The State of Florida is set to put $115 million into the clean-up of the Piney Point phosphate plant in Manatee County after a reservoir leak led to sulfate emissions, evacuations over a potential reservoir wall collapse, and a potential flood leading to contaminated water in Manatee County. Now, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is asking Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Noah Valenstein what his agency knows about other potential environmental disasters.
Due to a leak in early April, 200 million gallons of wastewater were dumped into Tampa Bay, and its impact is still unknown. Discharges from Piney Point stopped on April 9, and DEP teams have been monitoring the discharge site to see if it resumes. So far, no more discharges have taken place.
Scientists from Manatee, Pinellas, and Hillsborough counties along with DEP scientists are tracking water quality in and around Port Manatee and remain “cautiously optimistic.”
“As of right now, I think that the effects from Piney Point are really fairly localized, and it’s certainly not a worst-case scenario,” said Maya Burke from the Tampa Bay Estuary Program.
Specifically, the teams are looking for water contaminates and thus far, no fish kills or algal blooms have taken place as a result of Piney Point leak.
Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties on April 3, leading to an evacuation of nearby residents for potential threats of water contamination.
DeSantis then rerouted $15.4 million from the DEP to pretreat water at Piney Point in the event more controlled discharges were needed to lessen the pressure of the Piney Point reservoir.
“Rigorous water quality monitoring will continue so the state can assess any potential ecological impact from this event,” DeSantis said. “This data will be used by DEP as they move forward with enforcement to hold HRK accountable. And I’m further directing DEP to fully investigate the incidents here at Piney Point and to take any and all legal actions to ensure we hold HRK and any other actors fully accountable.”
HRK Holdings, whom DeSantis referenced, is the corporate owner of Piney Point, and is being questioned to determine if they followed up on state-mandated routine inspections after a 2011 leak in the plastic lining of the reservoir. An engineer brought on to analyze Piney Point warned of a potential environmental disaster in a letter to the DEP.
Fried questioned Valenstein at a recent cabinet meeting about wanting to know the status of other reservoirs across Florida similar to Piney Point.
“While you don’t want to talk about the past, what about the 27 other sites like Piney Point across the state?” Fried asked. “We need to talk about a plan to deal with those other 27 that are, again, ticking time bombs on our environment.”
According to DEP, there are 25 other sites located across South Florida that are owned and operated mostly by Mosaic Fertilizer, LLC.
It was announced Piney Point would be closing following the sulfate leak.
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