after repeated warnings from county legal staff that failure to do so would lead to legislation.
In 2013, Mosaic announced its plans to invest up to $1 billion in Saudi Arabia in order to improve its access to Asian markets. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Plymouth, Minnesota-based company is teaming up with two Saudi Arabian companies on a $7 billion project in which Mosaic would hold a 25 percent stake. Mosaic is one of the world's largest phosphate fertilizer producers with its products used on about 80 percent of the massive U.S. corn market.
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