PALMETTO, Fla. — Florida's Department of Environmental Protection is asking for an emergency hearing over the former Piney Point phosphate mining facility after concerns of storms causing the untreated wastewater inside the facility's reservoirs to overflow.
The emergency hearing, which is part of a larger lawsuit, would have a Manatee County judge appoint a receiver to act as a third party that will oversee the closure of Piney Point which is currently owned by HRK Holdings.
The original lawsuit filed earlier this month is the "final chapter for the Piney Point site," according to FDEP. The state agency said it was fulfilling its mission of holding HRK Holdings responsible for the leak at one of the facility's reservoirs, resulting in more than 200 million gallons of untreated wastewater being dumped into Tampa Bay.
However, the lawsuit is not happening quickly enough. The state says HRK Holdings has continued to fail to prevent any flooding.
FDEP says Piney Point has received around 23 inches of rain since June - the equivalent of nearly 169 million gallons of water. If storms continue bringing heavy rain, the state says more than 11.5 inches (60 million gallons) is expected by the end of September.
The Piney Point facility can only hold less than 10 more inches (52 million gallons), the state estimates. Meaning, if what FDEP predicts is true, then by the end of next month, the facility's reservoirs would overflow.
"Due to the lack of storage capacity and the high potential for additional heavy rainfall in the immediate future, water levels at the Site need to be immediately lowered to prevent overtopping, flooding and uncontrolled or untreated discharges from the Site to the surrounding areas and the environment," the state wrote in its lawsuit.
As of Monday, FDEP says around 266 million gallons of water is currently being held inside the Piney Point reservoir. That water consists of a mixture of phosphogypsum, a radioactive byproduct of phosphate mining, and seawater. If it overflows, the state says Bishop Harbor will be affected.