MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – The Manatee County Commission voted unanimously to declare a state of emergency Thursday due to a liner tear at the former phosphate plant stack on Piney Point.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection initiated an emergency controlled release of up to 480 million gallons of industrial wastewater from the stack after the discovery of a leak last week.

It is the second leak in a decade at the site in North Palmetto, where problems with contaminated water discharges were first reported in the 1970s. 

The Department of Environmental Protection says that HRK Holdings, the group who is responsible for the site, is still trying to stop the leak from a portion of the stack system at the site that was entering Piney Point Creek.

“It is a very critical condition and uncontrolled release is a real possibility at this stage,” said Mike Kelly, the engineer of record for HRK Holdings, LLC. “Getting the water off the stack is imperative. That uncontrolled release puts a pretty significant danger to environmental and public health.” 

Recognizing a potential threat to local residents and business owners, commissioners unanimously declared the local state of emergency at the tail end of a regularly scheduled land use meeting. 

“The water is not toxic; the real harm is the potential for excessive nutrients to reach Tampa Bay,” Manatee County Environmental Division Manager Rob Brown said after the meeting. “Nutrients can cause algae blooms and exacerbate red tide and when we see red tide outbreaks and they may cause fish kills.” 

The emergency declaration adopted by the board states:

  • Engineers cannot predict with absolute certainty the location or severity of contaminated water releasing resulting in hazardous impacts; and
  • Any contaminated water release in unplanned large amounts can result in injuries, damage to public and private property, and may result in first responders and government agencies intervening to protect lives, property, and the environment and to reduce impacts to utilities, public buildings, communication systems, transportation systems, and infrastructure.