Don't Let Bad Luck Run Dry

Under The Hood

Image from Governor's Office: Gov. Ron DeSantis discusses Piney Point surrounded by area officials.

If a reservoir breach at Piney Point was the only way to get some attention on the problem, thank goodness it happened in April.

There’s an old saying in government that you can’t ever let a good crisis go to waste. A crisis occurred at an abandoned phosphorus mine earlier this month, but it’s not the first time. A breach in a water stack forced state environmental officials to pump more than 200 million gallons of industrial wastewater into Port Manatee. Hey, it’s about the only thing they could do when 300 homes faced a risk of being hammered by 20-foot flash flooding. That said, if we see more red tide blooms around Tampa Bay and the number goes up on how many people start to favor just letting a whole neighborhood wash away.

The event drew Ron DeSantis to the area, where he declared a state of emergency and promised to find a permanent solution to the problem. This week, the Florida Legislature agreed to budget $100 million to fix the problem. That means help is on the way, but plenty of planets had to align to make it happen.

First, this disaster happened in the middle of the legislative session, a two month period when Florida lawmakers make decisions for the coming fiscal year. If this happened six months ago, it’s quite possible another emergency would have become the surprise expenditure of the year when everyone outside the immediate area had forgotten this site's name. "Most urgent problem in Florida" is a title Piney Point will only retain for so long. Heck, if the Piney Point breach happened three weeks later it would have come after the legislature already earmarked the entire budget and sent money to Rep. Fillintheblank’s local water quality project that was just-as-important-thank-you-very-much.

Second, this came after Congress passed the American Rescue Plan, which will deliver $10 billion to state government. When Senate President Wilton Simpson made a promise to Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, to provide for Manatee County in a time of need, that check in the mail from Washington, D.C. made it almost painless to find a nine-figure line in the budget to help drain three gypsum stacks.

And third, this turned into a regional disaster. Yes, that’s some we-need-lemons-to-make-lemonade logic, but the fact there was so much dirty water to dispose of here that it had to be poured into a water body surrounded by a significant number of legislative districts meant this could not be ignored the same as a if all the water just flowed into a local water body, which is largely what happened in 2011 when a similar spill occurred.

But something else to recall, this isn’t over. The $100 million inserted into this year’s budget may just cover half the total cost of the project. With luck, more money will come available to fill any shortfall in costs, and hopefully this projects moves along far enough this year that there’s no turning back.

This bad luck provided a significant amount of political capitol to finally address a problem that’s been sitting, gathering rain, for 20 years. Our lawmakers know this, but it’s important this project move along quickly before that bad luck runs out.

Image from Governor's Office: Gov. Ron DeSantis discusses Piney Point surrounded by area officials.

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