One more delay in the Wares Creek dredging project? Predictable but frustrating nonetheless, given the decades-long history of the checkered undertaking to alleviate flooding along the clogged creek.
The key question is whether or not this is the final hurdle, this one centering on the disposal site for the dried dredge material.
The surprise here is this wasn’t settled long ago, not just a few weeks before the highly anticipated project start date sometime near the end of this month. Now we’re looking at August. Hopefully.
Too many people have worked too hard on this endeavor to get tripped up so close to realization. All that remains -- apparently -- are the final details on dumping some of the dried sludge from the project’s initial phase into the Lena Road Landfill instead of the contractor’s first choice, Piney Point.
The Army Corps of Engineers and Manatee County are working out the cost, which, if in excess of the federal contract, could present yet another hurdle.
We can’t imagine that nightmare happening -- not after decades of problems with Wares Creek. In 1971, the creek earned the dubious distinction as the county’s dirtiest body of water with stormwater run-off getting the blame. Sediment has continued to build up -- so deep that heavy rains quickly overflow the banks and flood neighborhoods.
Charlie Hunsicker, the county’s director of natural resources, is working on a fee schedule with other county officials, with plans to make a recommendation to county commissioners on June 7 so the commission could vote then and the Corps could sign the contract with the dredging company on June 10. After the mandatory 30-day notice of work, the project could begin in mid-August.
After so many false hopes and starts, officials must seal this deal and get the work done.
A big leak at Piney Point
While that still unnamed Wares Creek contractor planned to dump some dried muck at Piney Point, the Corps rejected the site because of contamination there from phosphogypsum stacks left over from a fertilizer production plant abandoned in 2001.
The site contain billions of gallons of acidic water and toxic chemicals that are byproducts of processing phosphates into fertilizer, stored in three stacks with protective linings. The state has been trying to clean up the site for the past decade.
In investigating the Wares Creek delay, Herald reporter Toni Whitt unearthed another major story. One of the Piney Point stacks is leaking a significant amount of potentially contaminated water from a tear in the containment liner. Dredging material from the expansion of Berth 12 at Port Manatee is being pumped into Piney Point.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection feared the worst, issuing an emergency order over this past weekend for a release of seawater to ease the intense pressure in the leaking stack in order “to protect human health and safety and to protect the environment from a potential catastrophic failure of the containment facility.”
While early indications are the seawater appears to be from the Port Manatee dredging project, the state is testing the discharge for contamination and the county has water quality monitoring stations nearby,
HRK Holdings LLC, which took over Piney Point from the DEP in 2006 as part of its arrangement with Port Manatee to store dredging material there, has stopped pumping into the damaged stack and is investigating the damaged liner.
HRK first reported an unexpected surge in water pouring through underground drains on May 11, but waited nine days before shifting dredge dumping to the other stacks. Workers did not discover the cracked containment wall until the holiday weekend.
Piney Point contains a radioactive stew of arsenic, lead and radium left over from processing phosphates into fertilizer using sulfuric acid. Citizens have a right to know when trouble is brewing with containment. The DEP failed to warn the public. Had Whitt not discovered the problem, we still might not know -- even though the state agency feared for human health and safety.