PALMETTO – The environmentally unstable Piney Point site will be closed by December 2024, according to a plan approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) on March 30.
One year ago, FDEP authorized the emergency discharge of 215 million gallons of wastewater from the former phosphate plant into Tampa Bay to avoid a potential flood after a leak was discovered in the waste storage system. Surrounding homes and businesses were evacuated.
From March 30 to April 9, the wastewater poured into the bay, adding an estimated 186 metric tons of nitrogen, exceeding typical annual nitrogen loads in a matter of days, according to a new report released by the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. The nutrient exacerbated toxic cyanobacteria blooms that peaked in June, followed by a bloom of toxic red tide algae that caused fish kills, triggering the cleanup of more than 1,600 metric tons of dead fish, according to the report.
Piney Point receiver Herbert Donica, of Tampa-based Donica Receivership Services, recommended a phased approach to closing the Piney Point wastewater holding ponds built on the crest of phosphogypsum stacks less than two miles from Tampa Bay, near two state aquatic preserves.
Since the leak was repaired, more than 19 million gallons of wastewater have been removed from the site by trucking and piping it to nearby wastewater facilities, and a system of spray nozzles continues to accelerate evaporation. About 265 tons of nitrogen and 240 tons of phosphate have been removed from the wastewater onsite, according to FDEP.
State environmental officials issued a permit in December for Manatee County to build a deep injection well to hold the remaining 258 million gallons of wastewater in the gyp stacks, which prompted a lawsuit by The Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, ManaSota-88 and our Children’s Earth Foundation against Piney Point owner HRK Holdings LLC, Gov. Ron DeSantis, FDEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton and the Manatee County Port Authority to stop the well. The case has been stayed until Oct. 17.
The 3,300-foot-deep well is under construction near Piney Point at 3105 Buckeye Road and is expected to be completed by next spring.
Once all wastewater is removed from the ponds, fill material will be added to the gyp stacks with a 2-foot-thick soil and vegetative cover system that will be sloped to enable runoff of rainwater into the existing stormwater management system, according to the plan.
Meanwhile, repairs are ongoing at a new leak discovered in January in a wastewater pond liner.
“There continues to be no indication of any concern with the integrity or stability of the stack system,” according to an April 1 FDEP report.
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