Legislature agrees to budget $100M in federal relief for Piney Point
Piney Point runoff. Image via AP.

Piney Point AP water
The House signed off on a Senate plan to use American Rescue Plan money.

The Florida House has agreed to a plan to budget $100 million from the American Rescue Plan for the Piney Point site.

The Senate on Wednesday proposed using that portion of an anticipated $10 billion in federal spending to cover the cost of cleanup at the former phosphorus plant in Manatee County.

The House on Friday morning announced it would agree to the deal as part of the first back-and-forth regarding American Rescue Plan dollars.

President Joe Biden signed the federal relief bill last month.

The Piney Point site became a priority when a breach in one of three reservoirs in early April forced the evacuation of more than 300 homes at risk of flash floods if the gypsum stack surrounding the reservoir collapsed. Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency earlier this month at the site.

The Department of Environmental Protection ultimately was forced to pump more than 200 million gallons of wastewater out of the water stacks and directly into Tampa Bay by way of Port Manatee. While that was necessary, officials said, so pressure would be relieved and the breach addressed, the nutrient-rich water raises the risk of red tide and harmful algal blooms in local waters. Sarasota County and Charlotte County to the south of the site have since had red tide blooms impact beaches.

After the disaster, DeSantis and DEP officials stressed the need to find a “permanent solution” for Piney Point. The site has hosted three ponds of polluted water for close to 20 years. The state once owned the site but sold it in 2006, and current owner HRK Holdings has tried to sell the land. The state plans to hold HRK financially responsible, but HRK has pushed back on insinuations of neglect.

Regardless, the closure and retrofit of the site will be costly and it’s unclear what can be compelled.

Senate President Wilton Simpson earlier this month proposed spending $200 million from the relief funding for the Piney Point site. The Senate ultimately came back with a plan to fund half that, but Sen. Jim Boyd, a Manatee Republican, said he’s hopeful more funding will be made available if it’s needed.

How the money will be used remains unclear. Boyd has suggested the state could completely drain all the ponds and move the water to a deep well injection that would not risk contamination of the Floridan Aquifer. Ultimately, state officials say the ponds on site need to be capped or graded at level.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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