Eye on Piney Point: Monitoring for potential impacts on Tampa Bay as DEP investigation continues

8 On Your Side

MANATEE CO., Fla. (WFLA) – On an otherwise beautiful day on Tampa Bay, the search for potential impact from the Piney Point breach cast a cloud.

One focus, the bottom of the food chain near the mangroves next to Port Manatee.

Tampa Bay Watch President Peter Clark said one concern is the brown algae on the sea grass will grow too fast, fed by the 215-million gallon blast of Piney Point stack water three weeks ago. 

“Our concern is Piney Point has put so many nutrients out in the Tampa Bay system,” Clark said, “that we’re going to see so much micro algae growing on top of our seagrass flats.”

You get one perspective underwater where you can still see the sand in the shallows near the shore. But for Clark, rising above the bay with a drone-powered camera is a better way to pick up changes in color.

Tampa Bay Watch scanned three areas on Friday, including the fragile Bishop Harbor estuary, searching for the browns and reds of an algae bloom.

While the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is investigating and threatening legal action against bankrupt Piney Point owner HRK Holdings, 8 On Your Side revealed years of documented warnings that some claim were ignored by the state.

“Over the years [DEP] sold the site, used it as a spoil disposal site for port maintenance,” Clark said. “All of that has been contrary to closing the stack and protecting the public resources like the Tampa Bay estuary.”

Friday’s examination from above will be one of several over the next few years, according to Clark.

“It’s important that we can document the impacts that have occurred,” Clark said. “So we can track that back to Piney Point to learn from the mistakes we’ve made.”

A DEP spokesperson said the investigation continues into what caused the breech and who’s at fault.

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