TALLAHASSEE — Florida environmental regulators granted a permit Thursday to a controversial project that involves the injection of wastewater from an old phosphate plant into groundwater.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has announced that it has issued the permit to Manatee County to construct an injection well at Piney Point. This was a long-awaited move. After massive amounts of polluted waters were released to prevent a catastrophe, the site attracted widespread attention and $100 million from state officials.
The injection well project is one of the critical elements of the water disposal process that will allow the Piney Point facility to be permanently closed.
However, the project has been criticized by environmental groups as well as officials like Nikki Fried (state Agriculture Commissioner) who is running for governor in 2022. Fried released a statement Thursday stating that injecting wastewater underground could pose a threat to drinking water.
Fried stated in the statement that the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s decision to allow deep-well injection of Piney Points hazardous material is reckless and a complete disregard for their responsibility to protect our environment. This has never happened in Florida.
Piney Point has hazardous phosphogypsum stackeds. These are a byproducts of phosphate manufacturing that took place from 1966 to 1999. It also contains large quantities of contaminated water.
In April, 215 million gallons worth of wastewater were dumped from the site into Tampa Bay. This was due to fears of a catastrophic reservoir breach. Environmental groups filed a federal suit in June alleging that the discharges caused fish kills and harmful algal blooms. A breach was also feared by nearby residents, so they had to evacuate the area temporarily.
In April, state lawmakers allocated $100 million to the site. In November, the Department of Environmental Protection issued an intention to approve the Manatee County permit.
The department announced Thursday that it had granted the permit. It stated that it had completed a thorough review and determined that the project complies with all applicable regulations to protect groundwater resources. The review included 12 requests to obtain additional information and 7,356 public comments.
In September, conservation groups filed notices indicating that they were planning to sue Manatee County. Lawyers for the Center for Biological Diversity and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, Suncoast Waterkeeper and Our Childrens Earth Foundation claimed in the notice, that using an injection well for wastewater disposal from the site would break a federal law known the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
The permit challenge would be distinct from the June lawsuit, which claims that the state and other defendants have long mishandled Piney Point. Gov. The Ron DeSantis administration asked a judge to dismiss the lawsuit.
Attorneys for the Department of Environmental Protection filed a motion to dismiss the case. They stated that Piney Point’s facility will be closed as quickly and safely as possible. The state of Florida is making significant progress towards this goal by mobilizing all three branches.