MANATEE -- Everything remained stable Friday atop a former Piney Point gypsum stack, which has been leaking more than 3.5 million gallons of seawater a day, according to a company official.
Jordan Levy, chief executive officer for HRK Holdings, LLC, said his company’s testing of the discharge shows it is simply seawater from dredge material stored at the facility.
“It’s continued to test positive for pure seawater,” he said Friday.
Levy said the company has been water-quality testing hourly at its own laboratory at the site, which is located at 13300 U.S. 41 N., across the street from Port Manatee.
The company’s offices inhabit a battered, gray-green building dwarfed by huge former phosphogypsum stacks abandoned after a fertilizer company went bankrupt.
In 2006, HRK bought the property with the blessing of state environmental regulators, removed phosphate residue and other pollutants, and installed liners atop the mound in order to store material dredged as part of a port construction project.
But on May 11, it reported an unexpected increase in the drain flow rate, possibly indicating a breach of the liner system, according to a state order issued last weekend permitting an emergency discharge.
The amount of water still gushing from the site Friday was about the same as it had been Thursday, Levy said.
That would be about 2,433 gallons per minute, more than 3.5 million gallons a day, according to estimates from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The discharge froths into canals that lead to Bishop Harbor, part of a protected area called Terra Ceia Aquatic Buffer Preserve, according to Charlie Hunsicker, Manatee County director of natural resources.
Using such a pristine harbor as a dump site bothered Glenn Compton, executive director at ManaSota-88, a local environmental public health organization.
“Especially with Bishop Harbor being an aquatic preserve, you can’t just dump water in there,” said Compton, adding he wondered whether it would be a violation of the federal Clean Water Act.
“Bishop Harbor is an outstanding Florida body of water with special attributes,” he said. “And DEP is apparently not too concerned with the designation if they’re allowing discharge of wastewater, without knowing what’s even in it.”
State officials are also water-quality testing, but their results will not be available until mid-week, a DEP spokeswoman has said previously.
Hunsicker said the state cares “very much” about the extraordinary value of the aquatic buffer preserve, and has followed up with water quality testing to verify the company’s results.
“We must remember also that the state must make important allowances on a temporary and emergency basis to protect the integrity of the Piney Point containment structure,” he said.
If the discharge were not allowed, and the structure placed at further risk, there would be “dire consequences,” he predicted.
“The state is acknowledging Bishop Harbor will be able to buffer small amounts of discharge, compared to the dire consequence of the alternative, which would be a catastrophic failure of the structure,” Hunsicker said.
Meanwhile, those who live or work near the great mountain wait.
“We’re interested in whatever mishap occurred is repaired,” said Ron Rookstool Jr., general manager for Sea Force IX Sport Yachts, just south of the site.
“We’re environmentally sensitive and friendly here because we build boats,” he said. “But (U.S.) 41 is an industrial area, so it comes with the territory.”
“We’re anxious, like every else, that the issue is resolved without any ramifications,” he added.