MANATEE CO. Fla (WFLA) – An engineering firm warned the Department of Environmental Protection last March of a potential “uncontrolled release” of polluted water from the now-breached Piney Point phosphate stack, according to a letter obtained by 8 On Your Side.

Wood Environment and Infrastructure Solutions Engineer Glen Anderson wrote the letter, citing three issues and the elevated pond levels for creating “the potential high risk” of a breach.

“The following known and reasonably assumed conditions at the [New Gypsum Stack South (NGS-S)] present an elevated risk of containment breach and release of ponded process wastewater,” Anderson wrote.

According to Anderson, there was a “deterioration of the liner” above the stack water line, “compromised condition” of the liner below the water line and “voids” in the dikes that hold the water presented.

“The NGS-S should immediately be drained,” Anderson wrote. “And the NGS-S pond area should be modified into a stable state pending final clsoure of the entire phosphogypsum stack system.”

Wood Enronment, a third-party engineer working for site owner HRK Holdings LLC, sent the five-page letter to DEP on March 13, 2020, about 13 months before a gaping crack opened, allowing water to spew into Piney Point Creek.

Evacuated residents have since returned to their homes and about 178 million gallons of water from the stack have been pumped into Port Manatee to relieve pressure on the enclosure, but a wide array of environmental and economic concerns about the impact on the bay area remain.

Anderson indicated in the opening paragraph that the letter was sent in response to DEP’s request for a proposal to conduct an annual inspection of the Piney Point stack system.

DEP engineer John Coates responded last May, stating Anderson did not offer specifics about the warnings about of the liner and stack in the letter or in an April 30 meeting involving the firm and the DEP.

Coates mentioned several times in his seven-page letter the DEP was focused on “HRK’s obligation to remove the mixture of seawater” contained in the pond.

HRK, Wood Environment and the DEP have not responded yet to requests for comment.

8 On Your Side will have more details tonight.