July 30, 2008

Groups Sue to Block Altman Mining in Florida

By Nicholas Azzara, The Bradenton Herald, Fla.

Jul. 30--Citing concern over sensitive wetlands, the Peace River watershed and Charlotte Harbor, the area's most prominent environmentalist groups Tuesday declared war against controversial plans to mine the Altman Tract.

On the footsteps of Manatee County Administration Building, the regional Sierra Club, ManaSota-88 and other groups announced they have sought an injunction against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

Tuesday's move probably throws another kink into a local vote on Altman, which was expected Thursday after six years and more than 30 deferrals. County Attorney Tedd Williams said he will recommend the dispute be resolved in court before it comes up for an official county vote. That could take months.

The suit states the Corps of Engineers issued a dredge-and-fill permit to mining giant Mosaic Co. last year that "violates the substantive and procedural requirements of the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act." The suit contends the permit "was arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and otherwise not in accordance with the law."

"We are alarmed by Mosaic's plans to strip mine very large areas of the Peace River basin in Manatee and Hardee counties because it will bring absolute, complete destruction of wetlands, loss of wildlife habitat, pollution of our waterways and harm to the Peace River and greater Charlotte Harbor estuary," said Manatee-Sarasota Sierra Club Chair Gayle Reynolds.

"Florida has already lost 50 percent of its wetlands over the years," said Joe Murphy, Florida director of the Gulf Restoration Network. "The value of those wetlands is incalculable, but it's much greater than the value of phosphate."

The environmentalist groups, represented by the legal organization Earthjustice, say the Corps of Engineers never performed an environmental impact study to determine the true impact of mining on wildlife, the land and nearby water resources.

Officials with the Corps of Engineers in Jacksonville did not return calls Tuesday.

For years, Mosaic has offered assurances that a planned mining operation on the 1,500-acre Altman Tract would not hurt the environment. But experts disagree over whether Mosaic can truly restore 400 acres of pristine wetlands sprinkled throughout the property.

The mining giant has proposed a lucrative plan to Manatee County commissioners: In exchange for mining rights, the company says it will donate $1 million for a new fire station and a park for Duette. Mosaic contends new jobs will be created, meaning higher tax revenues for the state and for the county.

"The National Environmental Policy Act is a process to ensure all the i's are dotted and all the t's are crossed," said Frank Jackalone, a regional representative of the Sierra Club. "None of the i's were dotted and none of the t's were crossed here."


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