DeSantis holds press conference on Piney Point ‘imminent collapse’

Alonzo Simpson
April 5, 2021

Officials said the 77-acre (31-hectare) reservoir holds millions of gallons of water containing phosphorus and nitrogen from an old phosphate plant.

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said at a press conference on Saturday that the most pressing concern is that the water could flood the area, which he said was agricultural and low in population density.

The Manatee County Public Safety Department said in an alert there is an "imminent threat" of uncontrolled release of wastewater from the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant in Palmetto.

More than 300 homes were immediately evacuated with families placed in hotels, while 345 inmates from Manatee County Jail were moved to an undisclosed location.

Crews have been discharging water since the pond began leaking in late March. Late last week, a substantial leak that was discovered intensified the response and prompted the first evacuations, as well as a declaration of a state of emergency over the weekend.

Then a portion of the pond's containment wall shifted, meaning a collapse could occur at any time.

The water being discharged is mostly seawater from the Port Manatee dredge project, process water and storm water, officials said.

Officials saw recently, an increase of water that leaks out but Hopes said it appears to have plateaued.

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Thousands of gallons per minute is currently being pumped out of the reservoir now to bring the volume of water down, while other workers have been charting the path to control the flow of the water.

"Water quality issues that are flowing from this, for us, is less than the risk of everyone's health and safety, particularly folks who may live in the area", DeSantis noted.

Meanwhile, Noah Valenstein, the Florida DEP Secretary said, another pond was found to have higher levels of metals.

The environmentalist group said that it was never designed for stacking and should have never been permitted.

"This is not acceptable and it's not something we will allow to persist", he said, adding that he has ordered the Florida Department of Environmental Regulation to find a permanent fix at the site.

Calls to the owner of the site, HRK Holdings, for comments went unanswered Saturday and Sunday. According to state authorities, the water in the breached pond is non-radioactive. For example, too much nitrogen in the water can lead to accelerated growth of algae and therefore the death of fish.

The pond contains stacks of phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct from manufacturing fertilizer.

"For more than 50 years, this Central Florida mining operation has caused numerous human health and environmental disasters and incidents", Fried wrote.

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