MANATEE CO., Fla. (WFLA) — Drilling in Piney Point has started, beginning the process of creating a deep injection well at the historically problematic phosphogypsum stack in Manatee County.
The start of the drilling process comes after no objections were filed against the permit for the well’s construction was approved.
With the drilling started Wednesday, the long saga of the now-defunct Piney Point stack is finally coming to a close. Most recently, a breach of the plant’s southern fertilizer stack put environmental concerns into overdrive, leading to more than 200 million gallons of wastewater being discharged into Tampa Bay.
“We are pleased to get this started so quickly,” said Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes. “The cooperation and coordination to get this important project to this point has been remarkable.”
Many months, lawsuits and potential strategies later, a deep injection well is now under construction. The well will be drilled down to 3,300 feet below land surface, with Ft. Myers-based Youngquist Brothers, Inc. handling the work. ASRus of Tampa and Manatee County Utilities are consulting on the construction project, with drilling expected to continue through late 2022.
“We’re looking forward to working together to complete this project successfully,” said Manatee County Utilities Deputy Director Jeff Goodwin.
County officials said the initial site prep and preliminary construction was finished as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection gave final approval for the project. State lawmakers also set aside millions of dollars for pollution solutions in the 2021 fiscal budget.
Herb Donica, the Piney Point Receiver, was appointed by Florida’s courts to oversee handling of the site. He’s been involved in Piney Point management in multiple capacities over the past 20 years. While initially against deep wells, he said he’s come around to it as the science has backed up the drainage‘s efficacy.
“The water will be far beneath our drinking water, under the limestone,” Donica previously told 8 On Your Side senior investigator Walt Buteau. “It will eventually come out into the Gulf 10,000 years later cleaner than the drinking water we have now.”
Environmental advocates remain opposed to the well, though state-contracted biologists have said there was no clear, scientific connection between the release and the summer’s red tide. Still, critics are adamant the nitrogen-rich water from the plant’s discharge fueled the bloom.
Officials say the well will be used to safely dispose of Piney Point’s process water. The process water, which sits atop the gypstacks in reservoirs, will be treated before injection into the deep well.
Access to the site is limited while it is an active construction site according to the Manatee County Government.