MANATEE -- Outside the circle of Port Manatee businesses, the name HRK Holdings LLC was largely unknown.
Then a leak in a Piney Point containment pond prompted a month of chemical testing and the discharge of some 169 million gallons of water, and the obscure company suddenly found itself in the news.
HRK derives its opaque name from the initials of the three investors behind the $4.3 million purchase of the 670-acre former phosphate plant in 2006.
The names behind the letters are William F. Harley III, Scott Rosenzweig and Gary Kania. They and the company’s chief executive officer are linked through hedge funds, investment advisories and telecommunications.
Their connection to Piney Point was Arthur Roth, a phosphates and fertilizer consultant, who informed them of the investment opportunity.
Since the purchase, Roth and HRK site manager Jeff Barath have been the local faces of the business. HRK’s chief executive officer, Jordan Levy, has been the chief spokesman during the cleanup.
Roth, whom Levy called a consultant to the Piney Point project, did not return phone calls, and Barath referred inquiries to Levy, who would respond to the Herald only via email.
Government and business leaders interviewed for this report said they have not met or spoken with Kania, who is listed in Florida corporation records as the managing member of HRK. He lists a business address in Oyster Bay on New York’s Long Island.
Officials say that despite the remote ownership, the company has been upstanding.
“They’re very responsible people,” said Joe McClash, a county commissioner and former head of the port authority. “If they weren’t stand-up people, we wouldn’t have seen the issues addressed so quickly.”
State officials said HRK has been doing all the cleanup required, both on its property and off the site.
“They’re performing the work and being responsible,” said John Coates, deputy director of the Department of Environmental Protection’s Water Resource Management division.
Under the state’s agreements with HRK, Coates said, the company is responsible for all cleanup costs. Levy declined to discuss the costs.
HRK has posted a $1.65 million letter of credit with Regions Bank, which the DEP can tap for costs related to problems at the site. Levy said the letter of credit isn’t applicable in this situation. State officials disagree, but said it’s irrelevant because HRK has been diligent.
Until the leaks, HRK had been quietly working to transform the sprawling site.
“HRK is redeveloping the site into an industrial park focused on businesses that complement the offerings of Port Manatee and local industry,” Levy said in an email.
HRK has had some success. The site currently houses International Salt, a salt distributor, and is building another facility for handling fertilizer shipments, Levy said.
Levy said he has a “five-year, full-time commitment” to oversee HRK, but appears to have come to the company via the world of high finance.
Corporate websites list Levy as an officer of Arsenal Group, a New York-based investment manager, and ROC Networks, a telecommunications firm.
Kania’s name surfaces on the same web sites. He is listed as president and chief executive of ROC Networks, and a partner in Arsenal. Levy declined to answer whether he and Kania are still involved in those ventures.
Florida records list Harley and Rosenzweig as the other initial members of HRK.
Harley is a Wall Street veteran who founded Fursa Alternative Strategies, a Long Island investment management firm, and serves on the board of directors of Frederick’s of Hollywood, the lingerie retailer.
Little information is available on Rosenzweig, who is no longer involved with HRK, Levy said. Harley remains an investor, he said.
Records searches and state officials confirm that Kania and his fellow investors have no other Florida ventures.
Barath, the site manager, worked on the Piney Point site as a consultant for a contractor hired by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
In published reports, Barath said the firm had recycled 20 millions of pounds of metal from the site. He also has touted the site’s proximity to Port Manatee and major interstate highways.
In 2007, HRK agreed to be paid up to $3.7 million to use the site’s containment ponds to capture and filter materials and sea water from a dredging operation at Port Manatee.
Piney Point began accepting the dredge material in late April, and on May 11, HRK managers noted water draining from the site at a faster-than-expected rate, indicating a leak. On May 29, state officials ordered the release of water from the containment system to prevent a catastrophic release of sea water.
Late last week, HRK contractors were testing the walls and liners of the containment system.