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Hits and misses this week across Tampa Bay and Florida | Editorial
Environmental mess, Tallahassee hypocrisy and more good news on the vaccine front
A view of a phosphogypsum stack, far, background, and water management at HRK Holdings’ property off Buckeye Road on March 30 in Palmetto, Manatee County, where wastewater is suspected to be leaking at the old Piney Point phosphate plant in Palmetto, records show. Florida environmental officials are allowing HRK Holdings to discharge some of the water at Port Manatee on Tampa Bay to prevent “a potential catastrophic failure.” The emergency order from the Department of Environmental Protection comes after HRK Holdings reported that it had found a leak at the site, a state spokeswoman said.
A view of a phosphogypsum stack, far, background, and water management at HRK Holdings’ property off Buckeye Road on March 30 in Palmetto, Manatee County, where wastewater is suspected to be leaking at the old Piney Point phosphate plant in Palmetto, records show. Florida environmental officials are allowing HRK Holdings to discharge some of the water at Port Manatee on Tampa Bay to prevent “a potential catastrophic failure.” The emergency order from the Department of Environmental Protection comes after HRK Holdings reported that it had found a leak at the site, a state spokeswoman said. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Apr. 3
Updated Apr. 3

Not in our bay again. State and company officials scrambled this week to ensure a crisis at an old Manatee County phosphate plant didn’t get any worse. Officials believe a leak formed in the liner of a roughly 480-million gallon pond at the Palmetto facility off U.S. 41, and the state is allowing the operator, HRK Holdings, to discharge some of the wastewater into Tampa Bay in hopes of avoiding an environmental disaster. The pond is filled with a mixture of seawater, rainwater and a polluted byproduct of the fertilizer industry that can carry phosphorus and nitrogen. Fearing a larger collapse, state environmental regulators are allowing HRK to discharge wastewater from the pond to nearby Port Manatee. About 25 million gallons had been released as of Thursday morning, according to the Department of Environmental Protection. The company needs to clean up this mess. The state also needs to publicly explain how this episode happened – and what it’s doing to ensure that it never happens again.

A shot of good news. The real-world advantages of the coronavirus vaccines keep making the news. Fully vaccinated people can now safely travel within the United States without getting tested for the coronavirus or quarantining, according to guidance issued Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Also, this week, Pfizer announced that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12. If federal regulators agree, it’s possible that this age group could start getting shots before the new school year in the fall. What a sea change that would be for worried parents. And as of Monday, all Floridians 18 and older are eligible for vaccinations. Teens as young as 16 can also sign up for the Pfizer vaccine (the other vaccines are approved so far only for those 18 and up). All of this is good news that could help beat back a fourth surge. Let’s keep getting shots into those arms.

Running government like a business? If Tallahassee were a country, its chief export would be political pork. That was evident again this week in a Senate dustup over where to build a new courthouse for Florida’s 2nd District Court of Appeal. The Senate has proposed spending $50 million this year on a new courthouse in Lakeland. That’s home to Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who oversees the Senate budget, whose husband, John, is a judge -- on the 2nd District Court of Appeal. Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg, a fellow Republican, was right to point out that the courthouse belongs in Tampa Bay. After all, he argued, that’s where most of the court’s judges, employees, lawyers and legal cases are based. But the Senate’s move has nothing to do with merit or the convenience of those who use the court. It’s an old story -- politics as usual. And it’s what turns voters off.

What America’s all about. Many undocumented children brought to the United States have no connection with the country of their birth; America is only country they’ve known. That’s why an organization at the University of South Florida is filling a commendable, critical role. Called UndocUnited, the group provides a network for undocumented students to navigate the uncertainty of life in America. Many of these students have been granted legal status through the federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The so-called Dreamers are eligible for work and educational opportunities, but many are unsure of where to turn for personal and professional guidance. UndocUnited fills that gap by giving these students the resources and support they need. It’s another example of the contribution students are making in advance of a noble cause.

It’s called Google. The first chief diversity and inclusion officer for the U.S. Special Operations Command, based at MacDill Air Force Base, is reportedly under investigation for social media posts. Richard Torres-Estrada started on the job on March 1, but has been temporarily assigned to other duties pending the results of the investigation, according to Ken McGraw, a spokesman for the command. Torres-Estrada was hired to direct all diversity and inclusion initiatives at the command and serve as an advocate and adviser for its senior leadership. That sounds like an important, sensitive post, especially at a signature command like MacDill -- and that the military would fully vet the applicants. But McGraw told Stars and Stripes that it “does not look into social media posts for hiring of civilians in these positions.” It’s established procedure, he said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times. Maybe the embarrassment from this episode will prompt the military to update is hiring practices.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.