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Local business owners concerned about Piney Point's impact to marine life

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Posted at 6:26 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-06 13:40:59-04

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Brian Wilson and his family moved to the Tampa Bay area for the beach.

"We have the best beaches in the world!" he smiled. "We've got some of the best fishing."

He loves it so much that he left his corporate America job to open his own business, Palmetto Bait and Tackle. It's just a few miles from the Tampa Bay.

Unfortunately, it hasn't been as great as he hoped.

"We opened this business during the biggest pandemic we've seen in this country," Wilson said.

Like other Tampa Bay area counties, Manatee County is still trying to bounce back from the 2018 Red Tide crisis, and the $4.4 million in tourism revenue it cost.

Red Tide and COVID-19 are still impacting businesses, especially those like Wilson's.

"The FWC still hasn't opened snook, trout and redfish," he said. "They're just talking about voting to open it next month. Who knows what's going to happen now with this," Wilson said.

The "this" Wilson is talking about is the retention pond that's leaking contaminated water at the old Piney Point phosphate mine. Crews spent the last several days pumping millions of gallons of water into the Tampa Bay to prevent the pond from collapsing and the water from flooding the Bay.

"We're worried," said Wilson. "We don't know what's in this."

State and county officials claim the contaminated water meets water quality standards for marine water. The concern is the phosphorous and nitrogen nutrients.

Shannon Gowans, a Marine Biology professor at Eckerd College, said nutrients are the main problem.

"If all of that nutrient-rich water goes into Tampa Bay, we will have an environmental problem," she said.

The water in the pond will use up the oxygen. According to Gowans, that will lead to the kind of fish kill like we had during Red Tide. But, she said, this situation won't be like Red Tide at first.

"It's not going to be that burning and awful tearing sensation, but the dead fish are going to be bad no matter why the fish die."

For business owners like Wilson, that means they may be in store for another rough summer.

"That's scary for all of us," he said.

According to Gowans, the safest way to handle this situation is to find a way to fix the leak in the retention pond, so the water isn't pumped into the Bay. Officials said it's too late for that.