MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A state-contracted engineering firm asserted the chances of a liner leak at Piney Point was “extremely small” less than two years before the first major breach there, according to the facility’s owner.
Two years after that July 2009 Ardaman and Associates risk assessment report that is referenced in a new statement from Piney Point owner HRK Holdings, the south stack sprung a leak prompting the state to pump millions of gallons of water into Tampa Bay to relieve pressure on the structure.
In its response to threats of legal action from the state following last month’s breech, HRK quoted the Ardaman and Associates report as stating, “the probability of an existing liner leak is deemed to be essentially zero” and “the probability of a liner tear due to concentrated in-service stresses is deemed to be extremely small.”
According to the statement, the “report was prepared for the express purpose of convincing” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) that Piney Point could effectively hold dredging material. The USACE had said the structure was not engineered for dredge water in its own 2008 report on dredging Port Manatee.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) had sold HRK Piney Point for $4.3 million in 2006 with a promise of the lucrative contract to take in the dredging materials, but the 2011 breech ended that money stream.
8 On Your Side has requested a copy of the 2009 report from Ardaman and Associates, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and HRK.
The one-page statement was HRK’s first public remarks on the leak that developed late last month and prompted the state to send 215 million gallons of stack water into the bay.
Marine biologists, DEP and environmentalists are continuing to monitor water quality that some predict could cause fish kills and red tide in the coming weeks.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and DEP Director Noah Valenstein have said information is being gathered to take legal action as the state also plans on closing Piney Point at an estimated cost of $200 million.
“I am directing DEP to fully investigate the incident,” DeSantis said at a brief news conference this week. “And to take any and all legal action to make sure we hold HRK and any other actors fully accountable.”
The governor did not take questions about the state’s role in managing Piney Point, but warnings of potential stack failure have been regular and prophetic over the past two decades.
HRK call it “preposterous” to insinuate the LLC has not “what was required and allowed by” the DEP
“It has been HRK,” a statement from the company said, “who has continuously and diligently relayed concerns to all who would listen.”
HRK has “proposed numerous solutions” to close Piney Point, the LLC’s statement said
A court-ordered bank account funded by assets sold during HRK’s bankruptcy process currently has about $2.5 million in funds. According to DEP, the agency “oversees and approves disbursements” from the account for the site’s long-term care.
HRK filed a lawsuit in 2013 against Ardaman and Associates and two other contractors involved with the Piney Point stack system. The two others settled their respective cases.