Piney Point deep well injection permit on fast track

PALMETTO – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) intends to approve a permit for Manatee County’s plan to inject industrial wastewater from Piney Point into an underground well, according to a Nov. 24 notice.

The county applied for the permit in April to build and test a deep injection well system at 3105 Buckeye Road. The project consists of a 3,300-foot-deep well to hold wastewater from the former phosphate fertilizer plant and a test well of up to 950 feet deep to monitor drinking water. The permit request states that drinking water in the Floridan aquifer at the site is located at about 900 feet.

FDEP issued a draft permit on Sept. 1 for Manatee County to build and test the system. On Nov. 24, the state agency announced it had reviewed more than 7,356 public comments and determined the county’s application for the well meets “all applicable regulations for protection of groundwater resources and the environment.”

In a release, FDEP said: “This project is one potential element of the necessary water removal that will enable the ultimate closure of the Piney Point facility once and for all, eliminating the threat from this site to the environment and the community. DEP continues to support the court-appointed receiver on his next steps to manage and treat water at the facility, and to ultimately complete a final closure of the site in a safe manner as quickly as possible.”

The FDEP notice states that the agency plans to issue the permit unless a petition for an administrative hearing is filed within 14 days of publication of the notice, Dec. 8.

Five environmental organizations notified the county on Sept. 30 that they intend to sue the county over the plan. The Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, ManaSota-88 and our Children’s Earth Foundation previously sued Piney Point owner HRK Holdings LLC, Gov. Ron DeSantis, FDEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton 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 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 causing fish kills and respiratory irritation, according to the plaintiffs. The red tide lasted until November.

FDEP sued HRK in August, asking the 12th Judicial Circuit Court in Manatee County for injunctive relief to prevent any more discharges of wastewater from Piney Point, claiming that HRK failed to safely operate the gyp stacks to protect surface and groundwater. The company has defaulted in the case by failing to respond, according to Manatee County Clerk of Court documents. HRK has been in receivership since August; it also is in bankruptcy and is the subject of a repossession.