Florida sues Point Piney over the environmental disaster, the state hopes to make major changes The state agency that announced the lawsuit on Thursday night accused the former phosphate processing plant of environmental negligence. The State Environmental Protection Agency filed a lawsuit against HRK maintaining the exclusive operation of the property on the grounds that the owner failed to develop a plan to remove hazardous materials from the site within the February 2019 deadline.
According to a press release:
The lawsuit also seeks to impose hefty fines on HRK for violating earlier agreements and national pollution regulations. FDEP sought a daily fine of $50,000 for missing the 2019 deadline and was fined $15,000 for breaching surface and groundwater standards and financial guarantees made by HRK and the state government.
Court records show that HRK, which is in bankruptcy proceedings, has been struggling financially for many years. It is not clear how the company will pay the fine or reimburse the costs associated with the site cleanup. According to the FDEP, the state has spent nearly $46 million on emergency site cleanups. Looking ahead, the National Environmental Agency requires the judge to appoint an independent third party to control the site. The manager will oversee daily operations with the goal of preventing future leaks, removing contaminated water, and closing the site permanently
In March of this year:
A site operator at Piney Point along U.S. Highway 41 south of the Manatee County-Hillsboro border detected a leak at the bottom of a pond containing 480 million gallons of water. The leak escalated rapidly, prompting Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency.
The plant absorbs phosphate ore and extracts phosphorus through several machines, which is a key component of fertilizer. This process leaves the plaster material, which is slightly radioactive and cannot be used legally for any purpose.
The plaster pile is covered with a thick plastic lining to prevent the plaster from contaminating the surrounding area. At the top of these chimneys are huge ponds that hold the process water left over from the phosphorus extraction operation. Process water is contaminated with nutrients and chemicals and must be cleaned before being discharged into local waterways. According to the contract related to the land sale, HRK is responsible for the long-term maintenance of the site, including the safe shutdown of the plaster pile system. State officials have pledged to hold HRK responsible for environmental disasters.
As the lawsuit moved to the court system, FDEP stated that HRK still has an obligation to develop a water management plan to ensure that the site no longer discharges any contaminated water. According to public records, the company is working with a third-party advisory team to determine the best way to shut down the plaster pile.