DeSantis seeks to have Piney Point lawsuit dismissed

South side of the Piney Point gypstack.
South side of the Piney Point gypstack.(Courtesy of the Center for Biological Diversity.)
Published: Dec. 6, 2021 at 1:01 PM EST
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - Gov. Ron DeSantis has filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit seeking damages from the state over the Piney Point wastewater spill in April.

The motion filed Friday says the suit is moot because the state is already taking steps to close the former phosphate processing plant. “All of Plaintiffs’ claims should be dismissed as moot because the relief Plaintiffs seek — and more — is encompassed by the relief the court-appointed receiver is already charged with providing,” the motion says.

On April 2, contaminated water started leaking from a phosphogypsum stack at the former fertilizer processing plant in Palmetto. Fearing a catastrophic failure of the stack, nearby residents were ordered to evacuate. More than 200 million gallons of the reservoir’s polluted water were pumped into Tampa Bay in order to prevent an even bigger catastrophe.

The lawsuit was filed by the Center For Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Manasota-88, And Our Children’s Earth Foundation. The suit alleges Piney Point is an ongoing threat to public health and the environment due to:

  • The discharge of 215 million gallons of toxic wastewater into Tampa Bay, which is now experiencing harmful algae blooms and fish kills;
  • The threat of catastrophic failure of its impoundments and/or stack system;
  • The site’s failing liners;
  • Violations of groundwater-quality standards and evidence that dangerous levels of pollution have migrated into the aquifer; and
  • The choice of an unproven and high-risk wastewater disposal method called deep-well injection to store hazardous waste at Piney Point.

“The Piney Point gypstack is a mountain of toxic waste, topped by an impoundment of hundreds of millions of gallons of process wastewater, stormwater and tons of dredged spoil from Port Manatee,” the lawsuit contends.

The suit names DeSantis; Shawn Hamilton, the acting secretary of Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection; the Manatee County Port Authority; and Piney Point’s owner, HRK Holdings, as defendants.

Justin Bloom, founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper, told ABC7 on Monday, “We are confident the case will move forward after we respond to the motions and the court rules.”

The state took over control of the Piney Point site after initiating enforcement action against the facility’s owner, HRK Holdings. Tampa bankruptcy lawyer Hebert R. Donica was put in charge of the facility by the 12th Circuit Court in August.

Donica told ABC7 Monday that cleanup efforts are continuing. “Things are going according to plan,” he said, although he did admit that progress is going a little slower than expected.

He says they can’t do much until the water is fully out of the stack system. According to the Dec. 3 update from the DEP, approximately 254 million gallons are still in the NGS-South compartment, the stack that leaked.

Donica said the water is being chemically treated to reduce toxicity. “It’s making the water a lot safer,” he said.

He added he should get word next week from Manatee County about a permit to use a deep injection well to dispose of the treated water permanently. The wastewater would be sent thousands of feet underground.

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