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Piney Point latest: Evacuation order lifted as Manatee County gives people the OK to return home

Homes in the area are no longer under mandatory evacuation instructions.

PALMETTO, Fla. —

  • Manatee County leaders reopen US-41 Tuesday and lifted the evacuation order.
  • There has been no change in the stability of the stack, meaning the situation is not getting worse, the DEP said at the Manatee County Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning.
  • Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called for long-term solutions for future environmental threats while discussing the situation Tuesday afternoon.
  • People who live in Manatee County can visit this link to see if they are affected by the current evacuation zone near the Piney Point reservoir.
  • A local state of emergency has been declared for Manatee County and parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

People who live and work near the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant in Manatee County have been told they're allowed to return after previously being instructed to get out and stay away.

State and local leaders had feared an "imminent" collapse of a retention pond at the site, but the risk has since been reduced as crews pumped out water.

In addition to a "significant leak" at the bottom of the pool holding millions of gallons of water, several small breaches had recently been found. The pool contains a mixture of process water, saltwater from the Port Manatee dredge project, rainfall and stormwater runoff.

Crews have relieved stress on the pond by releasing about 23,500 gallons a minute.

10 Tampa Bay is providing continuous coverage this week -- scroll down for the latest updates:

4 p.m. April 6: Manatee County Commissioners announced that the mandatory evacuation order for people living in the area and business owners around Piney Point has been lifted. Officials say people can return to their homes "safely" by Tuesday evening.

Leaders say the county voted unanimously to authorize the use of a deep injection well directly south of the Piney Point site. Current and future commissioners will have full control over the well under the guidelines provided by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Environmental Protection.

"The residents and business owners of North Manatee can rest assured that the water atop the stacks will be treated before it is transferred to the deep injection well and then capped to ensure no other water enters the well," Commissioner Vanessa Baugh said.

Approximately 137 people and 36 pets were relocated to local hotels during the evacuations, according to Manatee County Public Safety Director Jake Sauer. However, despite the lifting of the evacuation order, Buckeye Road will remain closed for the foreseeable future, Sauer said.

Acting Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes said commissioners felt confident enough to allow people to return to their homes after seeing reports that showed the flow of wastewater had been minimized. 

More than 180 million gallons of wastewater had been released, Hopes said. There had been 480 million gallons last Thursday. 

Hopes also added that wastewater leaving an uncontrolled breach in Piney Point's reservoir had been rerouted to an unused retention pond.

The Department of Environmental Protection said it would continue to monitor the environmental impacts of the wastewater in order to hold the company that owns the Piney Point site, HRK Holdings, responsible.

"Anyone who followed the Piney Point saga over the last 20 years will know that local government did not create this situation," Baugh said.

12:02 p.m. April 6: The Manatee County Public Safety Department posted the below video clip from the Piney Point retention pond.

10:50 a.m. April 6: US-41 has reopened after Manatee County officials met with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Emergency Management.

Leaders say they "feel confident" in reopening the highway based on updated wastewater flow modeling. Homes in the area are still under a mandatory evacuation order, and surrounding roads remain closed.

9:00 a.m. April 6: Manatee County Commissioners gave an update on the site at their board meeting.

According to the latest report, water is being discharged at a rate of 23,500 gallons per minute with the increased number of operational pumps, acting Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes said.

Hopes added that 19-20 million gallons of water have been pulled from the reservoir since last evening.

The Army Corps of Engineers is developing more detailed inundation maps to inform decision-makers, according to Hopes. The new maps that are responsible for determining evacuation plans are expected later this afternoon or early this evening.

As of this morning, three additional submersible pumps have been installed, John Truitt, Florida Department of Environmental Protection, said at the meeting. He said they should be connected and running by early this afternoon.

There has been no change in the stability of the stack, meaning the situation is not getting worse, Truitt added.

5:25 a.m. April 6: The Army Corps of Engineers is now on the site to help pump water out of the pond. The DEP and EPA also there to help. 

10:18 p.m. April 5: Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state's highest-ranking Democrat, plans to hold a news conference at 12:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Manatee County Public Safety Building.

She has called upon Gov. Ron DeSantis to convene the Florida Cabinet to address the Piney Point emergency.

RELATED: As Piney Point drains, concerns grow over potential impact of wastewater in Bay

>You can find all the updates from Monday. April 5, 2021, here. 

Where is the evacuation zone?

The evacuation zone around the breached Piney Point reservoir includes about 316 homes, according to Manatee County leaders. 

On Saturday, the county expanded U.S. 41's closure a half-mile west and one mile southwest to Moccasin Wallow Road. It also expands south from Buckeye Road to Moccasin Wallow Road. 

Moccasin Wallow Road will be closed west of 38th Avenue East. 

People who live in Manatee County can visit this link to see if they are affected by the current evacuation zone near the Piney Point reservoir.

Credit: 10 Tampa Bay
People living near the area of the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack are asked to evacuate the area.