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Manatee County, FDEP hold open house to discuss closure of Piney Point

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Posted at 9:39 PM, Oct 06, 2021

MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. — Manatee County and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) held an open house Wednesday so that residents could learn more about plans to shut down the old Piney Point phosphate mine.

Manatee County is hoping to get a permit from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to treat the water atop the gypsum stack, and then inject it into a deep injection well.

Wednesday’s open house was an opportunity for the public to give their final comments, which the FDEP says they’ll take into consideration before deciding whether to approve or deny the county’s permit.

“There were people that were removed from their homes when the spill occurred, and our water is being polluted, and fish are dying, and manatees are dying because it’s killing the grasses,” said Ruth Lawler, a Manatee County Resident.

Lawler has lived in Manatee County since 1951. She’s seen it all when it comes to the decades-long problem at Piney Point, and like many, she’s frustrated that we’re here.

“The can has continued to be kicked down the road, and we as taxpayers are ending up paying for this, whether it be state funds through DEP or county funds, but this should be the responsibility of the phosphate companies,” said Lawler.

She’s one of the dozens who showed up for the open house as the FDEP gathered the final comments from their month-long comment period. A period garnering more than 5 thousand emails from concerned citizens.

“Most everybody is fundamentally concerned, want to make sure that we’re protecting the environment, want to make sure that the process is going to provide for protection of our drinking water systems, of course because of the site there, they’re also worried about making sure that we’re protecting Tampa Bay,” said John Coates, a program manager for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

As it stands now, Manatee County is hoping to get a permit from the FDEP to drill a deep injection well around 3,000 feet into the ground, underneath the Gulf of Mexico.

“It goes with multiple casings, as you’ve seen in the diagrams, to protect it, to protect whatever goes through that well so that it does not come in contact with the upper aquifers where our drinking water and irrigation water comes from. So it goes deep down into the lower Florida aquifer,” said Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes.

Manatee County currently has 5 deep injection wells. The oldest well is 20 years old. County Administrator Dr. Hopes says they’ve got the experience with these things, and this is the answer.

“The processed water from Piney Point will be pre-treated, and then injected about 3,000 feet down into that area, and it will spend about 100,000 years migrating underneath the base of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr. Hopes.

He reminds people that the county is still in a state of emergency and that they’re not out of the woods yet.

“We’re hoping, if everything goes as scheduled, we should be able to begin taking the processed water in the summer of next year. Trying to keep up with the rain that we’ve been getting,” said Dr. Hopes.

His goal, and the goal of the FDEP is to close Piney Point safely and effectively.

And Wendy Jordan, who lives on Anna Maria Island, wants to make sure they consider all options.

“Ask the FDEP, and the county, what other methods have you looked at besides the deep well injection,” said Wendy Jordan.

And FDEP says they will take public comment into consideration before they grant any permits.

“Make sure that everything the department should be looking at under the regulations is being fully considered, make sure that we believe this is the right answer,” said Coates.

County Administrator Dr. Hopes says the goal is to close Piney Point within the next 3 years, fill the ponds with dirt and silt, and then turn the gypsum stack into soccer fields and a BMX track.