Governments Mobilize To Face Piney Point Threat

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY APR 5, 2021

The potential for a collapse in a water storage pond at the Piney Point industrial site has local, state and federal officials mobilizing together. Officials feel confident all efforts are in motion to try and prevent millions of gallons of nutrient-polluted water from flooding from a breach in one of three ponds, and Department of Environmental Protection officials are pumping water into Port Manatee rapidly to release pressure.

John Truitt, deputy DEP director, noted in the case of the pond, much of the water originated in those waters, brought to the site when a Port Manatee berth was dredged in 2011. But for the moment, there remain more than 300 homes under evacuation for fear of flash floods with water walls more than 20 feet high.

U.S Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, said the federal Environmental Protection Agency has boots on the ground at the site, with a regulator monitoring the situation to see if a broader problem erupts. “I called the EPA to make sure all hands are on deck to deal with this emerging threat at the abandoned fertilizer plant,” he said. “The EPA's regional water division director assured me: ‘I understand your concern, I understand the urgency, I am very concerned myself.’ We need all the assistance we can get now that state officials have warned a breach of the holding pond containing millions of gallons of contaminated water is imminent. This has become a full-blown emergency and we need to take every step possible to protect public health and reduce the impact on homes, businesses and the environment.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis at a briefing in Manatee stressed the greatest threat remains flooding. State officials rebuffed media reports the water leaking being injected into Tampa Bay now had excess radiation. It does, however, have high levels of phosphorous and nitrogen and high pH levels, increasing the risk of algal blooms.

State lawmakers have already started to discuss long-term solutions. State Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, and Rep. Will Robinson, R-Bradenton, have filed appropriations requests for $6 million, to be matched with $6 million in local spending to research the best way to dispose of the water stacks permanently.

“Once we deal with the water and the imminent danger and worries, I’m optimistic we will get right on it,” said Boyd, who said the one benefit of being on the brink of disaster has been statewide recognition this site poses an environmental threat. Local lawmakers for more than a decade sought the heavy investment required to address the issue.

Both Boyd and Robinson say the water could be put underground through use of a deep well injection in a place where it won’t contaminate the Floridan aquifer.

Robinson said he’s confident money can be found, but also knows the complete filling in of the ponds could take years and far more money. We wants the state or federal government to find a way to cap onds so they don't simply fill up with water again, but that could cost tens or millions. "And all of this is under the umbrella it's on private property," Robinson said.

Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby, D-St. Petersburg said she’s also talking with scientists about other ways to try and decontaminate the property, which has posed a risk to the region for years. “There’s a bevy of information I have received on how to deal with it, including something with hemp that can address it, as well as other ways,” she said. “I’m in the process of setting up a meeting with the University of Florida and with other environmentalists to see what is the best way to address this.”

Photo from Will Robinson: Emergency release of the water from Piney Point stack.

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