Piney Point settlement reached between environmental groups, state

Three years after the Piney Point phosphate plant disaster, the state has settled a lawsuit with environmental groups.

The Center for Biological Diversity, Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper, Manasota-88, and Our Children's Earth Foundation settled their lawsuit with the state Department of Environmental Protection over the management of the Piney Point Reservoir Site in Manatee County.

READ: State seeks to scuttle Piney Point lawsuit

In 2021, the troubled plant leaked millions of gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay, and the settlement's been years in the making after millions were spent on clean-up efforts.

Residents feared a breach at the plant, and some were even evacuated as a precaution. That's due to the potentially catastrophic consequences of the hazardous phosphogypsum stacks overflowing.

READ: Trail of dead fish leads to Piney Point, prompting concern

Authorities made the difficult decision to discharge the hazardous waste into Tampa Bay, and the results were less than ideal. The dump caused harmful algae blooms and fish kills and triggered this federal environmental lawsuit. 

"We know that it extended very far north, and we assume that there was some southern movement, but we know that not all of it was captured," Suncoast Waterkeeper Executive Director Abbey Tyrna said.

The five suing groups argued that releasing the waste into the protected waters of Tampa Bay and mismanaging the site overall violated the Clean Water Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

READ: Breach at Piney Point would pose 'significant danger to environmental and public health' 

Under the agreement, the state will pay $75,000 for the Tampa Bay Estuary Program to monitor water quality in the area where Piney Point's discharge enters Tampa Bay.

"It's really a drop in the bucket as far as what really needs to take place there, but it does demonstrate that the taxpayers of the state of Florida will be responsible for the monitoring and the closing of Piney Point," ManaSota-88 Director Glenn Compton said.

The Department of Environmental Protection will also draft a Clean Water Act permit requiring more robust oversight of pollution originating from Piney Point. 

"One thing that we need to realize is that we're not done with Piney Point. It still remains. Something that we have to be concerned about for generations to come. So it's moving in a good direction as far as closing it, but the fact that it's closed doesn't mean that the danger is gone," Compton said.

In the years since the incident, crews have reworked the ponds in the area to actively and slowly drain so that they're not overwhelmed by rain water. Crews have also placed sand and protective liners in the area in hopes that the 2021 incident doesn't repeat itself.

SIGN UP: Click here to sign up for the FOX 13 daily newsletter