Florida DEP files complaint to hold Piney Point owners accountable for wastewater breach

Manatee County

This aerial photo taken from an airplane shows a reservoir near the old Piney Point phosphate mine, Saturday, April 3, 2021 in Bradenton, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday after a significant leak at a large pond of wastewater threatened to flood roads and burst a system that stores polluted waters. The pond where the leak was discovered is at the old Piney Point phosphate mine, sitting in a stack of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer that is radioactive. (Tiffany Tompkins/The Bradenton Herald via AP)

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the state agency charged with managing and protecting the state’s natural assets and wildlife, filed a complaint in court on Thursday to hold HRK Holdings, Piney Point’s owners, accountable for ongoing failures at the phosophogypsum stack.

DEP Interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton, who took over the department on a temporary basis in June after Sec. Noah Valenstein resigned, issued a statement via Twitter saying that the actions in court are to enter Piney Point’s final chapter, and let the agency fulfill its charge to hold HRK accountable.

“This action enforces compliance with the state’s environmental laws and all of HRK’s existing authorizations, orders and agreements with the department,” Hamilton said. “The department is seeking the maximum allowable penalties and recovery of costs and damages under existing laws and regulations.”

While the trouble at Piney Point has been a long-brewing issue in Manatee County, problems at the gypstack site became critical in March 2021, when a stack liner began to leak and wastewater was released into Piney Point Creek, which feeds into Tampa Bay.

In early April, DEP issued an emergency order, requiring the owners to take immediate actions to “ensure integrity of the system,” leading to a series of controlled discharges of Piney Point water into Tampa Bay. Repairs were made but the ongoing issues at the long-deactivated stack have continued to breed concern, especially among local environmental advocates and business owners.

During the 2021 legislative session, state lawmakers allocated $100 million to go towards permanently cleaning up and closing the site.

Now, DEP’s actions in court will allegedly push HRK Holdings to pay the price for Piney Point’s failures, as the state attempts to permanently clean up the site.

“The ultimate goal remains closure of the site once and for all. We are confident the court appointed receivership requested through this complaint will pave the way to expediting this process,” Hamilton said in his statement Thursday.

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

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