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Fla. Sues Piney Point for Leak — Fla. Is the One Who Should Be Sued.

DEPbldgme In: Fla. Sues Piney Point for Leak -- Fla. Is the One Who Should Be Sued. | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
FDEP building in Tallahassee. Photo by Jim Tatum.

 

We believe that HRK Holdings, current caretaker of Piney Point, should be sued for damage the gypstack has done.  But it seems an incredible bit of irony that the Department of Environmental Protection has the gall to sue Piney Point.  This is because of all the players the DEP is perhaps the most responsible for this environmental disaster.   See our post “Florida DEP  has short memory, conveniently forgets its major role in Piney Point problem“.  Craig Pittman points out the many examples of DEP incompetence and malfeasance which led to the dumping of millions of gallons of wastewater into the Gulf of Mexico.

Our DEP has run true to form as we have written earlier,  the reason is here:

A likely explanation for the DEP’s bizarre failure to do its job is the State’s unofficial policy of coddling and pampering industry at the expense of the environment, supposedly because of a money motive.  That unfortunate policy continues today.

Read the complete article here in the Tampa Bay Times.

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


Fla. Sues Piney Point for Leak

The civil suit seeks penalties and for the contaminated site to be closed for good.

Florida’s lead environmental agency is suing the owner of the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property over the leak that set off an emergency and led to 215 million gallons of polluted water being pumped into Tampa Bay earlier this year.

“Today, the department took a pivotal step to ensure this is the final chapter for the Piney Point site,” said Shawn Hamilton, interim secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, in a statement issued late Thursday. He said the agency is looking to enforce both state environmental laws and regulatory agreements with the site’s owner, a company called HRK Holdings.

Florida “is seeking the maximum allowable penalties and recovery of costs and damages,” according to Hamilton.

The civil suit was filed in Manatee County circuit court.

The principal owner of HRK Holdings did not answer a call or text from the Tampa Bay Times seeking comment. A recording said his voice mailbox was full.

The state is asking the court to appoint a receiver to oversee closure of the 466-acre property. It is also seeking financial penalties including: $50,000 a day for violating a consent order that called for the polluted water to be removed from the site by 2019 and $15,000 per day for violating surface and groundwater standards and failing to meet financial assurance requirements.

Florida had spent $45.7 million on emergency contracting at Piney Point as of July 15, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. The agency is also trying to recoup that money, it said in a frequently asked questions document distributed Thursday.

The Piney Point site once housed a plant where manufacturers processed phosphate to make an ingredient in fertilizer. That work left a byproduct called phosphogypsum, a

chalky substance that federal environmental officials require to be held in strictly monitored stacks because it is radioactive. The gypsum at Piney Point rises high above U.S. 41 across from Port Manatee, near the Hills- borough-Manatee county line.

Enormous ponds of contaminated water sit within the stacks, including some leftover water used in the manufacturing process.

Fertilizer has not been made at Piney Point for a couple of decades, but the property has remained an environmental threat sitting at the edge of Tampa Bay.

When the plant’s owner went out of business about 20 years ago, the state got stuck overseeing the property through a court-appointed receiver. Piney Point was a boondoggle, full of acidic wastewater that had leaked and spilled before, damaging the nearby estuary.

Regulators worked for years to drain tainted water at the site and bring Piney Point to a close. But they never did. Instead, contractors got rid of some water and installed plastic liners over the phosphogypsum stacks so the property could one day store other materials in an effort to make something useful out of the dump. Eventually HRK Holdings bought the property.

One pond sprung a leak in March when its plastic liner tore. Engineers feared the whole reservoir would collapse, spewing a flood of hundreds of millions of gallons of contaminated water into surrounding neighborhoods.

The Department of Environmental Protection allowed HRK Holdings to pump water for days into Tampa Bay to relieve pressure on the stack.

High levels of nitrogen in that wastewater, according to scientists, may now be helping to feed a Red Tide bloom that has killed hundreds of tons of fish, sickened people and hampered the tourism industry’s recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

“That things got so bad at Piney Point that polluted water had to be discharged into Tampa Bay to avoid an even more catastrophic failure sits squarely on the shoulders of FDEP,” said a statement from Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director of the Center for Biological Diversity. Her group is involved in a separate, federal lawsuit against parties including the state and HRK Holdings….

Contact Zachary T. Sampson at zsampson@tampabay.com or 727-893-8804. Follow @zacksampson.

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