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Phosphate processing plants in the greater Tampa Bay region have caused some of Florida's worst environmental disasters. Accidents like the spill at the former Piney Point plant fill the history books in Florida.

Environmental Groups File Suit Over Piney Point Discharges Into Tampa Bay

Piney Point reservoir with water on the right and workers on the left
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Discharges from Piney Point into Port Manatee stopped as of April 9, and more than 196 million gallons of polluted water remain in the reservoir.

Piney Point's owner is among the targets of the lawsuit, which seeks a full cleanup and closure of the former phosphate plant.

Several environmental groups filed a lawsuit Tuesday over the release of contaminated water from the former Piney Point phosphate plant into Tampa Bay.

The lawsuit was filed against the Florida Department of Environmental Protection; HRK Holdings, which runs Piney Point; and the Manatee County Port Authority, which allowed dredged spoil from Port Manatee to be dumped into the plant's retention pond.

Justin Bloom, with Tampa Bay Waterkeeper — a grassroots group that is one of the plaintiffs — said he wants this lawsuit to lead to a full cleanup and closure of Piney Point.

“And we want it to go beyond that, to address other Piney Points in the state of Florida,” Bloom said. “We seek and hope that there will be moving forward better regulation and enforcement of the phosphate industry, and other polluters.”

More than 200 million gallons of polluted water flowed into Tampa Bay after a breach was discovered in the retention pond walls. The state has already committed more than $100 million to clean up the plant.

Bloom said the state has missed several opportunities to close the site.

The retention pond was half empty when in 2011, the state allowed Port Manatee to dump dredge spoils from a ship-channel widening into the stack.

“DEP let it happen,” Bloom said, “notwithstanding the very clear warnings of the Army Corps of Engineers - the real national experts - that took a look at the plant and said, this is a bad idea. Don't do it.”

Bloom said the lawsuit is aimed at preventing this from happening again in another of Florida's two dozen other phosphate retention ponds.

Discharges into Port Manatee stopped as of April 9, and more than 196 million gallons of polluted water remain in the reservoir.

Steve Newborn is a WUSF reporter and producer at WUSF covering environmental issues and politics in the Tampa Bay area.