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Florida officials no longer responsible for Piney Point maintenance after emergency order expiration

The responsibility of making sure the massive reservoir filled with untreated wastewater does not leak again is back in the hands of the property owners.
Credit: AP
This aerial photo taken from an airplane shows a reservoir near the old Piney Point phosphate mine, Saturday, April 3, 2021 in Bradenton, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday after a significant leak at a large pond of wastewater threatened to flood roads and burst a system that stores polluted waters. The pond where the leak was discovered is at the old Piney Point phosphate mine, sitting in a stack of phosphogypsum, a waste product from manufacturing fertilizer that is radioactive. (Tiffany Tompkins/The Bradenton Herald via AP)

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Florida's Department of Environmental Protection will no longer be solely responsible for maintaining the former Piney Point phosphate processing plant. 

The state's emergency order expired last week, meaning the responsibility of making sure the massive reservoir containing 200-million gallons of untreated wastewater does not once again leak is back in the hands of the property owners, HRK Holdings.

DEP sent the company a letter last Friday, June 4, explaining that while the state will continue overseeing Piney Point, it's up to HRK Holdings to manage the site and to "ensure the integrity of the stack system, and protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public and the environment."

RELATED: Red tide detected in areas near Piney Point

Environmental officials say crews were able to minimize the chances of a "catastrophic" collapse of the site. However, even they recognize the facility still does not meet the state's code. And with the rainy season underway, DEP is reminding HRK that they will have to make sure the reservoirs do not flood and overflow. 

It's been two months since fears of an "imminent collapse" caused panic and evacuations of the neighborhoods that surrounded Piney Point. Hundreds of millions of gallons of polluted water were sent directly into Tampa Bay creating concern for marine life and possible algae blooms.

As of Wednesday, DEP says there have been reports of fish kills near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge and Port Manatee, where the discharge was sent. Environmental groups the week prior said some red tide was detected near Piney Point. 

However, no official connection between the discharge and algal blooms has been made. 

The future of Piney Point has already been decided. In April, Manatee County commissioners approved plans to construct a deep injection well at the site. The more than $9 million project will take the remaining wastewater left inside the plant's reservoir and plunge it 3,000 feet underground.

RELATED: Crews install sand to keep wastewater from seeping at Piney Point

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