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Florida Phosphate Mining

12/27 Preservation potential on the Peace River [Herald Tribune]

ARCADIA - The virgin landscape along a stretch of the Peace River running through Florida's newest forest preserve stands out on a waterway heavily reshaped by human activity. Read more here.


Watch this 4-minute video that shows the real face of phosphate mining.

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Download and pass it around!Phosphate Brochure

Phosphate Committee Update, January 2013

The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is in the final stages of conducting an Area-wide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) on Phosphate Mining in the Central Florida Phosphate District, a region rich in phosphate ore deposits which is used in the production of fertilizer. The Corps issued their Draft AEIS in May 2012 and the Final version is expected soon.

The Corps has received four new applications--three from Mosaic and one from CF Industries--seeking permission to dredge or fill jurisdictional wetlands, under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, for expansion of existing mines or creation of new mines, and to construct attendant facilities. The newly proposed mines (Wingate East, Ona, DeSoto and South Pasture) are located in Manatee, Hardee and DeSoto counties.

Sierra Club Florida’s Phosphate Committee submitted written comments and recommendations for both the Draft and the Final studies. We are striving to protect adjacent and downstream watersheds, estuaries, wildlife habitat, and wildlife corridor connections from mining impacts. Once the Corps has completed the AEIS, they will make separate determinations on the four new mine applications. During that process the Phosphate Committee will submit comments as well.

For the status of the AEIS and how to participate in the process go to

Lawsuit over Fort Meade Extension has been settled

2012: Sierra Club Florida, People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) and ManaSota-88 announced that they have entered into a settlement with The Mosaic Company to resolve their Federal Court lawsuit challenging Mosaic’s South Fort Meade Extension (SFM extension) phosphate mine in Hardee County, Florida.

The US Corps of Engineers permit for the mine allowed more than 7,000 acres of phosphate strip mining in the Peace River watershed. The plaintiffs’ lawsuit was filed in June 2010 in the United States District Court in Jacksonville and charged that the Corps permit was issued in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.
When entered by the District Court the settlement will allow mining to proceed at the SFM extension. In return there will be major changes in the mining plan providing significant additional protections for the Peace River watershed.

Mosaic purchased the Peaceful Horse Ranch (PHR), a property of some 4400 acres at the confluence of the Peace River and Horse Creek, with nearly 8 miles of the Peace River frontage and nearly 6 miles of Horse Creek frontage, including largely pristine wetlands. PHR, which has some 3500 acres of wetlands, is on the State’s Florida Forever list as a property which is desirable for protection by the state. It is vital to the region’s water supply, water quality, flood protection, and management of natural system. It has been identified as central to the strategy of providing connected conservation areas as well as wildlife corridors along the Peace River for the Florida Panther.

With the settlement, as additional mitigation for the wetlands lost to mining in the challenged permit Mosaic will donate PHR to the state for a state park, along with $2 million to cover startup and initial maintenance costs. This acquisition and donation will make PHR a destination for hiking, boating and wildlife viewing, will provide long term protection to the Peace River watershed and the Charlotte Harbor estuary and will supplement the Florida Forever protection program which has been hobbled by lack of funding.

Also, at the SFM extension mine, mining will be set back from the Peace River and onsite perennial streams, creating additional buffers of approximately 42 acres.

An additional 7 bayhead wetlands and buffers, comprising over 70 acres, will be removed from the mine plan and preserved in a Conservation Easement. Bayheads are key to the ecosystem and are very difficult, if not impossible to restore or recreate.

Some 400 acres of land between the southwest mine border and the Peace River will be placed into Conservation Easement, providing additional protection for the river.

An area northwest of the site, and bordering the west side of the Peace will be placed into Conservation Easement. Two onsite streams will be enhanced with wetland treatment areas.

Mosaic will enter into a long term water monitoring program, and an independent panel will be created to review Mosaic’s monitoring and restoration over time and to make recommendations where desirable.

The Peace River Watershed provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Floridians and the State of Florida, the EPA and Congress have designated the Watershed, and the downstream Charlotte Harbor estuary, as a Priority Watershed, an Aquatic Resource of National Importance and an "estuary of national significance." It is home to endangered and threatened wildlife and fish and depends on freshwater flows from the Peace River.

Commenting on the settlement Bev Griffiths of the Sierra Club Florida Phosphate Committee said, "This is a victory for everyone in Florida who values protecting the Peace River and increasing Florida’s State Park System. We are pleased to be able to come to an agreement with Mosaic on these matters. Our settlement requests were based on the items which USEPA had identified as desirable prior to issuance of the Corps permit. We are very pleased to be able to implement these provisions in our settlement agreement."

Percy Angelo of the Sierra Club committee added, "Under this agreement some 5000 additional acres of land will be preserved and put into Conservation Easement along the Peace River and Horse Creek. "

The settlement will be final when approved by the District Court and when the lawsuit and pending appeals have been dismissed by the District Court and the Appellate Court.

-Frank Jackalone, Senior Organizing Manager
Sierra Club

For more info on the Sierra Club Florida Phosphate Committee,
contact Bev Griffiths,

Florida Phosphate Campaign Update
Summer 2011

Area-wide Environmental Impact Statement for
Central Florida Phosphate District

The Florida Sierra Club Phosphate Committee members have been busy preparing comments to be submitted for a US Army Corps of Engineer ordered Area-wide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) for the Central Florida Phosphate District.

The Corps proposed the study in response to at least three new phosphate mining permit applications for Section 404 permits under the Clean Water Act (CWA). For years, organizations including Sierra Club, ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River, as well as some downstream local governments and many residents of the affected area have been calling for the study. Corps permit applications currently pending include CF Industries’ South Pasture Extension, and Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC’s Four Corners Surface Tract, and Ona Mines. The study will consider the cumulative impacts of these three, and hopefully other mines, in one environmental impact statement. However, we believe the study should be broadened to include all impacts mining is likely to have on the Peace and Myakka River watersheds and the Charlotte Harbor National Estuary. Sierra Club and other environmental groups were disappointed by the Corps’ decision to issue a dredge and fill permit for Mosaic’s South Fort Meade Mine extension into Hardee County just ahead of the Area-wide Study and have initiated a legal challenge that is now winding its way through the courts. (See below).

About the CWA: Section 404 of the Clean Water Act establishes a program to regulate the discharge of dredge or fill material into the waters of the United States, including wetlands. Activities that require such a permit to impact federal waters include fill for development; water resource projects such as dams and levees; infrastructure development such as highways and airports; and mining projects. Though the Corps is ultimately responsible for deciding whether to grant or deny a Section 404 permit, the US Environmental Protection Agency and US Fish and Wildlife Service provide guidance.

Phosphate mining is probably THE single most intensive land use in Florida. To extract the ore, which is used for the production of fertilizer, the earth is scraped of all vegetation and then strip mined using colossal draglines to a depth of 50 or more feet. The ore is then separated from the sand and clay and sent to a processing plant. Permitting requires that mining companies reclaim the land afterward to a useful condition and that wetland functions be restored. But reclamation is significantly delayed and oftentimes mining companies seek and receive variances from the State allowing them to amend reclamation plans or further delay reclamation because not enough sand is available to complete the job.

Mining impacts remain harmful and long lasting. For example, the phosphate industry leaves at least 40% of the land it mines in the form of Clay Settling Areas (CSAs), which take decades to gradually dry out before the land can be reused due to instability. CSAs are large holding areas for the wet clay and sand mixtures which are left behind once the phosphate ore has been separated out during a process called beneficiation. In another example of long lasting impacts, there are currently about one-billion tons of phosphogypsum stacked in 24 stacks in Florida and about 30 million new tons are generated each year. The material must be stored indefinitely because of potential health risks associated with its low-level radioactivity over extended periods of exposure.

Phosphate mining impacts surface water hydrology, groundwater resources and uses enormous quantities of water, despite claims that the industry recycles a high percentage. Wildlife is displaced by habitat destruction and native soils and plants are lost. There are negative socio-economic and quality of life impacts to adjacent landowners, agricultural workers and ecotourism businesses.

The Area-wide EIS is an opportunity to make our case for greater protection of watersheds, avoidance of wetland impacts, and the need to reduce mining’s footprint on our landscapes. Even though the public comment period on the scope of the EIS is now closed (April 25th was the deadline) there will be another opportunity to provide comment once the Corps issues the Draft EIS. For more information, visit the Corps special website at:
- Bev Griffiths, Phosphate Committee

South Fort Meade Hardee County Mine Extension Legal Challenge

Sierra Club, ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River (3PR) filed a legal challenge to the Corps’ permit issued for Mosaic’s South Fort Meade Hardee County Mine Extension, a 10,750 acre site. The Corps’ permit authorized disturbance and mining of over 534 acres of wetlands and streams without a full accounting for cumulative, long-term impacts as required by the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act. The Corps instead opted for a less stringent review called an Environmental Assessment.

The federal district court in Jacksonville issued a preliminary injunction staying of the permit. The Army Corps of Engineers and Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC filed an appeal with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which remanded the case back to the District Court for correction of its action (it had remanded a portion of the case to the Corps before ruling on the merits). The Appellate Court left a 90-day stay of the permit in place to allow the lower court to rule. Meanwhile, in the lower court, Sierra Club and its fellow plaintiffs filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on May 6th with defendant’s response due May 20, 2011.

In an earlier partial settlement agreement, in October 2010, plaintiffs accepted Mosaic’s request to mine a 200-acre area within the mine boundaries, in exchange for preserving an additional 40 acres that includes a bayhead. In a more recent development, Mosaic announced plans to begin preparing an additional 700-acre area for mining, referred to as Area II, claiming it could mine just the uplands. At the time of writing this article, a determination had not been made as to the legality of Area II mining, since the federal permit is suspended until the District Court rules, mining the uplands has ramifications for the wetlands, and a modification of the permit may be required.
- Bev Griffiths, Phosphate Committee

Altman Tract Legal Challenge

The 2,200 acre Altman Tract is located in Manatee County, at the headwaters of the upper Horse Creek, a tributary to the Peace River. Mosaic has chosen this site because it is within pumping distance of their Four Corners facility.

The Altman federal case, like the South Fort Meade case, is before Judge Henry Adams of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Sierra Club, ManaSota-88, People for Protecting Peace River (3PR), Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida and Gulf Restoration Network filed a legal challenge to the Corps’ permit which authorized disturbance and mining of over 400 acres of wetlands. The lawsuit challenges the Corps’ decision to conduct an Environmental Assessment rather than an EIS. The case is fully briefed but was stayed while the South Fort Meade case was on appeal in the Eleventh Circuit. That stay has since been lifted and we are waiting for Judge Adams to issue his decision.
- Bev Griffiths, Phosphate Committee

Florida Phosphate Campaign Update
Summer 2010

The Sierra Club Florida, Phosphate Committee is fighting back. The phosphate mining giant, Mosaic, has lost a skirmish with environmentalists over mining practices and the company is now waging a campaign in the media to say that since they keep having to fight off legal challenges, they will have to lay off workers. The Phosphate Committee has taken out an advertisement to attempt to counter the unfounded attack.

To See all the details, download our ad now by opening this link (1.31Mb): The Way Mosaic Does Business.

What was won in court was an injunction which allows Mosaic to continue mining in non-wetland areas,and yet, the company began laying off workers in what looks like a move to hold their own employees hostage. Sierra Club, ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting Peace River legally challenged Mosaic's permit for phosphate strip mining on the 10,885 acre "South Fort Meade Extension" site in the Peace River watershed in Hardee County.

Mosaic profits for March - May 2010 were $396 million. The company has cash and cash equivalents of $2.5 billion. Their CEO earned more than $7 million last year.

Florida Phosphate Committee Formed, Summer 2009

The Sierra Club Florida Steering Committee selected members for the Phosphate Mining Issue Committee. Ancient Islands - Andy Quinn; Greater Charlotte Harbor - Percy Angelo; Tampa Bay - Beverly Griffiths; Manatee-Sarasota - Linda Jones; Member-at-Large - Cris Costello; Liaison to Steering Committee - Marian Ryan; Legal liaison to Phosphate Committee - Eric Huber; Committee Chair - Percy Angelo

The primary work of this team will be to:

  • Coordinate Sierra Club Florida’s comments on decisions, actions, or statements by public agencies and office holders on phosphate mining and related issues.
  • Share information that might be helpful to other team members.
  • Identify team needs – commit to research and preparation of materials that benefit the team or its activists.
  • Launch targeted campaign teams, as needed, to influence priority decision points.

Issues will include, but are not limited to: current and future mining applications and permits, reclamation, mining regulations, old mined lands, and environmental impacts on natural systems, habitat, water, air, and soil.

Between team meetings or calls, team members are expected to follow up on team assignments, educate members and citizens, and generate public comments on the decisions they are personally focused on as an activist.

Team members participated in Team Development Training given by Sierra Club Florida the weekend of August 29-30, 2009 at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.

Altman Tract Phosphate Mine Update, 2008

As reported previously, phosphate mining giant Mosaic Fertilizer’s plans to strip mine the wetland-rich Altman mine were stopped dead in its tracks, thanks to years of activism by the Manatee-Sarasota and Greater Charlotte Harbor Groups, Sierra regional staff, and a September 2008 Manatee County Commission vote to deny the land use change and mining plan that Mosaic would require.

Not two weeks after the historic denial vote Mosaic informed Manatee County that it would file a “takings claim” for the value of the phosphate on the tract, which it estimated to be $617 million, unless the county reversed its decision in 90 days.

Several days after that legal threat was made, the legal challenge filed in July 2008 by the Sierra Club, GRN, Manasota-88 and 3PR against the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps had issued the Altman wetland permit without having completed an environmental impact statement for the proposed mine – a requirement under the CWA and NEPA) resulted in a suspension of Mosaic’s Altman permit. The Corps had determined that it was in the public interest to revisit the analysis in support of the permit decision.

However, the federal permit suspension did not stop Mosaic from wielding its various forms of pressure on the Manatee County Commissioners and legal staff. In December 2008, after two new pro-business commissioners were sworn in, the public was given only 6 days notice of the existence of a Mosaic settlement agreement before the new commission voted (without any public hearing or public vetting of the settlement language) to invalidate the September denial vote, readdress the Altman Tract permitting issues, and take a new vote by February 5, 2009.

The settlement agreement language itself made it clear that a vote for the agreement would lead to a rubber stamp approval of the Mosaic proposal at the hearings scheduled in January and February but that did not stop us from rallying our activist troops to make another stand against the mine.

In the course of the 3-month campaign against the settlement we had Sierra Club members from Manatee, Sarasota, Hardee, Desoto, Charlotte and Hillsborough Counties attend the Manatee County Commission hearings and we were joined by our friends and allies from ManaSota-88, People for Protecting the Peace River and Gulf Restoration Network. We also organized more Duette-area residents (those who live close to the Altman Tract) opposed to the mine than we ever had before.

Attendees challenged the county's failure to provide its citizens due process in making its rezoning decision and challenged the legality of the decision itself – what a show of strength! Many thanks to everyone who attended the Manatee Board of County Commissioners meetings in December, January and February – the impression we made together will not be soon forgotten. Activism in the Sierra Club is alive and well!

Although the new Manatee Board of County Commissioners did vote on February 5 to permit mining on the Altman Tract, this fight is not over. On February 17, Sierra, along with ManaSota 88 and several citizens, filed suit in Circuit Court to prevent the Manatee County – Mosaic settlement and Altman zoning change to take place. Our petition cited numerous failures of the county to follow its own rules and procedures.

The battle will continue on several new fronts and we will keep pressuring the various powers-that-be to protect the natural environment and our precious water resources. Mining on the Altman Tract would destroy 400 acres of pristine wetlands in the 2,048 acre tract, which sits at the headwaters of Horse Creek, a major tributary to the Peace River. This watershed is of great ecological importance, as well as a source of drinking water for southwest Florida. - Sierra Club Regional Office, St Petersburg

Florida Phosphate Campaign Victory

Altman Tract land use change
denied by Manatee County;
Federal permit in litigation

(BRADENTON) - Phosphate mining giant Mosaic Fertilizer’s plans to strip mine the wetland-rich Altman mine have been stopped dead in its tracks, thanks to years of activism by the Manatee-Sarasota and Greater Charlotte Harbor Groups, Sierra regional staff, a recent vote by Manatee County commissioners, and a legal challenge.

The recent legal challenge to the US Army Corps of Engineers dredge and fill permit was filed in July by Earthjustice, representing the Sierra Club and three other organizations working in coalition with us. We have put a stop to Mosaic’s plans to destroy 400 acres of pristine wetlands in the headwaters of Horse Creek, a major tributary to the Peace River. This watershed is of great ecological importance, as well as a source of drinking water for southwest Florida. The project threatened surface and ground water quality and flow in the region.

Manatee-Sarasota and Greater Charlotte Harbor Group activists have been fighting the Altman mine for years by mobilizing county residents to speak out, working with other groups, and by encouraging down-river counties to oppose the various state and federal permits needed by Mosaic.

In order for the mining to take place, Mosaic also needed to obtain a land use change and mining plan approval from the Manatee Board of County Commissioners. The county commissioners had often postponed decision-making on Mosaic’s request, mainly due to public opposition to the environmental damage, and recommendations from the county’s own staff to deny the proposal.

Mosaic did make some improvements in protections over the course of the years, but could not prove that they could restore the wetlands to their current high quality, nor were they willing to avoid key connecting wetlands south of the property’s central marsh. To try to sweeten the deal, Mosaic offered to throw in funding for a fire station and park in Duette.

When Manatee County commissioners made an unexpected move to approve a development order for the 2048-acre Altman Tract mine this spring, Sierra activists were moved to organize a “Stop Phosphate Mining” rally that drew more than 60 residents and was covered by both newspaper and television press. Over the summer we conducted door-to-door outreach in Duette (the community closest to the Altman Tract) and worked with other organizations (Protect Our Watersheds, People for Protecting the Peace River (3PR), Gulf Restoration Network (GRN), and Manasota-88) to educate and mobilize the public in Manatee, Sarasota, Charlotte, Lee, Hardee and Desoto counties.

In July, in association with several coalition partners (GRN, Manasota-88, 3PR, and our Manatee-Sarasota Group), the Sierra Club took legal action against the Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps had issued the Altman wetland permit without having completed an environmental impact statement for the proposed mine – a requirement under the CWA and NEPA.

Sierra volunteers sent innumerable emails to county commissioners and local newspapers in four different counties published anti-mine LTEs in the five months leading up to the September public hearing. Mosaic, tired of waiting for a decision and interested in getting its permits before the end of the year, pushed county staff hard to make sure a vote would be taken on September 16, 2008.

Contact information for this story: Monica Reimer, Earthjustice; Cris Costello, Sierra Club; Glenn Compton, ManaSota-88; Dennis Mader, People for Protecting Peace River; Joe Murphy, Gulf Restoration Network

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