PINEY POINT -
SUNCOAST WATERKEEPER CALLS FOR TRANSPARENCY AND STRONGER PROTECTIONS
Last spring, the Piney Point disaster released millions of gallons of polluted wastewater into Tampa Bay. We are learning from water-based industries in the area that things are not the same. The bay was damaged and recovery is slow.
That’s why Suncoast Waterkeeper joined with Center for Biological Diversity, Manasota-88, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper and Our Children’s Earth Foundation to sue the property owner, HRK Holdings, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Manatee County Port Authority to demand accountability and the safe closure of Piney Point.
"We are scheduled to have a hearing in October to revisit the "stay" that the judge ordered. We hope to persuade the Court that the closure plan is fundamentally flawed and inadequate and that we should be allowed to continue with the litigation to ensure a full and thorough closure that complies with the law, along with transparency, court oversight, and accountability," said Justin Bloom, founder and Vice-Chair of Suncoast Waterkeeper.
Suncoast Waterkeeper sees the closure plan as woefully inadequate to protect the health and safety of local waters. Conversely, Piney Point operators are telling the public that there is nothing to worry about and that the non-contact water released from the site is just like rainwater. However, rainwater doesn't contain up to 15 mg/L of total nitrogen as reported by operators on the Protect Together dashboard. That is approximately 30 times higher than rainwater.
In August 2022, the site discharged over four million gallons of stormwater into Tampa Bay from a formally closed gypsum stack referred to as Old Gyp Stack South. Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper disagree that this is nothing to worry about. The bay is in recovery, and the higher-than-rainwater loads of nitrogen are not helping. Therefore, we believe there is plenty to be concerned with, and it all begins with the woefully inadequate closure plan driving the discharge.
The gypsum stack they recently drained has at least one reported tear in the pond liner, which is supposed to prevent the leaking of hazardous waste. Furthermore, there are likely many more tears due to the shell and rock dredge material placed on top of it from the Port Manatee expansion. A full assessment of the liner condition is not addressed in the closure plan and is something that we believe is critically important before any water was released.
The hazardous levels of arsenic reported in the Bay sediments that the discharged water sits on top of are also concerning. The lack of details on their required water quality monitoring methods before the water leaves the site and the absence of public reporting are also troubling. The fact that they are only reporting water quality data for the bay is ridiculous and meaningless if all the nitrogen and toxins are being taken up by algae and fish.
We believe that discharging polluted water that is merely less contaminated than previously discharged water is not only something to worry about, but it is just the beginning of a long list of problems we identify in Piney Point’s inadequate closure plan. We’ve got to do better.
FDEP has yet to complete a comprehensive, statewide assessment plan on Florida's existing two dozen or more phosphogypsum stacks. These stacks remain as a toxic legacy of the phosphate industry. Each phosphogypsum stack carries with it the risk of creating another Piney Point environmental and financial fiasco.
Over 2 years ago the alarm was sounded - "The contaminated water stored at Piney Point certainly raises the question: Can a limited liability corporation such as HRK Holdings adequately manage and operate Piney Point in an environmentally sound manner? Right now, the answer appears to be no. "( The Bradenton Times, Glenn Compton, Sunday, Dec 09, 2018)
The current failure at the Piney Point facility owned by HRK was preventable. FDEP knew of the failures of the liner not only at Piney Point but at other phosphogypsum stacks. FDEP failed to protect the environment so many of us work hard to protect.
Our community and environmental organizations need assurances by the State of Florida, our Governor, and the Secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Senate and the House that this failure will be handled promptly with the utmost caution and assurances that future failures will be averted by enlightened leadership
This disaster was preventable. Permit conditions were ignored, water accumulation was not addressed when state funds were available to remedy the conditions.
As Waterkeepers we work hard to ensure our community rights are protected for clean waters, for fishable waters, for boatable waters and also drinkable waters. We have been greatly disappointed that the rights of the people of Florida have been jeopardized by the failure of our State.
WHAT WE ARE DOING:
- March 31, Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper provided members of the press and public officials access to the waters adjacent to Port of Manatee where the Piney Point Gyp Stack wastewater was released. We had two shallow draft boats making the trip to Port Manatee from the Manatee County Rest Area on the south end of the Skyway Bridge.
- Monday April 5, 2021 4PM Suncoast Waterkeeper held an opportunity for members of the press to speak with local Coast Guard Licensed Sportfishing Guides about the ongoing crisis at Piney Point as well as water quality concerns, seagrass loss and habitat destruction.
- On April 5th at 8PM an emergency meeting of the Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper boards was held to discuss the Piney Point/HRK emergency discharge into the waters of the Tampa Bay Estuary. We are providing a joint statement on the call for action on phosphogypsum stacks endangering the coastal habitats in Florida.
- April 6th 1PM SCWK and TBWK took the press and the founder of Captains for Clean Water out to Port Manatee with 2 boats.
- April 6th Pictures of red waters along the shores by the rest area were forwarded to the press and Tampa Bay National Estuary.( possible first bloom)
- April 7th Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper send out a joint press release on actions requested from the State.
- June 24th Suncoast Waterkeeper along with partners, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, the acting secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, LLC and the Manatee County Port Authority for the release of hundreds of tons of hazardous pollutants into Tampa Bay and groundwater.
- Suing to stop a plan to inject Piney Point Wastewater into the Flordan Aquifer. (Read the Notice Letter Here)
- Providing comment to the Department of Environmental Protection. (Read the Comment Here)