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Officials At Piney Point Confident The Phosphate Plant Can Withstand Elsa

 Emergency workers at the Piney Point gypstack
Florida Department of Environmental Protection
Emergency workers at the Piney Point gypstack on April 28.

Emergency pumps have been installed to combat heavy rain and winds from the storm.

As Tropical Storm Elsa approaches Manatee County, crews at the Piney Point phosphate mine are focusing on keeping contaminated water out of Tampa Bay.

County officials warned that the storm could bring high winds, heavy rain, and three to five feet of storm surge.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is monitoring how these conditions will affect the facility, which released more than 200 million gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay after a leak was found in a reservoir earlier this year.

DEP inspectors have been onsite throughout the weekend overseeing preparations by HRK Holdings, the company that owns and manages the site, an update on the department’s website states.

“Staff onsite have worked to secure heavy equipment and water treatment components, in addition to adjusting water management levels in the ponds to ensure the site can endure hurricane force winds and rain,” the statement said

Several emergency pumps have been positioned across the property. Generators have also been installed as an extra line of defense against power outages.

Over the past several days, crews have reduced the water levels in all of the ponds on site, including the southern retention pond, where a leak that caused polluted water to flow into the bay was found.

“Fortunately, a considerable amount of water has been moved from the southern retention pond — it's probably down at about a quarter to a third of what it was before,” Manatee County administrator Scott Hopes said.

“Currently, Piney Point is stable and has the capacity to handle the rain.”

Stormwater being discharged from the plant is tested by Manatee County and DEP officials.

No traces of contamination have been reported.

“They are only discharging stormwater runoff,” Hopes said. ““That was our greatest concern.”

Officials from HRK Holdings have said that crews will remain on-site through the storm to ensure everything works as it should.

Jacob Wentz is the inaugural WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for the summer of 2021.
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