As finger pointing and blame continue to cloud cleanup and accountability efforts at the ticking time bomb that is Manatee County’s Piney Point phosphogypsum plant, two Florida legislators have filed bills aiming to prevent another similar tragedy.
Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democrat Rep. Ben Diamond, both of St. Petersburg, announced legislation Monday to increase public transparency and agency accountability when it comes to the state’s numerous gyp stacks, filled with radioactive byproducts of phosphate mining.
“To prevent environmental catastrophes like what happened at Piney Point and the red tide bloom in Tampa Bay that followed, we have to be honest with Floridians and the local governments that serve them about the imminent hazards posed by phosphogypsum stacks,” Diamond said. “It is vital that our constituents have as much time as possible to prepare for the potential consequences of these environmental and health hazards. Our legislation will ensure local governments and the citizens of our state can easily access information about these risks before they wash up on our shores.”
The House bill (HB 1339) and its Senate companion (SB 1744) would require the Florida Department of Environmental Protection to notify the State’s emergency management division as well as local entities within 24 hours of discovering possible hazards at gyp stacks.
Last year, more than 200 gallons of contaminated water spilled into Port Manatee and flowed into Tampa Bay following failure at a Piney Point gyp stack. The failure came after HRK, the company overseeing the site, spent months pleading with county and state officials to help avert an inevitable disaster.
Despite documented pleas for help, state officials were quick to blame HRK and sought to hold the company accountable.
Environmentalists linked the spill to last year’s intense and persistent red tide bloom, one of the worst in state history.
“The public, and our elected officials at all levels of government, have a right to know when their community is in imminent danger,” said Aliki Moncrief, executive director of Florida Conservation Voters. “Thank you to Rep. Ben Diamond for putting safety first for Florida’s families and neighborhoods. Transparency, accountability, and communication are necessary to properly protect human health, especially in the face of ongoing large-scale environmental disasters like Piney Point.”
The bills also look to increase transparency by directing DEP to set up a public-facing database listing all the state’s gyp stacks by county and showing summaries of inspections, imminent hazards, abatement actions and material violations.
“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Brandes said. “Florida has a history of valuing transparency in government. This is an issue best resolved with transparency and public accountability.”
Since the Piney Point disaster, county commissioners and state agencies have approved controversial plans to pump the remaining water in the site into a 3,500-foot deep injection well.