Mosaic Co., Environmental Groups Settle FL Mine Lawsuit

The Mosaic Company has reached a settlement agreement with environmental groups that filed a lawsuit over the company's plans to extend its Florida phosphate mine; Mosaic can expand its operations provided that it donates a 4,171-acre stretch of land to be used as a state park and preserves 130 acres of land that it previously planned to mine.

The Mosaic Company on Tuesday announced the settlement of a lawsuit filed by environmental groups that sought to prevent it from extending its South Fort Meade phosphate mine in Central Florida.

The settlement agreement allows Plymouth-based Mosaic to extend the mine, although the company must donate a 4,171-acre stretch of land-known as Peaceful Horse Ranch-to be used as a state park and preserve 130 acres of land that it previously planned to mine.

Since mid-2010, Mosaic has been in a legal battle with San Francisco-based Sierra Club, Inc., and ManaSota-88 and People for Protecting the Peace River, both of which are in Florida, over a permit that was issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to expand its South Ford Meade mine.

The environmental groups claimed that Mosaic's plans to expand its mining into Hardee County violate the U.S. Clean Water Act. In August 2010, a judge agreed with the groups and issued a preliminary injunction against Mosaic, thus preventing the company from extending mining in the area.

But the case was sent back to U.S. District Court in April 2011 after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that the preliminary injunction was “improper” because it was based solely on letters from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and failed to take into account other analyses of Mosaic's extension plans.

Shortly after the Appeals Court ruled on the case, Mosaic informed the court that it was preparing to start mining about 700 uplands acres and said it would protect two cattle ponds located in the mining area. But a judge objected to those plans and issued another preliminary injunction against Mosaic last July, thereby halting its plans to mine the uplands.

Mosaic said that historically, its South Fort Meade mine has accounted for nearly 20 percent of phosphate rock production in the country. However, since 2010, the mine has operated at a reduced capacity due to the permit challenge. The settlement-which still needs to be approved in court-will allow the mine to return to its full operating capacity and will allow Mosaic to extend the mine into Hardee County.

The company added that the extension into Hardee County will allow it to mine for 10 more years at South Fort Meade, where 220 people are currently employed. The company had warned earlier that its inability to expand the mine could lead to the closure of the phosphate rock mine.

In its settlement agreement, Mosaic also agreed to donate $2 million to transform Peaceful Horse Ranch into a state park and to cover some of the recurring operating expenses. The company said it purchased the property-located in Florida's DeSoto County-in December for about $10 million.

Mosaic is Minnesota's 10th-largest public company based on revenue, which totaled $9.9 billion for the fiscal year that ended in May.