Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Piney Point Issues Persist

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Piney Point Issues Persist

Article excerpt

BRADENTON

MANATEE: Commissioners seek more answers before OKing wastewater strategy

Manatee County commissioners agreed Tuesday they need answers to a lot of questions before they approve a plan to pump phosphogypsum wastewater from Piney Point underground.

The biggest questions: Exactly what is in the water? What are the alternative disposal methods and their costs? And why should Manatee bear the cost and liability?

At issue is what to do with as much as 1.2 billion gallons of contaminated water left in gypsum ponds on an abandoned phosphate processing site near Port Manatee.

Manatee County Utilities has applied for a Class I well permit, which, if approved by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will mark the first time phosphogypsum water has been injected underground.

"Why are we the guinea pigs?" asked Alan Jones of Jones Potato Farm, one of roughly 20 who spoke against the plan during a commissisioners' workshop. "This is a state issue. Why is it Manatee County's and our cross to bear?"

Jones joined other farmers and the Farm Bureau to warn commissioners that the injected water could poison irrigation supplies.

County staff and an official from the DEP tried to assure the commissioners that injection is safest.

A Class I well pumps waste into geological formations hundreds of feet below the level of drinking water supplies. Impermeable layers of rock are supposed to keep the tainted water from migrating upward.

Florida has 242 such wells, said Chris Klena, deputy director of the DEP's division of water resource management. "We know how to permit them. We make sure they're operated and constructed properly."

"The risk of not doing anything is greater than the risk perceived with the deep well," she said.

Klena alluded to existing circumstances at the site, where a breach in a berm or a rupture in a liner could release toxic water into the nearby harbor or other surface waters. "These ponds are like tubs, and the tubs are old and leaky," she said.

Mike Gore, head of Manatee Utilities, said the water quality in the ponds has improved over the years because of rainwater, evaporation and the addition of saltwater from the dredging of Port Manatee. …

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