MANATEE -- Company officials failed Thursday to pinpoint the tear in the lining of a former phosphogypsum stack at Piney Point, as thousands of gallons of potentially contaminated seawater continued to gush into Bishop Harbor.
State officials stepped in over the weekend with an emergency order to ensure the structure’s integrity.
“Apparently they have not yet found the tear in the liner, but the work is continuing,” said Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle, whose district includes the Piney Point area near Buckeye Road and U.S. 41.
The owner of the site, HRK Holdings, LLC, is monitoring hourly for potential contaminants in seawater being released from the site, according to Steve Tyndal, Port Manatee’s director of trade development and special projects.
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“So far, their tests are negative for contaminants,” Tyndal said Thursday, after Port Executive Director David McDonald updated county commissioners on the situation.
Lab results on the composition of the water gushing from the site are not expected until the middle of next week, said Dee Ann Miller, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
State officials are testing it for a variety of substances, including radium, a waste product of the processing of phosphate ore with sulfuric acid.
The port has been using the stack to dump the materials being dredged at the port for construction of Berth 12, designed to attract giant cargo ships that will be using the Panama Canal once an expansion there is completed in 2014.
Since the leak was detected at Piney Point, dredging has continued but the spoil material now is being deposited in a cell adjacent to the one where the tear is suspected to be, Tyndal said.
He noted that the stacks, which were previously owned by a phosphate company that went bankrupt, had been drained and cleared of pollutants before they were lined in preparation to take the dredging material.
Officials suspect the liner is the source of the leak, he said.
The flow of seawater had dropped slightly Thursday, gushing into Bishop Harbor at a rate of about 2,433 gallons per minute, down from 2,690 gallons per minute Wednesday, information supplied by Miller indicated.
Due to efforts of HRK Holdings’ workers, Miller said, pressures appear to have decreased and were stabilizing.
No unusual fish kills had been reported in the area in the last couple of days, said Carli Segelson, a spokeswoman for St. Petersburg’s Fish & Wildlife Institute, where the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission operates a marine fish kill hotline at (800) 636-0511.
Neighbor Ted Allen said he doesn’t think anything too dangerous is going on at the site near his property.
He acknowledged he didn’t have the details.
“I know that for six years, there’s been guys up there fooling around,” remarked Allen. “Whoever’s overseeing it, it’s a money pit but so are all these environmental clean-up things.”