MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — With one of its four stacks drained and going through the capping process, Piney Point is closer than ever to what state leaders have said is the shuttered phosphate plant’s final chapter.
A delay, approved by the Manatee County Commission in the completion of the debated deep well, does not change that, according to court-appointed receiver Herb Donica.
It was about 18 months ago when the county feared the southern stack would collapse and send a wall of toxic water into the community.
State and county leaders said they averted a catastrophe by sending about 215 million gallons into Tampa Bay, a decision many blamed for feeding the red tide of the summer of 2021.
It has been just over a year since court-appointed receiver Herb Donica took over Piney Point with a two-word objective; Close it.
Eight on Your Side reported about a year ago that the drilling of a deep well to inject the stack water below the aquifer had started.
Around that time, Donica said he expected it to be pumping treated water 3,300 feet into the ground before the end of 2022.
“But there have been supply chain delays. Delays in getting materials,” Donica said. “They’ve even had trouble hiring people to work with the driller. So, they’ve run into the same problems everyone else has.”
The completion of the well is now expected next month, 90 days later than the original date of October 17. The next step will be to build a plant to treat all of the stack water before it is injected into the well.
Donica has acknowledged he was not always in favor of a deep well but he said it is the solution that makes the most sense to drain the stacks.
Environmental watchdog Glenn Compton and others remain adamantly opposed to the idea.
“What we’ve learned about phosphogypsum stacks is that there’s really no economically feasible or environmentally sound way to close one,” Compton said.
While the 1 million gallon-a-day injection rate into the well will have to wait until after the treatment plant is up and running, Donica said he may know within a matter of weeks about approval to use the well with a filtration system at a slower rate.
Several techniques, including a spray evaporation system and water treatment, are draining about 240 thousand gallons of stack water a day, according to Donica, but it is truly a drop from the toxic Piney Point bucket.
“All that does is help us control the water level before and after each rainy season,” Donica said.