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Discharges of untreated water from Piney Point have ceased

By NATHAN MAYBERG - | Apr 14, 2021

nmayberg@breezenewspapers.com

More than 200 million gallons of wastewater loaded with high levels of nitrogen and phosphate emptied into Port Manatee over the past week, at the entrance to Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico due to the failure of the Piney Point Reservoir at a defunct phosphate plant.

In an update issued Friday, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the discharges of untreated water have stopped with the goal of future discharges being treated “to reduce nutrients entering surrounding waterways and minimize possible ecological impacts such as algal blooms.

For communities like Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel, Captiva and Pine Island, which overlook or are located near the Gulf of Mexico, the waiting game will begin to see how far the dumping of the toxic water will reach and how it will impact the water and marine life.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, there have not yet been reported fish kills in the immediate area surrounding the plant.

At one point, Manatee County reported that 33 million gallons a day of the wastewater was being dumped into Port Manatee. That had slowed to 5 million gallons a day as of Thursday before being reduced by 90% by Friday.

There still are approximately 223 million gallons remaining in the reservoir which are the most toxic. They include phosphogypsum stacks at the Eastport Terminal Facility which are considered radioactive.

According to a spokesperson for the Department of Environmental Protection, a tear in the liner of the stacks is being repaired currently.

According to the Department of Environmental Protection, “field operations teams are working around the clock to implement necessary repairs to the liner to contain the flow. The flow of the seepage has reduced and remains contained onsite in the facility’s lined stormwater management system.”

The DEP stated that it “continues to work with its partners to implement solutions in the waterways surrounding Piney Point to combat potential harmful algal blooms and continues sampling the water quality network in this area daily.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has vowed to hold HRK Holdings responsible. HRK Holding operates the facility after taking it over from the state after the previous owner abandoned the site in 2001.

ManaSota-88, an environmental watchdog group, has stated that the blame lies with the company as well as the state and Manatee County Board of County Commissioners for allowing dredged material from Port Manatee to be placed into one of the gyp stacks at Piney Point in 2006, and overwhelming the retention pond. A tear in 2011 led to a previous leak of millions of gallons of tainted water, according to ManaSota-88.