Wednesday hearing is crucial in Mosaic dispute
By CRAIG GARRETT
DeSoto County and Mosaic Fertilizer go before a dispute resolution expert on Wednesday, attempting to resolve differences over rezoning Mosaic farmland in DeSoto County to industrial mining.
The special magistrate is to decide the impact of the DeSoto Board of County Commissioners on Mosaic when it voted against rezoning last July. (procedural guidelines are listed at desotobocc.com) The Arcadian asked Dennis Mader with People for Protecting Peace River Inc.
(3PR) and Heather Nedley with Mosaic to define their opposing positions for our readers. Space allows for one answer.
We will post full replies at www.yoursun.
com/Arcadian by Friday.
Question: Phosphate mining has a history in Florida. DeSoto County, in fact, is its home. What’s wrong with continuing that?
Nedley: “Phosphate was discovered by Captain J. Francis LeBaron in the Peace River in 1881 and in 1889 Arcadia Phosphate Co. mined the first commercial phosphate in Florida. Mining is moving southward to reserves in Hardee, DeSoto and Manatee counties.
“Thirty years ago, 20+ companies were mining and a dozen manufacturing facilities were operating. Now, there’s three manufacturing facilities and four mines operating. So, phosphate mining has been going on in Central Florida for more than 100 years and if you compare the past to the present, it is done with much less intensity and greater environmental protections now. Being a responsible neighbor is important to our company.
That starts with safe and reliable operations and extends to our economic impacts and employee contributions.
“As for what phosphate offers DeSoto County in the future? A lot. The University of Florida/IFAS completed a comprehensive economic impact study detailing what DeSoto could expect in terms of economic activity and jobs from Mosaic’s operations. Some of the highlights include nearly $20 million in state and local tax revenue, 200 jobs with a local multiplier of 777 jobs and an average wage of around $95,000. Phosphate mining is significant economic driver representing 21 percent of total gross regional product and $219.56 million in value added to the regional economy.
“Those opposed to mining will often reference a prior project which was an extension to an existing mine and claim that mining adds no new jobs.
The DeSoto mine will be an entirely new facility. And, while we expect that some experienced employees will be necessary to bring the mine online, over the life of the facility we expect the majority of the employee base to come from DeSoto and the surrounding areas. As our mining has moved south over time, the regions contributing to our employee base have as well. Hardee County residents now make up a large portion of the employees at our mines, whereas that was not the case when mining was predominantly taking place in Polk and Hillsborough counties.
“Our employees actively contribute to the communities where they live and work. Whether it’s coaching a youth baseball team or volunteering at a local food pantry, their efforts and impact can be seen throughout Central Florida. Mosaic employees are proud of the work we do, the families we support and the benefits we provide to our operating areas.
“And our contributions go far beyond jobs. In association with our recent permit for the Ona mine in Hardee County, Mosaic agreed to fund an endowment for a forgivable loan program for Hardee County students seeking degrees in such fields as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) or a technical trade certification. If the students remain in the county after receiving their degree or certification, the loan can be forgiven. This program will not only help the citizens of Hardee obtain a college degree, but it will also help the county build a skilled workforce to attract new employers. And, the company also agreed to help fund an infrastructure grant program that allows the county and its municipalities to apply for grants for infrastructure projects that help encourage economic opportunities in the county. These types of opportunities will be available to DeSoto County and its residents as well once we are operating here.”
Mader: “Yes, phosphate mining has a history in Florida, but it’s a dubious history at best. There is a great deal wrong with its continuation because of the irremediable impacts to the natural environment and the vast scope of phosphate mining operations both above and below the ground.
“I grew up in south Lakeland on the Mulberry Highway (State Road 37) which had been mined continuously from the Lakeland city limits all the way to Mulberry and beyond. My father’s first job when my family came to Florida in 1946 was with International Mineral and Chemicals. He was working as an engineer in the design of an industrial drier to remove clay particles from phosphate concentrate. He intensely disliked the industry and the town of Mulberry, which was a God-forsaken dusty crossroads and railroad stop dominated by fertilizer production plants, so he moved on after one year and ultimately went into business for himself. However, a great many of my peers growing up in Lakeland were the scions of phosphate and its allied industries executives and engineers – a privilege that bestowed on us practically free range all over mine property. It was just part of the wall paper growing up there, and we took it all for granted.
There was no mandatory reclamation in those days and practically everywhere we went the natural landscape had been ravaged by draglines and was just left idle and overgrown. Even today tens of thousands of acres (about one fifth of all Polk County) is idle and worthless. Think about the economic consequences of the loss of such a vast tract of Florida landscape which otherwise could have been developed or used for agriculture. To me it’s a tragedy that this scale of destruction has continued for generations.
“Certain experiences that occurred to me in my youth stand out above all the rest … the first was the loss of Kissengen Springs, a 20-million gallon per day, first-magnitude flowing springs just south of Bartow where my family and many folks throughout history used to go for swimming. In 1950, Kissengen Springs went completely dry due to ground water withdrawals by the phosphate industry. The spring never recovered, and today all that remains is just an overgrown patch of dry mud. To me, that’s unforgivable.
“Another was the sight of frogs that had grown an extra appendage. A family I knew well acquired a building lot across the road from the Medulla School House south of town on an unreclaimed phosphate pit. There were seven kids in that family. One day the boys were messing around the banks of that old pit and began finding these weird mutated frogs that had three hind legs. That was in the early sixties. They brought those frogs to Lakeland High School where our biology teacher, Miss Williams, preserved them in formaldehyde bottles and stashed them in the closet of the biology lab. I never forgot that sight. That marked my conversion. It was then I began to realize the true and malign consequences of phosphate mining.
“A lot of my peers found summer work in the fertilizer operations—particularly those whose parents were employed in the industry. I applied for a job one summer myself. At least I had enough presence of mind to write on my application that I wouldn’t work around acid. When I was called in for my interview the man looked at the application, and said, “It says here you won’t work around acid?”
I answered, “Yessir, I’m going to college and I don’t want to risk my eyesight.” He looked at me in disbelief and said, “Son, all we got around here is acid.” I realized then the interview was over. That’s before it was revealed to the public that all mined land also had elevated radio-activity levels.
“So, when I think about the history of phosphate mining in Florida, I see it from an environmentalist’s point of view.
I see the complete disintegration of the native vegetation and the destruction of complex soil layers that sustained the flora and fauna that once thrived across hundreds of thousands of acres. I think about the dozens of gyp-stacks containing acidic water destined to subside and vanish into the porous substrata that forms the basis of this whole state. (Every school child knows that Florida’s subterranean landscape is like a sponge of limestone, and limestone and acid don’t mix.) I think about ruptured clay slime containments and recurring pollution of the Peace River and its tributaries, the systematic loss of streams and flowing springs, of pastures, woods, and bayhead swamps, fish kills, and loss of animal habitat. It’s what I would consider a form of environmental genocide.”
DeSoto County and Mosaic Fertilizer are before a special magistrate on Wednesday at the county administration building. (details at www.desotobocc.com)