Florida environment officials are suing the owner of the Piney Point fertilizer plant over a leak that led to the emergency release of 215 million gallons of contaminated water directly into Tampa Bay earlier this year.
Florida Department of Environmental Protection interim Secretary Shawn Hamilton said in a statement Thursday that the lawsuit filed in Manatee County Circuit Court against HRK Holdings is a pivotal step to ensure the final chapter for the Piney Point site.
“This action enforces compliance with the state’s environmental laws and all of HRK’s existing authorizations, orders and agreements with the department,” Hamilton said. “The department is seeking the maximum allowable penalties and recovery of costs and damages under existing laws and regulations.”
The state is requesting a court-appointed receiver to help oversee the permanent closure of the former phosphate processing plant, the Tampa Bay Times reported.
Officials are also seeking financial penalties for violating a consent order that called for water to be removed from the site by 2019, violating surface and groundwater standards and failing to meet financial assurance requirements. The state is also seeking to recoup money that it spent on the site.
A plant that processed phosphate to make an ingredient in fertilizer operated decades ago at the 466-acre Piney Point site. Ponds of contaminated water remain at the site, and one of them began to leak in March. Fearing a reservoir could collapse and spill into surrounding neighborhoods, state officials allowed HRK Holdings to pump the contaminated water into Tampa Bay to relieve pressure.
The plant suffered 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. 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.
Scientist have said high levels of nitrogen in that wastewater could be contributing to the red tide bloom that has killed countless numbers of fish and sickened people.
A telephone listing for HRK Holdings was out of service.
Republished with permission from The Associated Press.