Opponents of Mosaic Fertilizer's plans to mine phosphate on 14,000 acres of rural DeSoto County filled the DeSoto County Commission's Boardroom in Arcadia for a second time on April 23rd.
For three hours, the commissioners heard testimony from local property owners, environmental experts and activists from DeSoto and neighboring counties. All but two of the speakers passionately urged the Commission to reject a proposed agreement that would allow Mosaic Mining Company to reopen a denied re-zoning proposal in 2023.
"No means no," repeated many who spoke, urging commissioners to reject the agreement and stand by its July 2018 refusal to allow Mosaic to rezone and mine 14,000 acres of agricultural land for phosphates. Residents of Hardee and Polk Counties spoke of the permanent destruction Mosaic's mining had done in their counties.
At the end of the testimony, the Commissioners quickly voted unanimously to accept the mediation agreement. Many opposed to that course of action worry that Mosaic will use that time to wear down the Commissioners' resistance.
Englewood Indivisible has made the cause of preventing such destruction in DeSoto County its own and plans to work with local and regional opponents of the mining for as long as it takes. Twenty-two members of Englewood Indivisible were at the April 23rd hearing.
On April 3rd, about 15 members of Englewood Indivisible were present in Arcadia when DeSoto County and Mosaic engaged in a formal dispute resolution session with a professional mediator. Under consideration was the County's proposal that Mosaic wait until 2023 and then begin anew its request to rezone 14,000 agricultural acres to mining. Mosaic ultimately accepted the proposal.
If permitted, the mining would allow Mosaic to pour millions of gallons of waste into Horse Creek which flows into the Peace River, a source of our drinking water. Mosaic would also cover huge tracts of a rezoned area with slightly radioactive clay byproduct, making the beautiful rural landscape a barren moonscape.
Last July, when the DeSoto County Commission denied Mosaic's zoning request. Mosaic countered with the request for the mediated dispute resolution.
The mediation process went on all day. First, affected landowners weighed in on the county's proposal. Then environmental organizations which had testified in the July hearing spoke. They all encouraged the county to reject Mosaic's bid outright: "No means no," said several.
At the close of the April 3rd testimony, the mediator alternated closed sessions with Mosaic and County Attorney Donald Conn.
Captain Paul DeGaeta, co-founder of Peace River-Charlotte Harbor Environmental Awareness Group (PReaCH), a leader of the opposition to the Mosaic proposal, warns that it is by no means over.
"Mosaic just steam rolls," said DeGaeta. "Because of the pressure of environmental groups like PReaCH, and the negative publicity of Mosaic catastrophes like the 2016 Mulberry sinkhole spilling 215 million gallons of radioactive toxic waste into our aquifer, and last month's spill in the Alafia River, they have tried to put a good face on this by requesting for mediation, rather than going right to a lawsuit. The said as much at the mediation hearing.
"They know a small county like Desoto can’t afford to get into a prolonged fight over this mine. So Mosaic is letting their PR folks work, spreading dollars to everyone in the area, and saying they want a fair process. Of course the real reason is the market is down and they’re cutting back production. If the price were up they’d have their lawyers circling DeSoto's Board of County Commissioners like sharks."
By 2023, DeGaeta said, "Mosaic hopes to load the board with another couple of friendly commissioners, and maybe some of the opposition will fade away."
DeGaeta, who spoke at Englewood Indivisible's March meeting, said he was glad to see our Indivisible t-shirts in the room. "It was great seeing those blue shirts helping us show Mosaic their days of working in the shadows in empty court rooms are over. We’re all watching now!"