Workshop to discuss plans for polluted Piney Point water

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MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. -- The question of what to do with wastewater left in gypsum stacks at the Piney Point phosphate mine is once again in the spotlight. Tomorrow Manatee County commissioners will host a workshop on the matter, and what happens in that meeting could determine how the millions of gallons of polluted water will be disposed of.

Manatee officials have requested permits to build two injection wells to be used to pump leftover wastewater from the phosphate plant into the ground. It’s an idea that has sparked plenty of controversy.

"We've had a good amount of comments and concerns from the community, from both [the] environmentalist standpoint and farmer’s," says Manatee County Commissioner Michael Gallen.

The first injection well will pump Class 5 processed recharged water currently being held in gypsum stacks at the abandoned Piney Point phosphate mine into the underground aquifer. The second well would run even deeper into the ground and is causing most of the concern, as it will contain Class 1 water, which is know to be more acidic and to contain small amount of other minerals.

We interviewed potato farmer Allen Jones on this subject in 2013, and he told us that if those minerals got into the ground water they could impact his growing operation.

"Truth be known that there are heavy metals in this water,” Jones told us last year. “There’s radon, radioactive tendencies in this water, it’s very acidic; there’s chlorides, there’s sulfates, there's a whole list of things that are in this water and that’s our concern -- that if something goes wrong you have an irreparable problem."

County staff was not available for an on-camera interview, but officials did tell us the water that will be pumped in the ground is considered to be non-hazardous and that any chemicals contained in it will be within the state guidelines.

Still, Commissioner Gallen said Tuesday’s workshop will help the group address the community’s fears and allow the commission to be certain they want to move forward.

"We're told there is a small percentage that anything could go wrong, but if something goes wrong you can’t take it back,” Gallen says. “If we spoil the ground water, if we spoil the perception of our [agriculture] industry, it’s too late … I think we need to talk as a board and see if we want to continue down this road or to stop it."

Several groups have said they plan to file lawsuits to stop the permits, and tomorrow's workshop will also help determine what actions Manatee will take to combat any challenges to the injection well permits.