MANATEE CO., Fla (WFLA) – From the middle of July to the day in late March when a gaping crevice opened up at the bottom of Piney Point’s south stack, the state has spent nearly $46 million at the long-defunct phosphogypsum facility, according to records released by the state.
The breach and fear that a wall of wastewater would gush across Manatee County prompted the decision by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to release about 215 million nitrogen-rich gallons into the Tampa estuary.
While state contracted scientists have not blamed the release on the abnormally strong bloom of red tide, few disagree the wastewarer is feeding the problem blamed for the deaths of a dozen manatees and several tons of fish.
Jacklyn Lopez, Florida Director of the Center for Biodiversity, said the total that averages out to about $3 million a week is another sign of Piney Point mismanagement.
“This isn’t monopoly money,” Lopez said. “You’re not pulling it out of thin air. This is money I have to pay for, my children have to pay for it. Your children. It’s an epic failure dating back 20 years.”
The Center for Biodiversity is now suing DEP, Piney Point’s owner HRK, LLC, and the Manatee County Port Authority over the alleged mismanagement of the site.
As 8 On Your Side first reported, the DEP pushed aside a 2008 U.S Army Corp. of Engineers recommendation not to store Port Manatee dredge material in the stack. The south stack breached in 2011, a short time after the water and soil was pumped into it, prompting a series of events including HRK’s bankruptcy.
DEP also did not act on a warning last year from HRK’s engineer who said the south stack liner was deteriorated and needed to be repaired.
Lopez said those and other red flags show the disaster was avoidable.
“What has been constant throughout is the DEP’s knowledge that Piney Point was a disaster waiting to happen,” Lopez said.
Within a short distance of the towering stacks, there are hundreds of neighborhoods including dozens of homes in Sharon Sax’s development.
“Angry,” Sax said when asked for a reaction to the Piney Point price tag. “Angry. I’ve worked hard for my money. I worked close to 35 years. To hear that amount now is very upsetting.”
DEP Press Secretary Alexandra Kuchta did not release specifics for how the money was spent or who was paid, writing in an email the the state “dispersed $45,697,063.34 on necessary emergency contracting.”
Long-time state contracted engineering firm Ardaman and Associates, a company that has been part of Piney Point’s tortured past for decades, was paid just over $121,000, according to Kuchta.
Ardaman and Associates is currently being sued by HRK in a long-running civil case that’s due back in court later this year.
8 On Your Side has asked DEP for more details about the Piney Point expenditures.