On Wednesday, Feb. 15, the Manatee County Commission voted to allow Mosaic Fertilizer to extend its phosphate mining operations in the Myakka-Duette area to a property of 4,341 acres known as Wingate East which Mosaic owns. The extension is part of a rezoning and master mining plan for the company. The rezoning plan will redesignate 3,596 acres of agricultural farmland into an extraction site.
The board voted 5-2 in the decision. Commissioners Betsy Benac, Vanessa Baugh, Stephen Jonsson, Priscilla Whisenant Trace and Carol Whitmore voted in favor; commissioners Charles Smith and Robin DiSabatino voted against. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Benac told residents at the meeting who spoke out against the mining that the commission was not deciding a “popularity contest” and that Mosaic could sue the county if their request was denied because of their property rights to the Wingate East Area.
Mosaic Fertilizer sued the county in 2008 for $617.8 million when the board rejected the company’s application to expand its Four Corners Mine to a 2,048-acre site called the Altman Tract. In January 2009, after city elections, the board reversed the decision due to fears that they would lose in court. The same fear arose again in the decision on Feb. 15.
There was significant pushback among community members against the proposed plan, including within the New College student body. There were several forum posts sent out during January about events to oppose the Wingate expansion, including a protest outside the Manatee County Government Building and a day organized for calling county commissioners.
At least 18 New College students attended the Jan. 26 hearing where the board was set to hear Mosaic’s case for the plan, according to second-year Kaithleen Coñoepan. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported that 68 people registered to speak at the public hearing and that the meeting was so heavily attended that there was an overflow room set up. The hearing was extended until Jan. 30, where more residents voiced their opinions.
“There were a lot of other people with similar feelings [at the Jan. 26 hearing], and the commissioners were actually asking Mosaic challenging questions, which we thought was promising,” Vice President of Green Affairs Orion Morton said. “We were hoping for this local victory in light of the horrors the environment will face under the Trump administration, but in some ways it is unsurprising – the same corporate players that now have a huge, direct say in where our country is going on a federal level have been, and continue to, do the same thing on the local level.”
Although many New College students were in opposition to mining request, opposition was not the overwhelming feeling. While many residents and environmentalists argued that phosphate mining is bad for the environment and could poison the area’s drinking water as well as depreciate property values, others emphasized Mosaic’s involvement in the community and their promise to donate $2.5 million to the Manatee Community Foundation. According to the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the contribution will go toward the Conservation Foundation of the Gulf Coast for “land acquisition or enhancement of ongoing projects it has in the Myakka River watershed.”
Mosaic Fertilizer happens to be the same company that was responsible for a massive sinkhole in Polk County that spilled 200 million gallons of radioactive waste into the Floridan aquifer. The company claims that the spill did not affect the drinking water wells in the area.
“It’s really easy to feel really fucking powerless in these kinds of situations, and I think that’s a reasonable reaction, but while we do need to ‘play defense’ to a certain extent to prevent ecological calamity, I think all of our justice movements need to also take a stronger offensive than ever before,” Morton said. “There’s still so much opportunity for tangible, positive change to be affected in ways that the government can’t necessarily control, and I am trying – as difficult as it sometimes is – to find solace in that.”
Information for this article was gathered from heraldtribune.com.