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Piney Point Plant Comes Under New Management

gulf of In: Piney Point Plant Comes Under New Management | Our Santa Fe River, Inc. (OSFR) | Protecting the Santa Fe River
Gulf of Mexico. Sometimes dumping ground for toxic water for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Photo by NOAA.

We certainly hope Mr. Herb Donica can follow through on his goal to shut down the Piney Point gypstack and make it safe.

Something is really whacky here in  Florida.  The state has already spent millions on a problem of a private  company which just took their  profits and merrily walked away and left you and me to pay for their mess.  Now we will spend millions more and we must not forget that the incompetence of Florida’s DEP is largely responsible for this situation.  Yet, they continue to allow more gypstacks to grow with no assurance from the phosphate industry that this will not happen again.

These actions by the coddled phosphate industry and the DEP have also killed many millions of aquatic creatures in Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

The blood is on their hands.

Additionally, the DEP also allows the fertilizer produced by this destructive industry to pollute our rivers and springs, striking out in every direction but the right one, which is agriculture.  DeSantis and the DEP are terrified of agriculture.

Donica did not say how he plans to close out the gypstack.

Read the original article here in Tampa Bay Times.

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

Piney Point Plant Comes Under New Management

A receiver is named to take over the property where a toxic spill occurred in the spring.

A judge has ordered that an independent receiver manage the old Piney Point fertilizer plant property amid fears more polluted water could be released from the site, according to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

That means HRK Holdings, the company that owns the property and was at the helm this spring when 215 million gallons of wastewater were dumped into Tampa Bay, is no longer in charge.

Instead, Tampa lawyer Herb Donica will be given control, according to an agreement filed in court Wednesday. He has a history at Piney Point, having worked with the bankruptcy trustee for its one-time owner, Mulberry Corp., which folded two decades ago.

“I have one goal, and that’s to shut this thing down and make it safe,” Donica told the Tampa Bay Times on Thursday. He said he hasn’t worked at Piney Point since the summer of 2006. Donica plans to take over managing the property on Monday and said he has been reviewing paperwork and news articles about the situation in preparation.

The state sued HRK Holdings in Manatee County circuit court earlier this month to hold the firm responsible, clean up the property and ultimately close Piney Point. As part of that lawsuit, the agency  requested a third party be tapped to oversee work at the site.

HRK Holdings’ principal owner did not answer a call or return a text seeking comment. His attorney did not reply to a voice message or email. The company has not commented to the Times  since April.

Donica said state officials approached him about stepping in as receiver. His initial task will be to keep the site safe and avoid more leaks in the near future. Donica first started working on Piney Point matters in 2001.

“I wake up today 20 years later and we’re still letting water out on an emergency basis,” he said. “Everybody is walking around crazy mad about that. In a way, nothing’s changed.”

Over time, Donica will be charged with devising a plan to shut down Piney Point forever. That will involve working closely with engineers, public agencies and builders.

The state will bear many of the costs. The Department of Environmental Protection said it has already spent tens of millions responding to the crisis. In its lawsuit against HRK Holdings, the agency is seeking damages and to recoup money.

Donica said some funding for his work could eventually come from the federal government. The Department of Environmental Protection will continue regulating Piney Point as he handles day-to-day operations.

The old plant property holds stacks of phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct of the fertilizer industry. Within those stacks sit large reservoirs of polluted water — some of it leftover from the manufacturing process. One of those reservoirs sprung a leak this spring when a plastic liner tore, prompting fears of a collapse that threatened to flood the surrounding community with hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater.

To relieve pressure, the state allowed HRK Holdings to pump polluted water into the bay. The release injected a massive load of nitrogen that scientists say could have exacerbated a toxic Red Tide that afflicted the region this summer.

More discharges could occur over the next several months, the state has said, depending on how much rain Piney Point receives during storm season and how quickly crews can dispose of water. Any future release will be less polluted, according to the state, because of ongoing efforts to treat the wastewater and reduce levels of nitrogen and phosphorus.

If the ponds exceed capacities, water could flow into Bishop Harbor — a treasured coastal habitat — or into the surrounding community, posing what the Department of Environmental Protection has called “an imminent threat to public health and safety and the environment.”

The site has received more than 24 inches of rain since the start of June, according to the state. It has room for roughly another 11 inches, and is expected to receive at least another 9 inches by the end of September. Piney Point is in Manatee County off U.S. 41, near the Hillsborough County line.

Donica said he does not know how long it will take to shutter the property, or how much it will cost.

The state sought to remove HRK Holdings from a key decision-making role because it said the owner had failed to meet obligations for managing Piney Point.

The company was supposed to get rid of contaminated water by February 2019, according to the state. It also broke an agreement, the environmental agency said, by not depositing enough money into an account to ensure the property’s future maintenance and by violating limits for contaminants found in groundwater at the site.

Donica is better positioned to oversee closing Piney Point than HRK Holdings, he said, because unlike the firm, he is not concerned with making money off the property.

“I don’t have the competing interest of shareholders and profit motive, et cetera,” he said….

“I’m not going to rest until we get the thing under control,” Donica said. “The last 20 years everybody’s got up and delivered their sermon about how this must stop. Piney Point’s got to be made safe. And not one of them brought a bag of money with them.”

This time, he said, he has been assured the money will be there.

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

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