• Environmental groups appealing Florida mining decision

    By: ANDREA PRAEGITZER, Staff Writer, Charlotte Sun

    Updated:

    Charlotte, Florida - Four environmental groups plan to appeal a recent ruling against a lawsuit they filed, which had sought to stop the government’s permitting of more mining by Mosaic in central Florida.

    Notice of the appeal was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Tampa.

    The groups -- including the Center for Biological Diversity, Manasota-88, People for Protecting Peace River, and Suncoast Waterkeeper -- have argued mining negatively impacts water resources and wildlife throughout the region.

    Mining permits that the court recently upheld would threaten freshwater resources "by allowing the unchecked growth of phosphogypsum 'stacks’ and obliterating wetlands and habitat for animals already clinging to survival," according to the groups’ announcement of their appeal.

    After the ruling last year validated the government’s permitting of Mosaic’s mining expansion and an environmental review that accompanied it, Mosaic said it was confident that the Center for Biological Diversity would "not be deterred in its efforts to end the thousands of jobs our industry supports."

    And after the notice of appeal was filed this week, Mosaic spokesperson Jackie Barron said: "We remain confident in the strength and legality of our permits and the ruling itself."

    Mosaic finished mining Polk County in 2014. The company is moving its operations south down the Bone Valley into Hardee County, Manatee County and in a few years, DeSoto County -- where the finite resource of phosphate runs heavy below the ground.

    Mosaic intervened as a defendant in last year’s lawsuit from the groups against the government. The company produces animal feed and fertilizer through phosphate mining on land it owns in central Florida, and it also has other international ventures.

    Permitting takes years and can span eight different agencies involving local, state and federal government. Some is still underway in DeSoto County, for example.

    Last year in March, the groups filed their lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for authorizing 50,000 acres of phosphate strip mining "that would irreversibly destroy native plant and animal habitat in central Florida."

    The lawsuit also contended the mining would "exacerbate Florida’s growing phosphogypsum crisis," according to the groups.

    Officials with the company have said that as mining moves south, they will continue to use their current manufacturing facilities.

    Piles of waste in "gypstacks" that span hundreds of acres are involved in the manufacturing process.

    Florida has two-dozen gypstacks that are either active or closed involving numerous different mining companies over time.

    Mosaic now owns a dozen gypstacks in Florida -- of which three are still active and under which two sinkholes have opened. Both sinkholes happened at the New Wales plant location in Mulberry. One was in 1994 under control of another company, and the other was in 2016 under control of Mosaic.

    According to the environmental groups, the latest sinkhole released "215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater into the Floridan Aquifer."

    However, Mosaic refers to that as the "New Wales water loss incident" and has said numerous private water wells have been tested and "show no impacts from the sinkhole."

    The appeals briefing has not been scheduled yet by the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, according to Jacki Lopez, senior attorney and Florida director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

    "Florida’s citizens have had enough of the phosphate industry that puts our aquifers at risk and decimates habitat for our wildlife," said Lopez. "The Corps’ failure to analyze these threats is unlawful and will devastate nearby communities."

    Florida’s two-dozen open-air gypstacks may be the largest repository of toxic and hazardous waste in the United States, according to Suncoast Waterkeeper Andre Mele. "It’s a toxic legacy with which no one in Florida has yet come to terms."

    But December’s ruling from United States District Judge Steven Merryday said a phosphogypsum stack was "independent" from proposed mining in the Corps’ permitting for more strip-mining issued to Mosaic.

    "For too long, the phosphate industry has externalized the costs of pollution," said Executive Director of the Manasota-88 Glenn Compton. "Radioactive toxic waste disposal should not be an expense or risk the public has to deal with."

    If the appeal is successful, Lopez said, a court could require the Corps "to not authorize any additional permits to mine until it complies with relevant federal environmental law."

    Email: Apraegitzer@sun-herald.com

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