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Environmental groups sue Gov. DeSantis over 'mismanaging' Piney Point

The lawsuit says the governor's and managers of the site's handling of Piney Point before and after the breach may pose an 'imminent endangerment' the environment.
Credit: WTSP
Crews installed sand at the former Piney Point Phosphate Plant.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Conservation groups say they filed a lawsuit Thursday against Gov. Ron DeSantis for the "mismanagement" of the breach at Piney Point that resulted in hundreds of millions of gallons of wastewater being dumped into Port Manatee and Tampa Bay. 

Also named in the suit is the acting secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings, LLC and the Manatee County Port Authorities. 

According to the lawsuit, after the owner of the former Piney Point phosphate plant went bankrupt the FDEP turned it into a disposal site for "dredge material." 

A release From Suncoast Waterkeeper claims Florida regulators ignored advice from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to not turn Piney Point into a disposal site due to the "gypstacks' structural uncertainties, the hazardous and toxic material in the stacks, and documented past slope stability and piping issues." 

“Piney Point was and still is a ticking timebomb,” said Justin Bloom, Suncoast Waterkeeper founder and board member, in a statement. “Rather than closing it when they had the chance, FDEP allowed the site to become even more dangerous, knowing full well the risk of collapse and catastrophic contamination."

"Now Manatee County is seeking to inject the hundreds of millions of gallons of remaining hazardous wastewater into our groundwater. We’re not confident in our regulators’ ability to manage this mess and this legal action is necessary to protect our communities and waterways from further harm,” the statement continued.

Last month the same non-profit environmental groups -- the Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, ManaSota-88 and Our Children's Earth Foundation -- sent a letter of intent to sue the governor and others. 

RELATED: Environmental groups plan on suing state, owners of former Piney Point plant over wastewater leak

A release from Suncoast Waterkeeper says the lawsuit states the following reasons that "Piney Point is an ongoing threat to public health and the environment": 

  1. The discharge of 215 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Tampa Bay, which is now experiencing harmful algae blooms and fish kills; 
  2. The threat of catastrophic failure of its impoundments and/or stack system;
  3. The site’s failing liners; 
  4. Violations of groundwater-quality standards and evidence that dangerous levels of pollution have migrated into the aquifer; 
  5. The choice of an unproven and high-risk wastewater disposal method called deep-well injection to store hazardous waste at Piney Point. 

In May, Florida's legislature set aside $100 million to clean up Piney Point. The plan is to treat the remaining wastewater on-site before placing it into a deep injection well 3,000 feet below ground.

10 Tampa Bay has reached out to the governor's office and the Department of Environmental Protection for a statement. The story will be updated when we hear back. 

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