FORT MEADE – Make no mistake: Phosphate mining is an ugly business. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, a 6.9 million-pound dragline with a 320-foot boom lowers a 62-cubic-yard, 100,000-pound bucket into a 30-foot-deep hole to scoop up 100,000 pounds of phosphate, sand and clay.

For acres all around, the evidence of the dragline’s work can be seen in a harsh, gray landscape that looks like Death Valley’s homely half-brother.

Lee County has so far spent $3 million as it continues its legal fight to keep Mosaic Fertilizer from expanding its phosphate mining operations into Hardee County for fear of environmental damage to the Peace River and Charlotte Harbor. The company, which has taken out full-page advertisements in The News-Press, says the river and harbor are not at risk, and every acre of the barren landscape will be repaired.

“The Peace River watershed ultimately outfalls into the Charlotte Harbor Aquatic Preserve, and two-thirds of Charlotte Harbor is in Lee County,” Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah said. “It is an estuary system that is the foundation for our marine fishery resources and tourism industry worth billions of dollars in overall value.

“The phosphate industry ravages and destroys the Peace River watershed in a number of ways that impact the conditions of Charlotte Harbor.”

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