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Permit to drill deep injection well at Piney Point expected soon after public meeting

Manatee County Administrator Scott Hope says the equipment is already set up.

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is expected Wednesday to issue a permit for a deep injection well to dispose of toxic chemicals at Piney Point in Manatee County.

“It's already drafted. It's written. I mean, all we need is for the DEP to give us notice that the permit is final. It's been issued and there are technicians and equipment and engineers that are on our property at this moment that are set to drill the well,” said Dr. Scott Hope, administrator for Manatee County.

Wednesday, the DEP is hosting a public meeting to discuss the future of Piney Point, a former phosphate plant that came close to spilling millions of gallons of wastewater into the nearby community.

"Hopefully the state and the county will really reconsider it,” Justin Bloom said of the permit. Bloom works with environmental group Suncoast Waterkeeper and is also a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the county over Piney Point.

County officials, however, say they have no other choice but to drill.

"The deep injection well is our only viable option in order to get ahead of the next rainy season,” said Dr. Hope.

If approved, county officials say the well would drill beneath the earth's aquifers. Then, machines would pump the chemicals from Piney Point underground.

"We object to that, and we believe that it would be illegal to do that,” said Bloom. “We don't want to contaminate our drinking water supply, and that's the big fear. We don't really know, and the state is not really sharing the information with us as to, like, what the actual components and what the levels of pollutants are in that wastewater.”

Engineering experts say deep well injections for the most part are safe, and in this case there really aren't any other options. However, there is one big worry.

"The only concern for me is radioactivity,” said Gang Chen, engineering professor at Florida State University. "I recommend the authority can do the quantification of the radioactivity...before you can implement on the plan."

County officials say they have tested the water and found nothing radioactive.

“We are doing our part in order to ensure the final closure the final chapter of Piney Point, which means those stacks...are sealed with a new liner in a clay cap, and topsoil and sod, so that we never have to worry about this again,” said Dr. Hope.

The county administrator says there are almost 260 million gallons of wastewater at Piney Point and that every inch of rain puts over 3.6 million gallons of additional water in those stacks.