As Elsa approaches, Piney Point crews focus on keeping contaminated water out of Tampa Bay

Manatee County

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is keeping a close eye on the Piney Point gypsum stacks as Tropical Storm Elsa moves closer to Tampa Bay.

There is some concern about what all of the rain and wind could mean for the property that was at the center of an environmental disaster earlier this year.

Officials with HRK Holdings told 8 On Your Side they have been preparing for possible impacts from Elsa since last Tuesday. Crews have deployed several emergency pumps across the property. They’re also in the process of securing tanks and any other heavy equipment that could be impacted during the storm.

The site manager tells 8 On Your Side they’re getting prepared for the worst-case scenario which would be greater than nine inches of rainfall within a 24-hour timeframe. Over the last several days, crews have worked to reduce the water levels in all of the ponds on site.

He stressed to 8 On Your Side no water will be discharged from Piney Point into Tampa Bay. Their top priority is keeping all of the process water on-site and out of the bay.

The site manager told us he doesn’t “want to add any fuel to the algae.”

Red tide and fish kills continue to impact parts of the bay area. Drone 8 captured footage of dead fish while flying over Tampa Bay near Piney Point and Port Manatee on Monday.

8 On Your Side spoke with experts from the University of South Florida about how Tropical Storm Elsa could impact the varying levels of red tide in Tampa Bay.

“It is one of those things that we are not sure what is going to happen until it happens,” said Dr. Jim Ivey. “Because of the concentration of it in some areas of Tampa Bay, it could actually come out, flush it out, make the salinities too low for it and push it out of the bay and dissipate and dilute it out. The other possibility is depending on how much comes out and if it is not enough to flush it, it could also throw basically more fuel to the fire,” he continued.

Officials with HRK Holdings tell 8 On Your Side they’ll have crews on-site, regardless of weather conditions, to ensure everything is working as it should.

FDEP shared the following information in its latest update on Piney Point:

“Department inspectors are onsite overseeing hurricane preparations as staff work to secure heavy equipment and water treatment elements, and adjust water management levels in the ponds to ensure the site can endure hurricane force winds and rain. Additional pumps and generators are also being incorporated to safeguard against potential power outages. DEP’s priority continues to be the protection of human health and safety and the minimization of any potential impacts to the environment.”

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