“No means No” unless you are Mosaic Co.
Last month, Desoto County Commissioners voted 4-1 against Mosaic’s application seeking to rezone more than 14,000 acres from farmland to industrial mining. This was a major victory for the citizens of DeSoto County, as well as those in surrounding counties, concerned about the impacts of mining on the environment. Mosaic’s spokesperson said the company was “disappointed” with the decision.
Fast forward to one month later when on August 27th, 2018, the DeSoto County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with Mosaic’s request to enter into an alternative dispute resolution process with the County. “No means No” was a strong sentiment expressed by the public at this week’s DeSoto County Board of County Commissioners public meeting.
After spending two decades planning to broaden its operations in Desoto County, the world’s largest phosphate company isn’t about to let things drop on a disappointing note. In an unusual move, Mosaic requested DeSoto County to consider a mediated dispute resolution process as a means for resolving the impasse under the Florida Land Use and Environmental Dispute Resolution Act. Unlike litigation, the Act provides a more informal process for resolving decisions regarding permit applications that are deemed unreasonable and/or impose unfair burdens on a property owner.
Although relief under the Act potentially applies to a situation where a zoning application is denied, its use is unprecedented in situations of this scale and magnitude. This Act is typically utilized by individual property owners; not large corporations.
So why is Mosaic going down this path? According to Mosaic public affairs manager Jackie Barron, “Mosaic is committed to better understanding the DeSoto County Board of County Commissioners’ comments and concerns about the rezoning application”. But this request and process also buys Mosaic time. Just by filing the request, the 30-day clock for Mosaic to file for formal litigation stops. And, the clock will remain frozen until the dispute resolution process is rejected or completed. How long will that take? No one knows. The process will also deplete DeSoto county’s limited funds. How much will it cost DeSoto County? No one knows.
On Monday, August 27th the Board of County Commissioners unanimously voted to accept Mosaic’s request for alternative dispute resolution with several caveats to clarify the process: place conditions on the qualifications of the assigned special magistrate to the process, disallow new evidence, allow public access to the proceedings and to shoulder some, if not all, of the cost burden of the special magistrate.
But what does DeSoto County have to gain by entering into mediation with Mosaic? Apparently, not much. “We should try to come to a process that is agreed to; give it a chance to respond to and honor Mosaic’s request.” “Our goal is to react in good faith”. “It gives the county more teeth if/when we go to litigation”. These were the county commissioner’s responses to the question. In response to as to whether the county commission would compromise on its original position, the strong response was “no!”
So it seems the inevitable outcome of the process will be an impasse and then on to litigation. Litigation between Mosiac, with a position strengthened by time, and DeSoto County, depleted in resources and maybe even in resolve.
Manatee County was the last county to try to deny Mosaic what it wanted. In 2008, Manatee commissioners voted to reject Mosaic’s rezoning application. Mosaic filed a $617.8 million suit against the county. A year later, after an election that changed the composition of the commission, the county reversed its denial.
Mosaic filed the lawsuit with Manatee County under the state’s Bert Harris Act. The law says local governments cannot place an undue burden on what a landowner can do with his or her land that it prevents them from using it for a profit, regardless of the impact on neighbors or those who live and work downstream.
DeSoto County is in a fight for its ecological survival. But it isn’t just DeSoto County’s fight. Time is on Mosaic’s side but solidarity is on the side of the people, communities, and counties that depend on clean water.
Let’s band together and use our collective legislative voice and resources. Because “No” should mean No!
Author Karen McCague is a charter member of the newly-forming Charlotte County Democratic Environmental Caucus