Environmentalists keeping close eye on areas surrounding Piney Point discharge

Manatee County

State reports elevate levels of phosphorous Wednesday

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Florida Department of Environmental Protection Wednesday said approximately 258 million gallons remain in the leaking gypsum stack at Piney Point.

Despite reduced risk for a total collapse of the stack and lifted evacuation orders, tens of millions of gallons of nutrient-rich water continue to flow out into Tampa Bay daily. To date, DEP says approximately 173 million gallons have been discharged to the port through a controlled release.

During a news conference Tuesday afternoon, county officials said the more contaminated water from the breach site is being routed to another lined retention pond on Piney Point property.

Up until Wednesday afternoon, DEP officials continued to report ‘all water quality results received to-date meet water quality standards’.

Founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper Justin Bloom feels officials need to do a better job of communicating what realistic environmental impacts might be.

“I think it is irresponsible to broadly say that there are no concerns for water quality or that the discharge meets water quality standards… I think that is ludicrous,” said Bloom.

A Wednesday afternoon update stated, “DEP’s interactive water quality dashboard details sampling locations and corresponding results to evaluate any environmental impacts to Tampa Bay from the Piney Point discharges. The most recent results show sampling locations in Tampa Bay are attaining marine water quality standards; however, sampling from areas surrounding the active discharge point in Port Manatee shows elevated levels of phosphorus.”

Local fisherman told 8 On Your Side they’ve already started noticing changes in the waters surrounding Port Manatee.

Bloom explained the changes he saw Tuesday.

“When we were south of the port, we did see some localized algae blooms. It is hard to say for 100% sure that that is related to this discharge, but I was in the same spot on Thursday and it was crystal clear and I was there yesterday and it was the color red. So I think it is a pretty good assumption that this is kind of what we are going to be seeing more of in the days and weeks to come,” said Bloom.

Suncoast and Tampa Bay Waterkeepers put out a joint news release Wednesday morning including the following list of demands for state leaders.

We demand the following from the Governor and Legislature :

  1. Hold all responsible parties accountable.
  2. Establish a Statewide Commission for Phosphogypsum Stack operations and closure. The Commission should be composed of Waterkeepers, environmental advocates, State, Federal, and other stakeholders.
  3. The State must totally fund the closure of all Piney Point stacks including removing the existing water, capping the site to prevent any water containment on site.
  4. The State must process the seepage water to prevent degradation to the Environment.
  5. The State of Florida must provide enhanced water monitoring for 5 years and establish a public website with real time, historical data with links to all permit data related to the Piney point/HRK site (Not Oculus).
  6. The State of Florida must test fish within the Tampa and Sarasota Bay Estuary for heavy metals and other parameters for 2 years. Reference to previous study 1999.
  7. The State of Florida must develop a management plan to prevent  stack failures for all Phosphogypsum stacks within the State of Florida.
  8. The State of Florida must enact a moratorium on any processing of Phosphate ore for 6 months to insure bonds can provide financial resources to responsibly close the stacks.
  9. The State of Florida must maintain the closure for Snook and Redfish for at least 2 years within the Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay estuaries.

“I’m starting to look beyond the emergency and looking mid-term and long term and overall. I mean, this is a huge failure of gigantic proportion that rests on the shoulders of the state and county. I don’t think they are going to be able to hide the ball here and put it on the shoulders of the operator,” said Bloom. “I want to see action and not energy spent trying to divert blame,” he continued.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

April 24 2021 08:00 am

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