Senate Funds Piney Point Cleanup with Rescue Plan

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SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING THURSDAY APR 22, 2021

The Florida Senate on Wednesday announced intentions to spend $100 million in coronavirus relief to clean up the Piney Point industrial site. Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said he expects the House and Gov. DeSantis to support the move.

“$100 million committed and [it] will be more if proven necessary,” Boyd said.

The Senate wants to fund the long-term clean-up of the Piney Point site using a portion of some $10 billion expected to come to Florida as part of the American Rescue Plan. That’s money included in a package passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden as the latest coronavirus relief package. Senate President Wilton Simpson earlier this month endorsed that approach, and suggested at the time it could cost up to $200 million to permanently close three manmade ponds at the Piney Point site.

An environmental disaster happened at the Manatee County industrial site— and it happened with the Florida Legislature halfway through its regular session. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared an emergency as a breach in one of three on-site reservoirs forced the evacuation of more than 300 homes earlier this month. The incident prompted the state Department of Environmental Protection and the federal Army Corps of Engineers to pump more than 200 million gallons of industrial wastewater directly into Port Manatee and neighboring Tampa Bay.

Officials said that was necessary to release pressure and prevent a full collapse of the water stack. But it raised concern about whether the rush of nutrient-rich water would fuel algal blooms. Indeed, last week Sarasota County reported red tide near Siesta Key. So far there has been no mass event with red tide such as that experienced in 2018, when blooms hurt tourism and caused fish kills up and down Florida’s west coast.

Legislators expect to finish up session next week, including all decisions about the budget. Senate leaders would like to close the Piney Point site this year. But it also remains to be decided what will be done at the site. Boyd has said the state could drain all of the water from the water stacks and move it then safely to deep well injection that would not contaminate the Floridan Aquifer.

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