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Environment
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 DeSoto County Commission chairman expresses reservations about Mosaic's phosphate mine plan

DeSoto County Commissioners hear from the public at the workshop
Steve Newborn
/
WUSF Public Media
DeSoto County Commissioners hear from the public at the workshop.

J.C. Deriso says most people don't understand the full impact of Mosaic's plan. Workshops are one way of trying to get those questions answered from Mosaic engineers.

Phosphate giant Mosaic wants to move its operations south from Polk and Hardee counties as deposits there become depleted. Now, they want to dig the first phosphate mine in DeSoto County, which is about 90 miles southwest of Tampa.

A series of workshops is being held on their rezoning proposal. WUSF reporter Steve Newborn caught up with DeSoto County Commission chairman J.C. Deriso after a meeting on Tuesday. He says there's a lot of things to be considered: impacts to wildlife, the environment, water quality and water quantity. He says most people don't understand the full impact of the mine, and the workshops are one way of trying to get those questions answered from Mosaic engineers.

Do you think this mine is a good fit for DeSoto County?

There's a lot to be considered in that question. There are a lot of things to think about in terms of impact to the wildlife, the environment, water quality, and water quantity. And I don't believe that we fully understand all of those impacts. So these workshops are an effort for us to learn more. But really, the more that you learn the more questions that you have. That's what I feel about it. So I think the jury's out on whether it's going to be good for the community.

Are you getting your questions getting answered?

Yeah, it is difficult really, to get very direct questions answered. in a meaningful way to me, because sometimes they seem a little bit evasive. But I do have a concern. We now know, it's commonly known that the way we develop things always has an impact on the environment. And we have to learn from past mistakes and either do things right or don't do them at all. So I wholeheartedly believe in that approach, we have to educate ourselves, and we can't do anything that is going to degrade the environment or water quality no matter what, because we all depend on that. Above everything else.

So you've been looking at what's happened to counties to the north that are home to phosphate mines - Hardee County, Polk County - and that's factoring in your imagination?

We ratified an ordinance that prohibits any phosphogypsum stacks in our county, we've felt like that was a important proactive measure, because we've been watching what happens with those phosphogypsum stacks down the road once they're retired and sometimes abandoned. And they generally are ticking time bombs.
- DeSoto Commission Chairman J.C. Deriso

That's right. And that's one of the things that our county did recently is we ratified an ordinance that prohibits any phosphogypsum stacks in our county. We've felt like that was a important proactive measure, because we've been watching what happens with those phosphogypsum stacks down the road once they're retired and sometimes abandoned. And they generally are ticking time bombs.

Commissioner J.C. Deriso on screen during the public meeting
Steve Newborn
Commissioner J.C. Deriso on screen during the public meeting

What have you been hearing from your constituents?

People come here to enjoy the environment and to fish and that's one of the most loved aspects of Florida life. So we have to make sure and preserve it.
- J.C. Deriso

Folks are really concerned about the environment, especially red tide is a lot right on the forefront of everybody's mind. And
everything that we do on the inland bodies of water, they affect the saltwater as well. So people come here to enjoy the environment and to fish and that's one of the most loved aspects of Florida life. So we have to make sure and preserve it. I hear a lot of concern about that and water quality.

Now, there are also some people that work in phosphate mining that, you know, have good jobs, and they appreciate their jobs. So we do hear some of those things as well. But there's definitely it seems to be a lot more concern about the environment.

Mosaic is pushing this as high-paying jobs in a county that has a pretty low median wage, as a way to increase the wealth of the county. Is that a valid argument on their part?

The only way that I can make my judgment on that is to look to areas where phosphate mining has happened. And what I see in my research is quite a bit of economic benefit for a fairly small number of people relative to the county's population. So I think there are folks that do benefit very much. But I think that everybody in the county, in the watershed, depends on the environment and the water quality. So it seems like the folks that are the stakeholders, that have something to risk, are much larger than those who could potentially benefit.

The rezoning got shot down by commissioners in 2018. Mosaic has indicated they're going to reapply for rezoning in 2023. They have a lot of resources here, what's your gut feeling about how this is all going to play out.

They do have a lot of resources and a lot of leverage in different areas that they can exert, and they do exert and they are a landowner who has rights as landowners. And that's very important to remember, one of the very important foundational principles of the United States is that we have rights as landowners.

So I don't think that they're going to leave any stone unturned in trying to get what they would like to get. But I think that the number of people that are concerned about the environmental impacts far outnumber that. And as people go to vote, and as they use their circles of influence, I think that we'll be successful in making sure that we get a fair deal for the county, and we preserve our environmental resources as a top priority. And anything that comes as far as development will have to come after those priorities.

J.C. Deriso and other county commissioners hear from the public
Steve Newborn
J.C. Deriso, third from left, and other county commissioners hear from the public