Residents push for water testing; county eyes algae bloom after Piney Point wastewater dump

Manatee County commissioners have extended the state of emergency that was issued weeks ago when a leak sprung at the old Piney Point phosphate plant wastewater stacks.

In late March and earlier this month, the leak at the facility in Palmetto put a wastewater reservoir in danger of collapsing. Officials pumped 270 million gallons of wastewater into Tampa Bay to prevent a critical collapse. More than 300 homes were evacuated as a precaution.

County environmental officials told commissioners during their meeting the discharge stopped a little more than two weeks ago.

"It changes every day, but it changes, I think, for the better," said Charlie Hunsicker, the county's Parks and Natural Resources director. "[The Florida Department of Environmental Protection] is assuring us that they're taking every possible step to preclude any discharge of untreated process water."

Gov. DeSantis calls for full cleanup of Piney Point following reservoir leak

The state expects to put more than $115 million toward closing the site of the former Piney Point phosphate plant where a reservoir leak set off a wastewater crisis in Manatee County.

Hunsicker and County Administrator Scott Hopes said they are now keeping an eye on an algae bloom.

"There has been an algae bloom. Fortunately, as these fronts are coming through, it tends to break it up," Hopes said, referring to cold and warm weather fronts passing over Tampa Bay in the last week. "We've been fortunate, to date, that it hasn't been a substantial algae bloom and, given the fact that over a week ago discharge had ceased, so it's our hope that the environment can handle it."

During the public comment portion of Tuesday's commission meeting, neighbors discussed the impact of the situation on the community and a new concern: well water.

"This disaster has kind of broken that tranquility and caused me to be angry and disillusioned," said Skye Grundy, who lives in one of the homes closest to the facility. "I have three children, very important to me is their safety. You guys aren't going to be here in 20 years and no one has tested my well water or anybody on my street or anybody in my community."

County environmental officials tried reassuring the community the water is safe. Grundy, however, said she won't feel completely safe until her water is tested.

Meanwhile, commissioners passed a motion from Commissioner James Satcher that calls for the county to expedite and potentially pay for water testing.

"This is the water they drink," Satcher said, also pledging to try to block companies from building similar facilities in Manatee County in the future. "I understand that people need to eat and farmers need fertilizer, but not at the cost of our citizens, not at the cost of our bays, not at the cost of our beaches."

Researchers keep close eye on Tampa Bay's dolphins after Piney Point discharges

From a boat outside Port Manatee, Dr. Randall Wells keeps a close eye on the water. He and others are tracking dolphins who live in the area to see how they've been affected by wastewater discharges from the old Piney Point fertilizer plant.