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Piney Point

Red Tide / Piney Point Crisis

What is Piney Point?

The Piney Point phosphate plant is an industrial site in Manatee County, Florida and the location of a former fertilizer plant. The land is currently owned by HRK Holdings, which leases portions of the land to industrial tenants under the name Eastport.  In March 2021, a phosphogypsum stack, the dam to the reservoir storing wastewater from phosphate tailings created by from the former plant's operations, began to fail, prompting evacuations on April 1 followed by the governor of Florida issuing a state of emergency on April 3.  The contaminated water was discharged into Tampa Bay in an effort to prevent the reservoir's collapse.

2021 Incident and Timeline

On March 25, 2021, leaks were discovered in the containment wall of a 67-acre holding pool located in a phosphogypsum stack storing nearly 400 million US gallons of wastewater containing nitrogen, phosphorus, ammonia, and small amounts of radium and uranium from the former operations at the plant, as well as seawater from the dredging of Berth 12 at Port Manatee.

 

The leak was reported on March 26, 2021 and proceeded to get worse over the next few days. Residents in the area were ordered to evacuate on April 1.  Efforts to repair the leaks on April 2 and 3 were unsuccessful, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for the entire county and wider evacuations were conducted on April 3. [1]  An estimated 316 households were within the evacuation zone. Contaminated water was being pumped from the reservoir and discharged into Tampa Bay at the rate of 22,000 US gallons per minute [2] in an effort to prevent the collapse of the reservoir, which threatened to flood the surrounding area and destabilize two adjacent pools storing more hazardous wastewater.

On April 5th, 2021 at 8PM an emergency meeting of the Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper boards was held to discuss the Piney Point/HRK emergency discharge into the waters of the Tampa Bay Estuary. 

Two days later, on April 7th, 2021 we released a joint press release with Suncoast Waterkeeper on the call for action on phosphogypsum stacks endangering the coastal habitats in Florida. Included were 9 points that we are demanding from the Governor and Legislature.

With Waterkeepers Florida and other conservation, and public health groups - We submitted a letter on April 12, 2021  requesting (1) a congressional hearing to investigate the regulatory framework of the phosphate industry and the failure to evaluate and minimize the unreasonable risk or ensure protection of human health and the environment through adequate regulation of phosphogypsum and process wastewater; and (2) identify areas where Congress can provide additional resources to help EPA quickly and comprehensively address this problem. 

Five conservation groups - The Center For Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Manasota-88, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation - on May 18, 2021 sent a notice of their intent to sue the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings and the Manatee County Port Authority for releasing hundreds of tons of toxic pollutants into Tampa Bay and groundwater, endangering the public, marine ecosystems and protected species.

lawsuit was filed on ​June 24, 2021 by Center For Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Manasota-88, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation.

 

On July 19, 2021 - Tampa Bay Waterkeeper joined more than two dozen local businesses and conservation groups asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency due to the ongoing red tide and fish kills in and around Tampa Bay.  

 

On July 23, 2021 - Tampa Bay Waterkeeper co-hosted a Forum on Red Tide and Harmful Algae Blooms.  The Executive Directors of both the Tampa Bay and Sarasota Bay Estuary Programs provided updates and answered questions regarding the cause, effect and solution of the region’s recent red tide bloom. 

VIDEO of Forum on Red Tide and Harmful Algae Blooms

TBEP PRESENTATION from Ed Sherwood, Tampa Bay Estuary Program

SBEP PRESENTATION from Dr. Dave Tomasko, Sarasota Bay Estuary Program

 

On August 5, 2021 - the Florida Department of Environmental Protection has filed a civil lawsuit against HRK Holdings, the owner of the former Piney Point fertilizer plant. Officials have stated their intent to hold HRK Holdings accountable for the fallout from a breach at the facility in northern Manatee County in April. HRK Holdings has owned the property since the mid-2000s and has continued managing the site after two wastewater spills, the first in 2011 and the other in April 2021. HRK Holdings filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after the first breach. [3]  

On September 29, 2021 - Five conservation groups - The Center For Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Manasota-88, and Our Children’s Earth Foundation - sent a Notice of Intent their intent to sue Manatee County for its plan to inject toxic pollutants from the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack into the lower Floridan aquifer.

On November 10, 2021 - Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper and Manasota 88  were among several environmental groups to sign a letter sent to Herbert Donica, the attorney appointed as receiver for HRK Holdings, the site owner at Piney Point, a former phosphate processing plant that has been the source of multiple environmental catastrophes in Manatee County. The groups requested a "robust, representative, and transparent sampling effort at Piney Point.

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Infographic from Tampa Bay Estuary Program