The Manatee County Commission should hold an independent review before its scheduled Dec. 16 vote on whether to change land use to allow Mosaic Phosphate to destroy 480 acres of high-quality wetlands within the Peace River watershed.
"The county commission is relying on flawed legal arguments to justify a new vote on rezoning agricultural land to allow mining," said Earthjustice attorney Monica Reimer. "There should be an independent review by a third party to ensure that the public is being protected."
The Manatee County Commission voted on the matter before and wisely concluded that the land should not be rezoned to allow mining. Mosaic has threatened the commission with lawsuits through the Bert Harris Act, which aims to prevent unwarranted government "taking" of private property.
But the Bert Harris Act clearly doesn't apply in this case, because the law requires one of two things: That the landowner has a vested right to the proposed use, or that the landowner already has the existing use. Mosaic has no vested right because the land is zoned for agriculture, not mining, and it isn't mining the land now so it has no existing use.
Making a decision based on the possibility of a "takings" lawsuit in this case is a mistake.
"This is a bogus ploy to undo what the previous commission decided, which is that this land should not be zoned for phosphate mining," said Frank Jackalone of the Sierra Club. "It's a violation of public trust."
Mosaic no longer has federal approval for mining in any case. On October 5, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers suspended a federal permit that gave Mosaic Phosphate the right to mine the 480-acre Altman Tract in the Peace River watershed.
The permit suspension came after Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of Sierra Club, ManaSota-88, People for Protecting Peace River (3PR), the Gulf Restoration Network, and Environmental Confederation of Southwest Florida, contending that the Corps "arbitrarily and capriciously" failed to critically review Mosaic's spurious claim that a man-made landscape, re-created after strip mining, functions as well as, or better than, a natural landscape.
In its letter, the Corps said: "The Corps has determined that it is in the public interest to revisit the analysis in support of the permit decision."
Sierra Club and Earthjustice are filing a public records request to get to the bottom of this ploy.
Monica Reimer, Earthjustice, (850) 681-0031
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