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Rainwater set to be released from Piney Point this weekend, state says

It is not polluted like last year’s release, Florida environmental officials say. The move is part of an effort to close the site for good.
Water filled a reservoir at the old Piney Point fertilizer plant site in Manatee County earlier this year. A leak triggered a crisis in 2021, and crews dumped 215 million gallons of wastewater from Piney Point into Tampa Bay.
Water filled a reservoir at the old Piney Point fertilizer plant site in Manatee County earlier this year. A leak triggered a crisis in 2021, and crews dumped 215 million gallons of wastewater from Piney Point into Tampa Bay. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Aug. 13

Workers at Piney Point are set to release rainwater stored on the old fertilizer plant site into Tampa Bay this weekend.

Florida environmental officials say the discharge will not involve the type of polluted water that was pumped off the property and into the bay in April 2021, causing an environmental crisis. The release is an initial step in the process of closing the troubled property for good, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Related: Inside the effort to close Piney Point and keep Tampa Bay safe

Piney Point holds several ponds of water, some of which is contaminated with nitrogen and phosphorus left from the process of making fertilizer. Last year, about 215 million gallons of tainted water were released into Tampa Bay amid fears that a leak in a reservoir could trigger a massive flood, endangering homes and businesses around Piney Point.

The release injected a huge load of nitrogen into the bay, which scientists say likely caused algae to bloom and may have helped fuel a toxic Red Tide last summer.

Related: What we know about Piney Point’s impact on Tampa Bay

Since then, state leaders have vowed to spend tens of millions of dollars to treat and eventually drain all of the water from Piney Point. The site has not produced fertilizer for decades but remains an environmental sore, which has leaked or spilled on several occasions.

A Tampa lawyer, appointed by a judge, is now running day-to-day operations at Piney Point instead of the property’s owner, HRK Holdings.

Related: Failure at Piney Point: Florida let environmental risk fester despite warnings

A contractor, working under the lawyer’s direction, is set to start closing down one part of the site soon. But workers must first remove the rainwater, according to the state. Environmental officials say the water will be drained over roughly six days.

Scientists will take samples from around Tampa Bay to monitor possible impacts from the rainwater release, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. Officials have said they do not expect problems: The rainwater is not loaded with nitrogen and has been kept in a separate area from the fertilizer remnants that caused trouble last year, according to the state agency.

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