© 2021 All Rights reserved WUSF
News, Jazz, NPR
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Environment

State Wants To Expedite Piney Point's Closure As Summer Rains Threaten

A leak at the reservoir of an old phosphate plant in Piney Point, Florida, as shown in an aerial photograph on April 3.
A leak at the reservoir of an old phosphate plant in Piney Point, Florida, as shown in an aerial photograph on April 3.

About 267 million gallons are currently held in the structure, up from about 200 million gallons before the summer.

State environmental officials are asking for an emergency hearing as summer rains — and possible hurricanes — increase the threat from retention ponds at the shuttered Piney Point phosphate plant.

More than 200 million gallons of nutrient-rich water flowed into Tampa Bay from Piney Point earlier this year after a breach formed. Now, the state Department of Environmental Protection has filed a emergency motion to get a court-appointed receiver to oversee closure of the site.

Since June, 22 inches of rain have fallen into the Manatee County gypsum stack which now has a temporary patch. Officials expect at least 11.5 more inches of rain through September. A department statement says the potential for polluted water to flow over the top of the containing structure "poses an imminent threat to public health and safety and the environment."

About 267 million gallons are currently held in the structure, up from about 200 million gallons before the summer.

Here are some frequently asked questions from the DEP's web site:

What penalties is the department seeking?

The department is seeking the maximum allowable penalties and recovery of costs and damages under existing laws and regulations.

This includes:

  • $50,000 per day in civil penalties for violations of the Consent Order for failure to remove water by 2019.
  • $15,000 per day for violations of surface and groundwater standards and failure to meet financial assurance requirements.

How much has the state spent on emergency contracting for Piney Point in response to recent events? Are these costs included in the requested recovery of costs?

As of July 15, 2021, the state of Florida has dispersed $45.7 million on necessary emergency contracting at the Piney Point facility. These costs are included in the requested recovery of costs in the department’s complaint.

Have the emergency contracting costs been paid out of the $100 million in stimulus money appropriated for closure of the site?

No, in the Fiscal Year 2020-21 state of Florida budget, DEP received three budget amendments in the amount of $15.45, $15.5 and $44.5 million, all of which were applicable to Piney Point response efforts.

What role would a court-appointed receiver play?

While these roles and responsibilities would ultimately be defined by the court, the department’s complaint requests an independent third party take custody of the site, perform day-to-day maintenance of the site to prevent spills and discharges, dispose of process water, and close the phosphogypsum stack system in accordance with department rules.

Will HRK still own the site?

While there is an ongoing foreclosure action between HRK and their mortgage holder, this current legal action by the department does not affect HRK’s ownership of the property.

WUSF 89.7 depends on donors for the funding it takes to provide you the most trusted source of news and information here in town, across our state, and around the world. Support WUSF now by giving monthly, or make a one-time donation online.