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Close the Piney Point Site for Good

phosphogypsumdepart.AG In: Close the Piney Point Site for Good | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Florida gypstack. U.S. Dept. of Agriculture.


We have mentioned the irony here as our Department of Environmental Protection is suing the Piney Point owners for the very thing they themselves are guilty of.

The incompetence and malfeasance of our DEP aside, the serious issue here is that we do not have more DEP-blessed dumps of contaminated process water in our Gulf of Mexico.  But that threat remains, unfortunately.

We see here of course the example that is Piney Point of our gypstack problem here in Florida.  The phosphate industry has not come up with a solution to this decades-old problem.

The industry has also gotten a free ride in shedding its responsibility for these radioactive messes they leave behind them.  The industry’s solution is to let the taxpayer worry about them, as they move on ripping up more land.

Read the complete article by the editorial board of  the Tampa Bay Times.

Comments by OSFR historian Jim Tatum.
– A river is like a life: once taken,
it cannot be brought back © Jim Tatum

Close the Piney Point site for good

Sunday, August 15, 2021

The lawsuit Florida filed over the Piney Point pollution spill is a start at wringing some accountability from the environmental crisis. Florida has every reason to hold the property owner responsible for the huge release of polluted water into Tampa Bay. But this latest legal episode should not distract the state from the main priority — removing the remaining polluted water and closing Piney Point for good.

Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection filed the lawsuit earlier this month, blaming the site’s owner, HRK Holdings, for failures leading to the discharge of 215 million gallons of process water and seawater between March and April from the old fertilizer plant property near the Manatee-Hillsborough County line. The lawsuit alleges the discharge caused damage to the waters and property of the state, “including animal, plant, and aquatic life.” The state is seeking financial penalties and has asked a judge to appoint a receiver to oversee the closing of the property. In announcing the lawsuit, Shawn Hamilton, DEP’s interim secretary, hailed the move as “a pivotal step to ensure this is the final chapter for the Piney Point site.”

The crisis erupted in March after site operators detected a leak in a southeast containment pond at Piney Point, which held roughly 480 million gallons of polluted water, a mixture of seawater and a byproduct of the fertilizer processing operation. Within days, the state authorized the controlled release of nutrient-rich wastewater from the pond, fearing a structural collapse and catastrophic spill. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency April 3, characterizing the site as “an imminent hazard” and “an immediate and substantial danger to human health, safety, welfare and the environment.” An evacuation order was extended to hundreds of nearby residents before workers stemmed the flow by patching a torn seam in the pond’s liner….

The lawsuit cannot be allowed to evolve into another lengthy hurdle to permanently closing Piney Point. Given the state’s depiction of HRK as a troublesome partner (which the company denies), and how the environmental threat spiraled rapidly in the spring, the DEP should be prepared to move aggressively to bring Piney Point under state control. After all, water levels in the pond are rising again. The releases in March and April brought the volume down from 480 million gallons to about 200 million gallons in May and June. But recent rains raised the level to 262 million gallons as of Wednesday. And the peak of the Atlantic hurricane season is here. It is imperative to prevent another dump of polluted water into Tampa Bay.

Enforcement action, fines, receivership — that’s all fine. But what Florida really needs is a safe, speedy plan for closing Piney Point and the political will to see it through.

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1 Comment

  1. On-site storage of waste materials and water should never be allowed in the first place. The mining company should be required to deal with these hazardous materials as they produce them. Otherwise, they usually put if off until their mining operations are complete and then declare bankruptcy, leaving the public holding the bag for the cleanup.

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