The Senate has agreed to remove $3 million in Piney Point cleanup funding from its latest round of budget talks. But that’s a formality to enable the state to use federal relief funds for it.
Earlier this month, the Senate approved a last-minute, $3 million spending request from Bradenton Sen. Jim Boyd to combat the developing crisis. Senate President Wilton Simpson endorsed that plan.
From the get-go, the plan was to use the American Rescue Plan, the recently approved federal relief package. However, budget conferees at saving funding using those federal relief for the “bump” stage of the negotiating process, beginning Tuesday.
The American Rescue Plan has complicated the budget process. Budget negotiators have shifted funds to accommodate for the anticipated $10 million coming from the federal relief, but none of those funds have been slotted in yet.
Furthermore, lawmakers are only using those funds for nonrecurring projects, given the one-off nature of the relief.
The move Sunday to strip the $3 million from the budget was a technicality, and lawmakers expect funding to return.
“I wanted to make sure that everybody clearly understood that $3 million was not backing away from the goal of solving that problem,” said Sen. Ben Albritton, the Senate’s lead environmental budget negotiator.
Simpson earlier this month said the Legislature is expected to provide $100 million, with the hope that the Department of Environmental Protection will be able to complete a closure plan for the site by the end of the year.
Simpson previously estimated the cleanup could reach $200 million and suggested using money from the state’s share of the American Rescue Plan. He has also suggested the state should devise a plan to address other long-neglected ecological hazards, estimating there could be at least 25 across the state.
A little more than 200 million gallons of wastewater was initially discharged toward Tampa Bay from the site, with the wastewater reported to be a mix of seawater from a dredging project and water containing the remnants of the fertilizer business.
While the evacuation of residents has ended, concerns remain that the discharged wastewater could result in algal blooms and fish kills in area waters.