On Easter morning, Florida’s Governor addressed an ecological disaster in Southwest Florida, and vowed to find a “permanent solution” to the longstanding issues that caused it.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, who previously declared a state of emergency for Manatee, Hillsborough, and Pinellas Counties, addressed media after an aerial tour he took Sunday, discussing ongoing mitigation efforts for the environmental crisis occurring at the Piney Point phosphate plant.
The plant suffered a breach Friday, and wastewater has leaked since. DeSantis noted that the Department of Environmental Protection and the Division of Emergency Management are working together in response with Manatee County Emergency Management.
These “response teams coordinating to ensure proper response and mitigation of risk” are all ‘trying to prevent and respond to if we need be a real catastrophic flood situation,” DeSantis said.
Water is being pumped out of the structure currently, and time is of the essence.
The water quality issues are less concerning than flood worries, DeSantis noted, with the technical goal being to “ensure the integrity of the stack system as quickly as possible in order to minimize impacts to local residents and to prevent an uncontrolled discharge.”
DeSantis also vowed to find a “permanent solution to this longstanding issue,” saying it was “not acceptable and not something we will allow to persist.”
“I also want to be clear: While our foremost concern is ensuring the safety of the community, our administration is dedicated to full enforcement of any damages to our state’s resources and holding the company HRK [Holdings] accountable for this event.”
He said Department of Environmental Protection head Noah Valenstein would work with Manatee County “and utilize all available resources to form a permanent solution to this long standing issue.”
However, despite the call for action, things could be worse.
“To be clear, the water being discharged to Port Manatee is not radioactive,” DeSantis reassured, saying the nutrient-rich fluid was primarily salt water from a dredging process, “legacy” water, and runoff.
He went on to say that officials are “hoping we can just continue to get the water out in an efficient way and prevent a catastrophic event, but we have to prepare as if this is something where you will see further degradation.”
Valenstein likewise stressed the need for a “controlled discharge of water from the site,” with flooding and surplus nutrients from the wastewater being the greatest concern.
“Our teams are working around the clock to mitigate risks and ensure emergency preparedness in the area that could experience flooding, should an uncontrolled breach occur. It is clear that this facility must be closed. I want to assure Floridians that we are dedicated to holding HRK accountable for this issue through enforcement action,” said the DEP Secretary.
“At the division, we are sending every resource at our disposal to the site by truck, crane and helicopter. We have already deployed 20 pumps, 10 vacuum trucks and more than 100,000 bottles of water, with more on the way. I urge residents in the area to follow all warnings and evacuation orders from local officials as we do everything we can to keep you safe,” said FDEM Director Jared Moskowitz.
The best case scenario is that the hundreds of millions of remaining gallons continue to flow relatively slowly out of the failed structure, with pumps easing the pressure on the buckling structure.
The worst case? If a total breach happens, it could spawn a 20 foot wall of water that could affect, among others, the 316 evacuated homes.
306 million gallons remain in the impacted compartment, down from 480 million on March 26, the Governor’s Office noted in an email Sunday afternoon.