DEP to approve permits for deep well injection from Piney Point

The next steps for Piney Point are in motion now that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said it intends to approve Manatee County’s permit for a deep well injection

The injection well is a process of draining the phosphogypsum stacks by drilling into the earth to pump treated water from the stacks deep underground, past the aquifer.

"So we need to get this done as soon as possible because there was always that threat of another leak," said Vanessa Baugh, Manatee County commissioner and chair of District 5.

Wednesday, the Florida DEP issued a notice of intent to permit the well at the phosphate plant. Commissioner Baugh said the county would run the site. 

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"It's not drinking water by any means, but there's nothing in the water that will go down the well that is quote-unquote toxic. So that's good," said "The injection well is not something that I favor necessarily, but at this point in time, it is the best thing for us to do.  I would not feel that way if the water was not being treated first. I think that's important because you never know it's going down past the aquifer, so we have to be very careful."

After two major leaks of wastewater spilled into Tampa Bay this spring, it’s a race against time, said Herbert Donica, the court-appointed receiver for Piney Point.

"The deepwater program will dispose of a million gallons a day, possibly more, but that's the low end. That's the target, and that's what it is designed to do at a minimum that will get us into a safe area very quickly," said Donica.

The court-appointed receiver has full control of the property, to oversee and manage the process of closing Piney Point, owned by HRK Holdings. Donica said work can start on the process if no one objects to the DEP’s permit within 14 days. He called the current plan the county’s best option.

"We've been investigating several different methods of cleaning the water up. Every week I have meetings or I'm considering proposals about how to just clean the water up," said Donica. "It's important that we're going to be transparent about what's available to us out there. There are different technologies that weren't available 10, 20 years ago."

But there’s pushback from environmental advocates like Glenn Compton, who is chair of the public health and environmental nonprofit ManaSota-88.

"At this point, we completely object to the process. We just think that there's much better ways to get rid of the wastewater than what Manatee County is currently proposing," said Compton. "This is the first time that wastewater from phosphogypsum stack has been deep, well injected in the state of Florida, and we shouldn't rush to a decision. There’s better technologies and we should be using those technologies instead of trying to inject it out of sight, out of mind."

Compton said it’s time for policy makers to take a look the impact of phosphate plants statewide and come up with better solutions.

"Piney Point is an example of what can go wrong, will go wrong and has gone wrong. And I think that's what's going to happen with this deep, well injection permit also," said Compton. "My main concern at Piney Point is that it's being rushed. It's being done too quickly. There are other alternatives that should be explored."

Donica and Baugh said they are working against time and need to start emptying the stacks before the rainy season starts and adds more pressure to the stacks.