© 2022 All Rights reserved WUSF
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Phosphate processing plants in the greater Tampa Bay region have caused some of Florida's worst environmental disasters. Accidents like the spill at the former Piney Point plant fill the history books in Florida.

The Florida Sierra Club Objects to a New Phosphate Mine in DeSoto County

The Florida Sierra Club’s phosphate committee has formally objected to allowing a new Mosaic Company mine in Desoto County. Placida attorney Percy Angelo sent a letter to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on September 22.

In seeking denial of the permit for the proposed 18,000 acre mine, the Sierra Club cited, “the tragic history of clay-settling-area spills and downstream damage; the many miles of unreclaimed moonscape replacing wetlands and streams; the reduced flows in the Peace River and its tributaries, and the growth of hazardous waste gypstacks with their seemingly regular spills of severely acidic wastewater.”

One of those gypstacks at the Mosaic Company’s New Wales fertilizer factory about 20 miles east of Tampa has developed a sinkhole which dumped more than 215 million gallons of highly acidic wastewater along with slightly radioactive phosphogypsum waste material into the Floridan Aquifer.

In its eight page letter, Angelo quoted Mosaic’s assertion that the purpose of the new mine is to replace phosphate rock currently mined by the company in order to, “maintain production and continue to utilize infrastructure.” She said the argument is self-justifying and improper. “It is simply a statement that Mosaic will be allowed to continue doing what it has done in the past, without recognition of the clear direction of the environmental statutes that mining be done in an environmentally protective manner,” said Angelo.

The letter also cited evidence from environmental economist Dr. Richard Weisskoff that phosphate mining is not the economic engine it claims to be, especially “when contrasted with the enormous public costs of regulating, monitoring and cleaning up after the phosphate industry.”

Angelo said the reclamation costs assumed by Mosaic are only $8,015 per acre, which she said is not enough to restore mined lands to full productivity. “The groundwater flows are never restored, many wetlands cannot be effectively restored, and the acres of clay settling areas are never restored to their past productivity,” she wrote. The environmental group said in the letter that “mining should not be permitted until the true costs of reclamation are included and adequately bonded by the mining company.”

Angelo told WGCU the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers chose not to require Mosaic to include gypstacks in the Areawide Environmental Impact Statement (AEIS) that was done before the company got earlier mine permits.

Mosaic had planned to submit its permit requests for the new Desoto County mine by the end of September, but a company spokesperson told WGCU that the submission will be delayed. Public hearings on the Desoto mine application will not likely take place until late next spring. Hearings on Mosaic’s request for a 3,600 acre expansion of its Manatee County mine were rescheduled to January shortly after the public was made aware of the sinkhole.

No one from the Mosaic Company was available to be interviewed for this story.

Copyright 2020 WGCU. To see more, visit WGCU.

Michael Hirsh
WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.