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Florida Senate proposes $200 million for Piney Point cleanup and closure

“This has been a catastrophe waiting to happen for too long,” Senate President Wilton Simpson said.
Aerial view overlooking the site of the Piney Point wastewater release on Sunday, April 4, 2021 in Palmetto.
Aerial view overlooking the site of the Piney Point wastewater release on Sunday, April 4, 2021 in Palmetto. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Apr. 5
Updated Apr. 5

TALLAHASSEE — The leader of Florida’s Senate wants to spend $200 million on the “complete cleanup and closure” of the former Piney Point phosphate plant, where officials are scrambling to pump hundreds of millions of gallons of contaminated wastewater from a leaky reservoir.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, announced Monday that he wants to spend federal pandemic relief dollars on the site before the Legislature finalizes its budget this month.

“This has been a catastrophe waiting to happen for too long,” Simpson said in a statement. “We don’t want to be talking about this problem again in 5, 10, or 20 years.”

Senators will have a chance to vote on the funding as soon as Wednesday, Simpson said. The appropriation is sponsored by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, whose district includes Manatee County, where hundreds of homes and the first floor of the county jail have been evacuated.

Last week, officials discovered a leak in one of the site’s reservoirs, which holds a mix of seawater, rainwater and a polluted byproduct of processing phosphate for fertilizer, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. On Monday, an infrared camera discovered a potential second leak in the reservoir.

In the Florida House, Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, announced Monday that a House committee would convene Wednesday to investigate the situation.

“The goal of Wednesday’s Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee hearing is to gather information, shed additional light and take steps to provide solutions that can help us protect our people and our environment and avoid another future disaster,” Sprowls said in a statement.

Simpson said that the Senate will work with the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody to recover “any available funds for Florida taxpayers.”

“The state is not responsible for this breach; however, this is an environmental and public health issue that has to be addressed,” Simpson said.

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