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Federal judge undecided in tossing lawsuit against Florida over Piney Point spill

Lawyers for the state say the case against the department of environmental protection is "moot."

TAMPA, Fla. — A federal judge on Tuesday did not make a decision on whether or not to dismiss a lawsuit accusing Florida of "mishandling" the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility. 

U.S. District Judge William Jung heard arguments from both the state and environmental groups and decided to take the "matter into advisement."

In April 2021, a small tear in one of the facility's reservoirs forced crews to send more than 200 million gallons of untreated wastewater into Tampa Bay. Since then, state leaders have been on a mission to close the facility once and for all. 

However, a lawsuit filed by several environmental groups claims that both the state and Piney Point's former property owners, HRK Holdings, violated the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. According to the groups, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings and even the Manatee County Port Authority all ignored warnings of the plant's well-recorded danger.

Constant leaks and discharges over the years were part of the concerns. The nutrients in Piney Point's wastewater can fuel harmful algal blooms that impact fish and human health.  

The motion to dismiss the lawsuit was brought on by the state, calling the claims "moot," or debatable,  after a court-appointed receiver took over the site to ensure its closure. 

Herbert Donica, the court-appointed receiver, previously told 10 Tampa Bay that crews are working to treat and remove as much water from the facility as possible. 

Whatever water that cannot be removed will be sent 3,300 feet underground into a deep injection well. Manatee County leaders say they expect the well to be completed by 2023. 

As of Monday, FDEP says there are roughly 268 million gallons of water remaining in Piney Point's reservoirs. 

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