Environmental groups sue over deep well injection plan

PALMETTO – Five environmental organizations notified Manatee County on Sept. 30 that they intend to sue the county over its plan to inject contaminated water from Piney Point into an underground well.

The groups previously sued Gov. Ron DeSantis, Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) Secretary Shawn Hamilton, Piney Point owner HRK Holdings LLC and the Manatee County Port Authority in June over the dumping of 215 million gallons of contaminated water into Tampa Bay in March and April from a storage pond on a compromised phosphogypsum stack at the closed fertilizer plant. FDEP approved the discharge to avoid the stack’s collapse and potential for flooding area homes and businesses.

The contaminated water spread throughout Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay, transporting nitrogen and phosphorus that spurred a red tide bloom in April that caused fish kills and respiratory irritation, according to the plaintiffs. Red tide remains in medium concentrations in Manatee County waters, as well as Sarasota County to the south and Pinellas County to the north, according to the latest Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report.

FDEP sued HRK on Aug. 5 asking the 12th Judicial Circuit Court for injunctive relief to prevent any more discharges of wastewater from Piney Point, claiming that HRK failed to safely operate the gyp stacks and protect surface and groundwater.

The state agency then issued a draft permit on Sept. 1 for Manatee County to build and test an underground injection well and a monitor well at 3105 Buckeye Road up to 3,300 feet deep to hold the wastewater. The monitor well to test drinking water would be up to 950 feet deep; the permit states that drinking water in the Floridan aquifer at the site is located at about 900 feet.

Injection well concerns

In its forthcoming case, plaintiffs say they oppose the county’s plan to inject the 271 million gallons of wastewater remaining in the gypsum stack pond into a deep well, claiming that “Piney Point’s radioactive waste would be injected underground into the fragile, porous karst geology that holds the groundwater supplies millions of Floridians depend on for drinking water.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, ManaSota-88 and our Children’s Earth Foundation explained the reasons for their lawsuit in a press release.

“This risky, shortsighted plan would be a dangerous experiment and set a troubling precedent for how we handle failing phosphogypsum stacks,” said Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The phosphate industry and FDEP continue to fail to ensure safe disposal of the industry’s polluted waste,” said Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper founder and board member.

“There are many problems associated with deep well injection; wells are subject to failure and there are too many unknown hazards with injecting phosphogypsum wastewater,” said Glenn Compton, chairman of ManaSota-88.

“Florida’s officials are gambling with our water quality and our children’s futures,” said Annie Beaman, co-executive director of the Our Children’s Earth Foundation.

“There are too many unknowns for this to be our way forward,” said Megan Eakins, board chair of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper. “We need more clarity about injection well risks, the composition of the waste stream, and alternatives to be sure that this is the best way to protect our vulnerable environment and communities from this toxic, radioactive waste.”

“It is both unlawful and unwise for Manatee County to inject Piney Point’s hazardous waste into the ground simply for the sake of expediency,” said Daniel Snyder, an attorney with the Law Offices of Charles M. Tebbutt, P.C., who is representing the groups. “For too long, Florida regulators have stood by while the situation at Piney Point deteriorated. Now, instead of directly cleaning up this environmental disaster and abating the endangerment it poses, regulators decide to sweep the problem under the geologic rug, putting Florida’s groundwater at risk of significant contamination.”

Public comments sought

A public meeting is scheduled on Wednesday, Oct. 6 from 4-7 p.m. at the Manatee County Central Library Auditorium, 1301 Barcarrota Blvd., Bradenton, to allow an opportunity for citizens to provide input on the draft permit for the well and ask questions and obtain information about the draft permit and permitting process.

Anyone unable to attend the meeting in person who wishes to provide public comments in writing can mail them to: Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Aquifer Protection Program, 2600 Blair Stone Road, MS 3530, Tallahassee, Florida 32399-2400.

Related coverage

Piney Point ‘closure’ not the last word


No to deep well injection at Piney Point


Piney Point deep water injection well draft permit issued


Piney Point under new management


Rainfall could prompt second discharge at Piney Point


Florida DEP sues Piney Point owner


Conservation groups sue over Piney Point discharge


Piney Point-algae link explored


Piney Point spill leads to lawsuit


Piney Point pollution spreading, affecting dolphins


Piney Point wastewater spreading