MANATEE -- Local environmentalists have asked the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate whether its water quality requirements are being met at Piney Point, where almost 170 million gallons of contaminated water cascaded into Bishop Harbor two years ago.
The request was filed this week by ManaSota-88, a nonprofit group devoted to preserving clean water and wildlife habitat in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"What we'd like to see is that a catastrophic accident is not going to occur at Piney Point," ManaSota-88 Chairman Glenn Compton said Tuesday. "Our concern is that DEP (state officials) is
negligent at Piney Point because the continuing operations that are going on there are not alleviating the potential for a hazardous water spill."
In a letter to the EPA, Compton lists "degradation of the water quality of surface and ground waters, long-term degradation or destruction of natural habitat for wildlife," and other adverse consequences.
The group seeks an EPA site investigation to determine compliance with state and federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act requirements, naming the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, HRK Holdings LLC, and Port Manatee, which was a business partner of HRK in 2011.
HRK Holdings, now operated as the Eastport Terminal Facility, is responsible for operation of closed phosphogypsum stacks at the former Piney Point phosphate facility, the letter notes. HRK has not met several deadlines the state has imposed to produce a management plan to take care of the water, Compton notes.
The company manages operations at the facility under an agreement with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which enforces federal clean water requirements in Florida.
Among the disputed issues of law and material fact regarding the operation of the closed phosphogypsum stacks at the former Piney Point phosphate facility, Compton listed:
Whether state officials are enforcing a federal hazardous waste program and implementing a corrective action program;
Whether there is risk to human health and safety from potential over-topping and possible failure of the 50- to 70-foot above-grade dikes containing millions of gallons of acidic processed wastewater;
Whether HRK has failed to develop cost estimates, provide financial assurance for closure, long-term care and third-party liability for the phosphogypsum stack system;
Whether contaminated water discharge has violated phosphogypsum stack closure regulations; and
Whether the state has provided reasonable assurances of compliance with EPA-approved water standards with regard to the federal Clean Water Act.
Asked for comment, DEP spokesman Dee Ann Miller said Tuesday: "The Department is confident that it has upheld its responsibilities under the existing laws and rules of the state of Florida as well as fulfilled its obligations under the Clean Water Act."
Scott Stichter, an attorney who has represented HRK Holdings, did not return phone calls Tuesday.
HRK bought the old polluted phosphate facility in 2006 as a place to store dredging material, even though abandoned gypsum stacks had never served such a purpose. In 2011, almost 170 gallons of contaminated water cascaded into Bishop Harbor when pipes and liners on HRK's property sprang leaks.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.