MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — In March of this year, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection approved the conceptual closure plan prepared by the site's court-appointed receiver — a huge milestone in the state's journey to close its chapter on the wastewater emergency and its lasting effects.
In March 2021, a tear in one of the former Piney Point facility's reservoirs caused concern over a potential collapse. In order to prevent a crisis, crews discharged more than 200-million gallons of untreated wastewater into Tampa Bay.
The first phase of the closure plan involves stockpiling dirt to close the gypsum stacks. Right now they’re reshaping one of the stacks, so it drains to the west into the storm water management program. Once that's complete, topsoil and vegetation will be added. It’s a process that needs to be completed in a timely manner.
"The biggest fear would be a hurricane, because we get a lot of water and a lot of pressure on the stack system that could cause yet another rupture," Herb Donica, the court-appointed receiver, said. "We're racing to the finish line. That's why the deep well is being drilled. That's why we're trying to move that up, it has its own delays. So, yeah, we're racing against time, basically."
Donica says they’re hoping to have the stack filled by the end of December 2024. The entire closure is expected to take years to complete, but they're trying to get it done as quickly and as safely as possible.
"The reason that these stacks have been given people headaches for the last 20 years is that they've been holding water. The hydraulic pressure that the weight of the water creates has caused the stack system to weaken over time and it makes it dangerous," Donica explained.