Conservation groups sue Gov. DeSantis, state regulators for ‘mismanaging toxic waste at Piney Point’

Manatee County

Courtesy: Center for Biological Diversity

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Five conservation groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against several government entities and the owner of Piney Point for the breach that happened earlier this year and sent an estimated 220 million gallons of wastewater into the environment.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the lawsuit was filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis, the acting secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, LLC, and the Manatee County Port Authority. A notice of intent to sue was sent last month, accusing Florida officials of being “asleep at the wheel” before the breach.

“The Piney Point disaster is Exhibit A in a long list of Florida’s failures to protect our water and wildlife from the harms of phosphogypsum,” said Jaclyn Lopez, the Florida director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Even as state officials scramble to clean up Piney Point, they have drafted a permit to authorize a 230-acre expansion of the sinkhole-prone New Wales gypstack that leaked 215 million gallons of wastewater into the Floridan aquifer.”

The five groups — the Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, ManaSota-88, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation — sent the lawsuit alleging that “Florida regulators ignored the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ advice to reject the dredge proposal because of the gypstacks’ structural uncertainties, the hazardous and toxic material in the stacks, and documented past slope stability and piping issues.”

According to the lawsuit, Piney Point is an ongoing threat to public health and the environment due to:

  • The discharge of 215 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Tampa Bay, which is now experiencing harmful algae blooms and fish kills
  • The threat of catastrophic failure of its impoundments and/or stack system
  • The site’s failing liners
  • Violations of groundwater-quality standards and evidence that dangerous levels of pollution have migrated into the aquifer
  • The choice of an unproven and high-risk wastewater disposal method called deep-well injection to store hazardous waste at Piney Point

“Piney Point was and still is a ticking timebomb,” said Justin Bloom, the founder and board member of Suncoast Waterkeeper. “Rather than closing it when they had the chance, FDEP allowed the site to become even more dangerous, knowing full well the risk of collapse and catastrophic contamination. Now Manatee County is seeking to inject the hundreds of millions of gallons of remaining hazardous wastewater into our groundwater. We’re not confident in our regulators’ ability to manage this mess and this legal action is necessary to protect our communities and waterways from further harm.”

In mid-April, DeSantis requested the Department of Environmental Protection to create plans to permanently shut down the Piney Point facility.

“This will ensure the state is moving forward with a thoughtful, scientific plan for closure to avoid another chapter in this long history,” he said.

The governor also said he’s directed the DEP to fully investigate what happened at Piney Point and “take any and all legal actions to ensure we hold HRK and any other actors fully accountable.”

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