No Fast Solutions For Looming Piney Point

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AERIAL PHOTO BY REP. WILL ROBINSON SHOWS DEPLETED RESERVOIR IN APRIL

It could be years before polluted water at Piney Point gets completely drained. But lawmakers this week promised the Department of Environmental Protection to provide needed resources to stop a further disaster.

At a Wednesday meeting of the House Environment, Agriculture and Flooding Subcommittee, the full agenda  was dedicated to progress on the Piney Point site. That's where a breach in a water stack this year prompted the discharge of 215 million gallons of industrial wastewater directly into Port Manatee. The release came because the water breach threatened the full collapse of one of three reservoirs, which threatened nearby homes and pristine Bishop Harbor.

Rep. James Buchanan, R-Venice, chaired the meeting and pressed officials on the following steps for preventing another problem at the site. The Legislature last year approved $100  million to start cleanup, and lawmakers say they’re committed to spending more, but Buchanan said he’d like to know time frames.

DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton said that’s hard to predict for a number of reasons. It will take time to permit a disposal method for 544 million remaining gallons of water in the stacks. They likely will go into an underground injection well, one carefully scouted and prepped so there won’t be any leakage into the Floridan Aquifer. But even when a well is up and running, the state can only move 1 million to 1.5 million gallons per day underground. Meanwhile, rainfall adds water to the stacks and the breach contaminated stormwater retention ponds on site so all excess water must be stored in the reservoirs themselves.

Buchanan also wanted assessments on the impact of the discharge beyond the waters of Port Manatee. “A big concern in the greater Sarasota community and especially those around this water area is, to what extend could this have impacted or exacerbated the red tide we have this year?” Buchanan asked Hamilton.

Again there’s no easy answer. DEP officials have not reached any conclusion the Piney Point discharge directly led to the red tide blooms that impacted Sarasota County to the south or Pinellas County to the west of the spill. “But the fact of the matter is, nutrients exacerbate red tide, period. There is no debate about that,” he said. “They don’t create or cause red tide. There is no debate about that. Any amount of nutrients going to Tampa Bay is undesired.”

The state continues to try and hold property owner HRK responsible for the cleanup and closure efforts at Piney Point, Hamilton said. But he noted the property has been foreclosed upon. Courts in August put a new receiver in place to monitor the water stacks in hopes of preventing another breach. Meanwhile, the breach from earlier this year was blocked with a metal plate and reinforced with sand material to stop any potential for leaks.

AERIAL PHOTO BY REP. WILL ROBINSON SHOWS DEPLETED RESERVOIR IN APRIL

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