Repairs, questions continue at Piney Point

More leaks appear at Piney Point
New leaks have emerged in the gyp stacks at Piney Point, which contain contaminated phosphate process water. - Troy Morgan/ | Submitted

PALMETTO – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is scrutinizing proposed engineering plans to close wastewater ponds at Piney Point.

The agency is requesting more information from the court-appointed receiver assigned to oversee the permanent closure of the former phosphate plant, which dumped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into Tampa Bay a year ago.

The wastewater was stored in a pond dug into the top of an eight-story-tall gypsum stack that FDEP officials feared could collapse and flood surrounding homes and businesses. The pond’s capacity was roughly 500 million gallons of contaminated water.

FDEP approved the March and April discharge, which spread throughout Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay. The water contained nitrogen and phosphorus pollution, which worsened a bloom of the toxic algae red tide that lasted from April to November, causing fish kills and respiratory irritation.

The state agency last week asked Piney Point receiver Herbert Donica for more details on how the contaminated water remaining in the stack system will be moved to a deep injection well, and how the stormwater management system is expected to perform.

The 3,300-foot-deep well is now under construction near the plant at 3105 Buckeye Road and is expected to be completed by next spring.

FDEP officials issued a permit in December for Manatee County to build the well despite objections from five environmental groups that sued Piney Point owner HRK Holdings LLC, Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Manatee County Port Authority and FDEP, citing the potential for contaminating underground drinking water in the Floridan aquifer. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Tampa. The case is pending as the judge considers FDEP’s motion to dismiss the case.

Meanwhile, work continues to stop a new leak discovered in January in one of the gyp stacks on the site. The source of the leak has been identified, according to FDEP, which reports that workers plan to deploy a larger box structure over the existing box structure they are using to filter the water and increase visibility so repairs can continue.

There is no indication of any concern with the integrity or stability of the stack system, according to last week’s FDEP report.

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