MANATEE COUNTY (WFLA) – Concern surrounding the gyp stacks at Piney Point is nothing new in Manatee County. Residents who live in the area say the former phosphate plant has been a concern for decades.
“This was no big secret this water was up there and that it was an issue,” Manatee County resident Rod Griffon said.
Griffon lives just outside what was the evacuation zone.
“As time goes on, we are learning more and more that maybe this won’t be as devastating as we first thought, but the irritation has not gone away. The irritation with whether it is the lack of competence or just inaction from the county for decades,” Griffon said.
Residents who spoke at Tuesday morning’s commission meeting expressed their frustrations with county leaders.
Andra Griffin has lived in Manatee County her entire life. She feels the issues at Piney Point should have been taken care of a long time ago.
“It was inaction of the board for decades. I am thankful the Governor and the EPA are taking action now. I am thankful that we are finally getting this behind us, but again, it should not have gotten to this point to get this kind of help. We (Manatee County) should have been the driving force to clean this up. We should have gotten all the people from the state officials to the federal officials involved in it,” said the longtime resident.
County officials made it clear, the local government did not create the issues at Piney Point.
“It is an industrial wastewater site from prior production of fertilizer and what is important to note, it is not Manatee County. This is a private company that has been operating under the regulatory oversight of the State Department of Environmental Protection and the US Department of Environmental Protection,” said acting county administrator Scott Hopes. “We had to react as the local governing body in order to protect our citizens and our businesses. We didn’t create the problem, nor were we responsible for solving the problem,” he continued.
Some locals disagree, and feel it is a county issue.
“This is most definitely a County issue. We just had 316 residents of this county evacuated right before Easter — totally preventable. I’m very thankful that we have three freshman commissioners that came in and were willing to take this by the horns and get something resolved, but unfortunately, they were a day late and a dollar short,” Griffin said.
Two longtime commissioners stressed they’ve tried making Piney Point a priority.
“For anyone who thinks that this board or previous boards, I should say, did not try to address this issue would be totally incorrect. I just wanna make that statement,” said Commissioner Chairman Vanessa Baugh. “We need to understand that this board has not been blind to this issue,” she added.
Baugh was elected to the county commission in 2012. Carol Whitmore has been on the board since 2006.
“We have been working on this for many years. We just haven’t been able to get anywhere and unfortunately, it took this terrible event to happen to get somewhere,” said Commissioner Whitmore. “I am here now and it is my responsibility as well as everyone else on this board to resolve and help the state and HRK get this closed,” she added.
Resident Rod Griffon feels local leaders need to be held accountable.
“When these people make bad decisions or make no decisions, nobody holds them accountable. Citizens really need to band together and vote people out of office when things like this happen,” he said.