DeSoto County Commission Chairman expresses concern over phosphate mine

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Phosphate giant Mosaic wants to move operations south of Polk and Hardee counties as deposits run out. Now they want to dig the first phosphate mine in DeSoto County, about 90 miles southwest of Tampa.

A series of workshops is organized on their rezoning proposal. UMU reporter Steve Newborn met with DeSoto County Commission Chairman JC Deriso after a meeting on Tuesday. He says there are a lot of things to consider: impacts on 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 these questions answered from Mosaic engineers.

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

There is a lot to consider in this question. There is a lot to think about in terms of the impact on wildlife, the environment, water quality, and water quantity. And I don’t think we fully understand all of these impacts. These workshops are therefore an effort for us to find out more. But really, the more you learn, the more questions you ask yourself. That’s what I feel. So I think the jury is out on whether this is going to be good for the community.

Are you getting answers to your questions?

Yes, it’s really hard for me to get very direct and meaningful answers to questions, because sometimes they seem a little elusive. But I have a concern. As we now know, it is commonly accepted that the way we develop things always has an impact on the environment. And we have to learn from the mistakes of the past and either do it right or not do it at all. So I wholeheartedly believe in this approach, we have to educate ourselves, and we can’t do anything that will degrade the environment or the water quality no matter what, because we all depend on it. Above all the rest.

So you’ve looked at what happened to the northern counties that are home to phosphate mines – Hardee County, Polk County – and that catches your imagination?

We ratified an ordinance that banned all phosphogypsum stacks in our county, we felt this was an important proactive measure, as we observed what happens with these phosphogypsum stacks once they are removed and sometimes abandoned. And they’re usually ticking time bombs.

– President of the DeSoto Commission JC Deriso

That’s right. And this is one of the things our riding has done recently, is that we have ratified an ordinance that bans all phosphogypsum chimneys in our riding. We thought that was an important proactive step, because we observed what happens with these phosphogypsum piles once they are taken out and sometimes abandoned. And they’re usually ticking time bombs.

Steve Newborn

Commissioner JC Deriso on screen at the public meeting

What did you hear from your constituents?

People come here to enjoy the environment and to fish and this is one of the most popular aspects of Florida life. We must therefore ensure and preserve it.

– JC Deriso

People are really concerned about the environment, especially the red tide is at the forefront of everyone’s mind. And
everything we do on inland water bodies also affects salt water. So people come here to enjoy the environment and to fish and that is one of the most popular aspects of Florida life. We must therefore ensure and preserve it. I hear a lot of concerns about this and about the quality of the water.

Now, there are also people who work in the phosphate mines who, you know, have good jobs, and they appreciate their work. So we also hear some of these things. But it certainly looks like there are a lot more concerns about the environment.

Mosaic offers this as well-paying jobs in a county that has a fairly low median salary, as a way to increase the county’s wealth. Is this a valid argument on their part?

The only way for me to form an opinion on this is to look in the regions where the phosphate mining has taken place. And what I see in my research is quite a bit of economic benefit for a fairly small number of people compared to the county population. So I think there are people who benefit a lot from it. But I think everyone in the county, in the watershed, depends on the environment and the quality of the water. So it seems that the people who are the stakeholders, who have something to risk, are much more important than those who could potentially benefit from it.

The rezoning was canceled by the commissioners in 2018. Mosaic has indicated that they are going to reapply for rezoning in 2023. They have a lot of resources here, what’s your feeling on how this is all going to play out.

They have a lot of resources and a lot of influence in different areas that they can exercise, and they exercise and they are a landowner who has rights as landowners. And this is very important to remember, one of the very important fundamentals of the United States is that we have rights as landowners.

So I don’t think they will leave any detail behind trying to get what they would like to get. But I think the number of people concerned about environmental impacts far exceeds that. And as people go to vote, and as they use their circles of influence, I think we’ll be successful in making sure that we get a fair deal for the county, and that we preserve our environmental resources as a top priority. And everything related to development will have to come after these priorities.

JC Deriso and other County Commissioners hear from the audience

Steve Newborn

JC Deriso, third from left, and other county commissioners hear the audience


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