Manatee officials, farmers at odds over contaminated water - WFLA News Channel 8

Manatee officials, farmers at odds over contaminated water

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Piney Point in Manatee County Piney Point in Manatee County
Piney Point in Manatee County Piney Point in Manatee County

Manatee County officials are trying to figure out what to do with contaminated water at a former phosphate plant.

State environmental officials say a safe, affordable option would be to pump it into the ground. But, many locals and farmers are not fans of that idea.

The hazardous waste is found in a gypsum stack at the Piney Point phosphate plant off U.S. 41. The Piney Point phosphate mine is now abandoned, but there's still a mess to clean up.

At the top of this gypsum stack is a huge pond filled with contaminated, hazardous water and it needs to go.

Treating it would be far too costly, so the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says the best option would be to pump it underground.

"These ponds are like tubs and the tubs are old and leaky and we just can’t take the chance," said Chris Klena with the Florida DEP.

So, state officials suggest pumping the water underground.

“We have to do something with that water, and I think our safest alternative is to put it into a deep well, [a] confined, salty aquifer.”

The water would be treated, then pumped thousands of feet underground, below the aquifer.

"This material is heavier than the water that's in your drinking aquifer. There is no reason for it to want to push up unless we over pressurized it or over pumped it out of our drinking aquifer," said Manatee County Utilities Director Mike Gore.

But, there are farmers nearby who don't like this plan at all.

"The mere perception of using contaminated water to irrigate our crops with could be devastating to our industry," said Manatee County Farm Bureau President Gary Reeder.

Officials would monitor the process to make sure the water does not seep up into the aquifer.

The entire project would cost the county around $25 million, but the former operator of the phosphate mine, HRK, would pay the county back.

Klena said this has never been done in Florida before.

“I don't think anybody in this room can guarantee you that there will never be a problem but I can promise you that there will be monitoring and oversight," said the DEP official.

Commissioner Michael Gallen had concerns, “I think our knowledge of geology is imperfect and we don’t know for sure that pumping this underneath the earth will be safe.”

Reeder made it known that he didn’t like the project. But he said if the project were to go on, then he wanted assurance that other outside companies would not also contribute their waste into this underground well.

Commissioners will make a final decision on this project at next week's commission meeting which will be held on May 20th.

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