The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) filed a lawsuit against the owner of an old phosphate mining facility in Manatee County, formerly known as Piney Point.
The suit is in response to 215 million gallons of contaminated wastewater that leaked into Tampa Bay from March 26th to April 9th, 2021.
Following the leak, Governor DeSantis issued an Emergency Order for Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas counties, which led to the evacuation of residents to avoid contamination.
HRK Holdings, the company that bought the inactive facility in 2006 and is responsible for maintaining it, has been challenged for its history of noncompliance to preventative regulations by the FDEP that caused the leak. The leak comes from what is known as a phosphogypsum stack known as the “System,” which was meant to contain processed seawater, “mixed process water, and embankment materials,” that are high in toxic levels of nutrients.
“HRK’s acts and omissions have supplemented, contributed to, dispersed, and exacerbated existing contamination and wrongful discharges at the Facility,” the complaint states. “HRK is incapable of operating the Facility in compliance with Florida’s environmental laws and the standards, permits, orders, and agreements related to the management of the Property and Facility. If HRK is allowed to continue operating the Facility and Property, irreparable harm is likely to occur.”
The FDEP suggested that, in place of HRK, the Department will look to appoint a “receiver” to manage Piney Point so that they can “oversee its complete closure, including removing the process water, sealing the System and preventing further discharges.”
In addition, the complaint also looks to require HRK to pay $50,000 for each day they are in violation of the FDEP regulations and $15,000 per day for not complying to FDEP water processing standards, as well as “financial assurance” obligations.
Prior to the FDEP announcing and filing the suit, it had full support from Governor DeSantis who, as reported by The Florida Capital Star, said, “Rigorous water quality monitoring will continue so the state can assess any potential ecological impact from this event.”
He added, “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.”
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Casey Owens is a contributing writer for The Florida Capital Star. Follow him on Twitter at @cowensreports. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Phosphate mining” by Alexandra Pugachevsky CC BY-SA 3.0.