HOOKERS PRAIRIE - In Polk County's mining industry, it's the equivalent of the little engine that could. The Hookers Prairie phosphate mine was long since supposed to shut down, but the experts turned out to be wrong.
By an entire decade, no less.
But now what seemed to be a near endless supply of the material that makes plant fertilizer truly is on its last legs, and the Mosaic Corporation, which owns the mine, said it will shut it down in late fall of 2014.
The almost 40-year run makes it one of the most successful phosphate mines in the area. But even more significant is that when Hookers Prairie closes for the final time, it will mark the end of phosphate mines in Polk County, once the world's largest supplier of the material the industry boasts "feeds the nation."
"It's sad that we're going to be shutting down for this area. It's close to home," said Vaciel Newman, a miner for 40 years and a two decade veteran of Mosaic.
"Growing up in Ft. Meade, the industry is what supplied income to lots of families," Newman said.
"My father was in the industry. My brother was in the industry. The people that you work with, you grew up with."
Nearby towns like Mulberry and Ft. Meade are bracing for the economic impact of losing the mine. Mosaic said it will try and relocate the 173 people who currently work on the property to other locations within the company, possibly within Florida.
Mosaic said while Hookers Prairie marks the end of phosphate mining in Polk County, it's not the end for Central Florida.
The company is applying for mine permits in Hardee and DeSoto Counties, but the process can take years.
And the existing mine won't disappear once it's closed.
Mosaic is required by law to reclaim the land according to a pre-arranged agreement with government regulators.
"We've got several partnerships and examples of parks, public areas that are in Central Florida that the phosphate industry has previously mined and reclaimed," said Callie Neslund, Mosaic spokeswoman for the Polk region.
"We've then opened up for fishing, birding, and hiking. So we anticipate some of that," Neslund said.
Environmental groups have long been critical of phosphate mining companies and their impact on the local ecology. But industry officials said with every mine closure they have learned better techniques at restoring the land.
Mosaic said it could take five years before Hookers Prairie is fully restored.