Mosaic interview: Part 1, ‘focused on long-term sustainability’
By CRAIG GARRETT
Opponents wish the company would blow away with the soupy breeze its mineral- harvesting machines produce.
But others see the Fortune 500 company as Florida’s business partner. Every county in Florida where it operates it has met with open arms. These state, county and private leaders want Mosaic’s investments, which includes new corporate offices east of Tampa.
Most importantly, the world needs its phosphate to grow the stuff we put on our plates.
Few in Florida get by without some whiff of Mosaic, a firm that in 2017 earned around $7.4 billion in global profits. Mosaic is a spinoff from Cargill, the world’s most profitable private company. Mosaic plans to mine phosphate in DeSoto County. The project snagged in July, however, when the DeSoto Board of County Commissioners voted 4-1 to deny its rezoning application. That issue gets scrutinized this spring by a special magistrate.
Russell Schweiss, Mosaic’s vice president for Mine Permitting, Land Management and Public Affairs, is answering questions about his employer.
The company’s overview is meant for our readers to picture one side of the controversial phosphate mining issue.
Arcadian: What misconceptions are there about Mosaic in DeSoto County? There are upsides to what phosphate offers, right?
Schweiss: “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. We encourage our employees to be part of the communities where we operate.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.
“As for what phosphate offers, 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.
An average overall wage of around $95,000. Phosphate mining is significant economic driver representing
21 percent of total gross regional product and $219.56 million value added to the regional economy.
“The Arcadian printed a guest column last summer (June 2018, Andy Mele) from an opponent who warned that if mining was permitted in Arcadia, the town could be the next Fort Meade. That was meant to be a knock against Fort Meade, but the economic facts tell a different story. Since 2010, Fort Meade has experienced more population growth than Arcadia and enjoys a larger percentage of high school and college graduates and higher family income, per capita. The area has transitioned from their days of mining. Streamsong (Mosaic resort development) alone has created more than 500 full-time jobs, the majority of which are held by local residents.
“Opponents often paint an image of the company going bankrupt and walking away from obligations, leaving behind environmental catastrophes. That’s not reality. For starters, today’s bonding requirements prevent a scenario like that from ever happening. Additionally, Mosaic remains a globally competitive, fiscally sound company focused on long-term sustainability.”
Question: What is phosphate’s role in the world?
Schweiss: “Phosphate is one of three vital crop nutrients needed for healthy plant growth and crop yields. Phosphorus is an element, so there’s no synthetic substitute. Humans need it for healthy bones, to power our cells and it’s in our DNA.We get it from the food we eat.
“When a farmer harvests their crop, phosphorus is removed from the field with the crop. Without replenishing it, yields decline rapidly and that’s where crop nutrients, like the phosphate we produce, come in. In modern agriculture, commercial fertilizers are responsible for anywhere from 40-60 percent of crop yields, depending on soil types. Without those yield boosts, the world could not produce enough crops on its arable land to support the global population. So, phosphate is absolutely critical to the global food picture.”
Question: Health of rivers and aquifers is an issue. That a hurricane would slop basins of toxic waste into the environment is an opponent issue. And if there’s a hint of such things, even minimal, why risk anyone’s health?
Schweiss: “Safety is the cornerstone of our operations, both the safety of people and of the environment. We invest millions every year in safety and environmental protections … and we are constantly becoming more advanced.
“Phosphate plays a critical role in the global food supply and it can only be produced where the resource exists. Florida’s deposits are economical to mine and fertilizer production is done here under more strict environmental regulations than you’ll find in any other region that is a major producer.
“The two areas of our operations that tend to get the most attention are Clay Settling Areas (CSAs) and gypstacks. The latter is part of the manufacturing facilities. DeSoto County will never have fertilizer manufacturing or gypstacks. Clay settling areas are most relevant for this discussion because they are associated with our mining operations.
A site-specific study is performed to determine the potential for sinkhole activity for every CSA. If there is any evidence of potential sinkhole activity, the area is either avoided or remediated, prior to construction. It’s important to note there has been no sinkhole activity at or near any of the CSAs in Manatee County or Hardee County since mining began in these areas back in the 1970s. The geology in DeSoto and Hardee counties, with extremely thick layers of material above the confining layer, is not favorable to sinkhole formation, under any circumstance. In fact, there’s been only one report of a geological subsidence event on record for DeSoto County compared to hundreds in each of the counties in the northern portions of Central Florida (Hillsborough, Pasco, Polk, Osceola, Orange, etc).
“Regarding CSA safety, the current version of the state rule regarding earthen dams, which was substantially revised in 1999, is one of the most rigorous dam standards employed in the country. None of the more than 100 CSA dams constructed in accordance with the current standards have experienced any failures or spills. That’s not to gloss over incidents that occurred decades ago under predecessor companies. The spills that occurred through the 1970s were unacceptable and produced significant impacts, which is why the standards were revised to where they are today.”
Part 2 of Mosaic’s interview in the Jan. 24
Mosaic Fertlizer mines phosphate using giant scoopers, or draglines, that dredge enough earth to fill six dump trucks. The company plans operations in DeSoto County.