PALMETTO, Fla. - An old phosphate plant, abandoned, bankrupt and left to decay: Piney Point is a constant reminder of an environmental and safety risk that worsens with time.
"We want to make sure Piney Point is closed finally forever and that this threat goes away and it will never reoccur," said Justin Bloom, the founder of Suncoast Waterkeeper.
Suncoast Waterkeeper has joined with the Center for Biological Diversity, Manasota-88, and Our Children's Earth Foundation. The four conservation groups filed a notice of intent to sue in federal court over Piney Point.
In the filings, they said Piney Point was the result of bad decision-making by Florida regulators. And the dumping of water into Tampa Bay violated the Clean Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, and Endangered Species Act.
The defendants include Piney Point’s owner, HRK Holdings, along with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Manatee County Port Authority.
"We've heard a lot, particularly from the DEP, on how they plan to hold HRK, the owner of the site, accountable, but I think they need to look in the mirror," said Bloom.
The paperwork points out several examples where the DEP had the chance to close down Piney Point, but didn't.
In 2001 THE FDEP determined closure of the site was required and a plan was initiated, until HRK Holdings purchased the property out of bankruptcy in 2006.
"There have been so many clear warnings about the likely calamity and disaster at Piney Point, over many, many years. There are a number of junctures where we can point out the DEP failed to act. When they had the opportunity to close the site, they should have," said Bloom.
Their notice said Manatee County Port Authority added to the problem when they dumped dredging materials into the holding ponds. They say the Army Corps of Engineers advised not to.
"They allowed the dredge spoil to be applied of the stacks that were known to have issues with stability, the liners were known to fail in other similar situations," said Bloom.
Last month, as a breech occurred, 215 million gallons of nutrient-rich water was dumped into Tampa Bay.
There's been concerns over the bay's habitat and marine life.
"We wanted to make sure any damages that occurred over that get addressed," said Jaclyn Lopez with Center for Biological Diversity.
Piney Point still looms over the area. 200 million gallons of water remain in the NGS-South compartment.
The DEP continues to work to stabilize the temporary repair and minimize the potential for any additional seepage.
Piney Point gypsum stack holding ponds
While they cannot comment on pending legal litigation, the DEP told FOX 13:
"The department is committed to holding HRK Holdings Inc. and all involved parties accountable for this event, as well as ensuring the closure of this site once and for all so that this is the final chapter of Piney Point. DEP remains engaged in first response activities at the site for the protection of public health and safety. To be clear, this site is privately owned by HRK Holdings Inc., who is responsible for the site’s short and long-term care in accordance with all state regulations. "
The plaintiffs said the lawsuit isn't about money, it's about making sure no further damage comes from Piney Point ever again.
"We want to make sure Piney Point gets remediated appropriately in a way that is just and equitable that puts forward the interest of the community and environment before any interest of the industry and any profits," added Lopez.
They also express concern Piney Point’s retaining walls could still collapse.