TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — After years of problems and a full year of work to close the site following a wastewater breach that led to massive drainage efforts, Piney Point in Manatee County will finally be shuttered.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection confirmed Thursday a “milestone step” toward final closure had been reached when a conceptual closure plan for the facility was approved. Doing so brings an end to the past year of hurdles the inactive phosphogypsum processing facility has faced, including leaks, lawsuits and drainage into the Tampa Bay estuary. The state budget allocated millions of dollars to formally closing the facility down in 2021.

Manatee County’s Board of County Commissioners approved a plan to drill a deep-injection well to handle drainage of the water on-site at Piney Point, intended to force the water at the plant beneath the bowels of the earth and below the groundwater table to avoid poisoning local water supplies.

The closure plan approval comes almost exactly a year after the leak at the facility forced hundreds of families nearby to temporarily evacuate from their homes.

Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a local state of emergency on April 3, 2021 as Piney Point leaked potentially toxic pond water through a hole torn in its liner. While emergency discharges to handle the leak ended on April 9, a court-appointed receiver took charge of the site in August.

“Nearly one year ago, in order to prevent a catastrophic collapse of the NGS-South compartment at the site, DEP issued an emergency final order requiring that HRK Holdings, LLC take immediate action and implement all necessary steps to ensure the integrity of the stack system and its lined impoundments and prevent an uncontrolled discharge,” DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton said Thursday in a statement. “Today, as a result of ongoing efforts on the part of DEP, Manatee County and the court-appointed receiver, we are in a significantly better place than we were then, and this approval marks a key milestone in ensuring this is the last chapter in the long history of Piney Point.”

Since last year’s leak, a permit for the underground injection well for Piney Point was issued to Manatee County. The DEP says it has “worked to ensure that HRK,” the holding company that currently owns the gypstack site, “is held accountable.”

According to DEP officials, the plan to address environmental protection requirements at Piney Point “includes a timeline and strategy for continued water management at the site that is essential to eliminate the current process water from the reservoir areas, as well as details on construction of a closed system that protects both ground waters and surface waters in the area.”

Drilling of the injection well began in December, just before Christmas. Clean-up of the site has already cost millions.

DEP officials said once the water is removed from the stack reservoirs, new fill material and liners will be provided as needed, as well as a two-foot-thick soil and vegetable cover system “that will be sloped to ensure runoff of clean, non-contact rainwater into the existing stormwater management system.”

The site closure will be included in the facility’s current stormwater management system, according to DEP, and the state agency will “continue its stringent regulatory oversight” while construction on the deep well is performed.

More information on the site status and ongoing response activities can be found online