MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — Plans will soon be developed to permanently shut down the Piney Point facility following the recent wastewater breach at the phosphogypsum stack site, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday.
“We want this to be the last chapter of the Piney Point story,” Gov. DeSantis said in a morning news conference. “So today, I’m directing the Department of Environmental Protection to create a plan to close Piney Point.”
The governor said he’s requested a team of engineers and scientists from the DEP to develop plans for the permanent closure of the site.
“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.
DeSantis said the first step on the road to permanent closure is ensuring the state is prepared for any necessary restoration and mitigation. The governor announced he would redirect $15.4 million from DEP funds to be used to “pre-treat water at the site for nutrients” in case there’s any additional uncontrolled discharge of water.
“Rigorous water quality monitoring will continue so the state can assess any potential ecological impacts from this event,” he said. “This data will be used by DEP as the move forward with enforcement to hold HRK accountable.”
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.” DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said a team of attorneys in Tallahassee is currently working to put together a case.
Senate President Wilton Simpson, who was also in attendance at the news conference Tuesday, said $100 million will be appropriated for the initial funding of the Piney Point closure.
“By the end of the year, we hope to get a full closure plan with a fully funded amount that may be required and then the object would be next year to come back and have a fully funded plan,” he said.
Nearby residents are feeling a sense of hope after weeks and for some, years of living down the street from what some have described as a ‘ticking timebomb’.
“I am glad we are at this point right now and I see nothing but better things ahead,” said L.P. McPherson Jr..
“This has gone on too long, way too long,” said longtime resident Ada McPherson. “It has got to be fixed and I hope Governor DeSantis get it done and I feel he will,” she continued.
An estimated 237 million gallons of wastewater from the old Piney Point phosphate plant property were discharged into Tampa Bay in recent weeks after the pond began leaking in late March. Hundreds of nearby residents were temporarily evacuated as officials grew concerned about a potential total collapse of the gypsum stack.
Crews stopped discharging water into the port on Friday. Officials said those living near the pond are safe for the time being, but environmental groups fear the contaminated water will fuel an algae bloom that could be harmful to marine life.
Senator Jim Boyd, Representative Tommy Gregory, Representative Will Robinson, and DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein were also at the Tuesday morning news conference along with several county officials.