OUR POSITION: The state has to put the safety of the Peace River first when it draws up a permit dictating how to control runoff from Mosaic's Bartow mines.
Last week about 100 people trekked to Mulberry, Florida, to confront the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and Mosaic phosphate officials. The issue was the renewal of a permit for the discharge of water at its Bartow mining operation.
The audience was allowed to ask questions of FDEP officials and those representing Mosaic. According to Sun staff writer Betsy Calvert, the atmosphere was contentious, to say the least, as people from as far away as Arcadia and Charlotte County spoke against renewing the permit.
Their reasons were simple. The water Mosaic would discharge eventually will find its way into the Peace River—our source of drinking water. And the anti-phosphate crowd was not buying pledges that this water would be clean and non-toxic.
The back and forth between the audience and Mosaic was reminiscent of the phosphate "wars" fought more than a decade ago when Charlotte County and other entities sued to stop mining near Horse Creek and other tributaries of the Peace River. At the time, lawyers for Charlotte County made similar arguments as the people who attended last week's meeting.
The phosphate industry—long before Mosaic became the face of mining in Florida—has a bad history. It was known for leaving barren landscapes after the phosphate played out. And it was not as mindful as it should have been as to exactly what ended up in watersheds and streams that crisscrossed its minefields.
There are numerous examples that give credence to protester concerns, including:
• In 1971, an earthen wall gave way and spilled millions of gallons into the Peace River, killing fish and poisoning aquatic wildlife downstream all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, according to a New York Times story and recollections of residents.
• In 1994 an accident involving Mosaic's predecessor, IMC-Agrico, sent 500 million gallons of gray water rolling toward the Alafia River. Livestock were killed and homes flooded.
• In 2016, the Sun wrote about a sinkhole that opened under a phosphogypsum stack at Mosaic's Mulberry plant, dumping more than 200 million gallons of contaminated water into the aquifer. Mosaic said it was able to pump the bad water out before it did much if any damage to the aquifer or wells in the area.
That said, the Mosaic we know today differs from the companies it swallowed up over the years to form the largest phosphate mining operation in the U.S. They spend money and time trying to partner with communities impacted from their business.
The FDEP is proposing a new permit that would be tougher than the one Mosaic operates under now. It would require Mosaic to monitor the health of streams and wetlands beyond its operations to make sure animal and plant life are not harmed.
Any new permit should do that, along with testing the water for any cancer-causing elements such as arsenic or radioactive materials. And, the testing should be done at least four times a year by an outside contractor—not Mosaic employees.
Stopping phosphate mining is never going to happen. Each time a government entity or group has put up a good fight, lawsuits from deep-pocketed phosphate investors stopped the movement cold. And there is also the issue with the jobs provided and economic impact of mining.
We charge the FDEP with drawing up a permit that will protect people, livestock and aquatic life. It's their duty to force Mosaic to keep its word.