Gypsum blues: Manatee County sets the stage for phosphate mining – by Seán Kinane (Creative Loafing Tampa – September 8, 2016)

It’s a story Florida’s environmental champions have heard many times before: decision makers ignoring the pleas of the public (and the science) and siding with monied interests. This time, it’s happening in south Tampa Bay.

Despite objections from residents, a new 3,837-acre phosphate mine could be coming to eastern Manatee County.

On September 15, the Manatee Board of County Commissioners will vote on whether to rezone an area known as the Wingate East Parcel from agriculture to mining/extraction as well as on a master mining plan for Wingate East Mine. These changes, requested by Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC, were recommended by the Manatee County Planning Commission during an all-day meeting on August 18, despite objections from several members of the public.

One of them, the Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity, warned that the zoning changes Mosaic is requesting will contribute to Florida “shifting this environmental baseline from very rural and agricultural to mining.” Jacyln Lopez told planning commissioners that mines like this are detrimental to threatened species like the bird known as the crested caracara, as well as to the “wood stork, eastern indigo snake and of course Florida scrub jay.”

“The leading cause of species extinction is habitat loss,” she said. “The phosphate mines will remove the land, the habitat, permanently. The species will be displaced, very likely permanently.”

Phosphate mining has long been a major industry in west central Florida, where phosphogypsum stacks — a byproduct of processing phosphate into fertilizer — rise out of the otherwise flat landscape near places like Bartow and Mulberry. Florida produces three-quarters of the U.S.’s phosphate and it’s an $85 billion industry, notes environmental writer Craig Pittman in the Tampa Bay Times. Mosaic is the world’s largest producer of phosphate, a mineral widely used to fertilize crops.

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