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Lawsuit Launched Over Piney Point Wastewater Leak

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This image depicts Piney Point's water management features. This year, a liner in the wastewater pond leaked again, causing Manatee County to declare a state of emergency. (FPWC)
This image depicts Piney Point's water management features. This year, a liner in the wastewater pond leaked again, causing Manatee County to declare a state of emergency. (FPWC)
 By Trimmel Gomes - Producer, Contact
May 21, 2021

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Conservation groups say Florida's environmental regulators ignored a decade of warning signs - including advice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers - and it ultimately led to the Piney Point wastewater leak. Now, they plan to file suit.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, and the Manatee County Port Authority have all been named in the Notice of Intent to Sue, after April's leak of a phosphogypsum stack, releasing about 215 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay and prompting evacuations.

Jaclyn Lopez, Florida director and senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the suit calls for permanent closure of the site and better solutions than dumping the remaining waste into Florida's groundwater.

"If we don't file this lawsuit," said Lopez, "our concern is that the DEP, the county and HRK is going to choose a path of least resistance for getting rid of the waste that they're left managing, and deep-well injection appears to be such a path."

In a statement, the Florida DEP says it's committed to holding all involved accountable, as well as ensuring permanent closure of the site. However, Lopez and other conservation groups say the suit highlights the state's negligence, which allowed the spill to occur.

The groups note DEP is the primary agency for granting permits for operations at the site, and allege that it ignored the advice of federal regulators to not use the site as a place to store dredge material. Lopez said all parties were aware of the risks.

"Piney Point is a well-documented example of the regulatory failures of an industry, but it's not the only one," said Lopez. "We have many other phosphogypsum stacks in Florida that are in various stages of failing or failure."

The groups want to see more effort on cleanup alternatives, such as the phosphate industry-backed use of reverse osmosis systems to clean and filter wastewater.

Other plaintiffs include the ManaSota-88, Our Children's Earth Foundation, Suncoast Waterkeeper and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

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