A retired hydrologist is sounding the alarm on the handling of the sinkhole that swallowed more than 215 million gallons of toxic water under a phosphogypsum plant last fall.
The expert claims that the state and Mosaic, the company that owns the plant, should have known it was coming.
“They should have shut that place down,” said Don Rice, who used to work for the US Geological Survey in New Jersey.
Rice analyzed the water level data at various monitoring wells around the Mosaic’s New Wales facility.
He found that a full year before the sinkhole, the levels spiked about 40 feet in the north gypstack, not the south one where the sinkhole formed.
Gypstacks are the necessary evil in the fertilizer making process. It’s the contaminated by-product that gets stacked up near phosphate mines.
“We are talking 40 feet, in terms of ground water. It’s just huge,” Rice said. “It doesn’t happen naturally. It takes a mega event.”
Rice joined an army of protestors in Manatee County on Friday where Mosaic is hoping to build a new mine.
They are suggesting that the toxic sinkhole started forming way back in late 2015, and no one did anything to stop it.
But today the Florida DEP and Mosaic are pushing back hard.
“It’s completely baseless and without merit,” said David Jellerson, a senior Mosaic official.
He told reporters that the water levels did in fact rise during that time — as expected — while they did a maintenance project on the north gypstack.
A DEP spokesperson also refuted Rice’s claims, insisting that the water levels had nothing to do with the disaster a year later.
“I don’t think they did their diligence in analyzing the data. I think they chose some data they thought could carry a message and ran with it whether or not the message was correct,” Jellerson said.
The Coalition to Stop Phosphate Mining said it expected that response form both parties.
The group drafted a letter to Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, urging a new investigation into what happened.
“This is not the last sinkhole we will ever see,” said Adam Mele, Chair of the Coalition to Stop Phosphate Mining.
Their goal, he said, is to prevent this crisis from ever happening again.