PORT MANATEE -- Attorneys representing Port Manatee have proposed a deal that could clean up toxin-laced water at the former Piney Point Phosphates facility, satisfy a $12 million damages claim the port has filed against the facility's owner, and give Manatee County the land it needs to build a well to dispose of the area's liquid waste.
On March 11, attorneys with Lewis Longman & Walker, the Bradenton firm that represents the port, sent a memo to Manatee County outlining their plan. They proposed a confidential settlement agreement they believe could cure a multitude of ills caused by a 2011 spill on land owned by HRK Holdings. The spill sent millions of gallons of polluted water into Bishop Harbor.
Since the spill, HRK has gone into bankruptcy. Port Manatee, which paid HRK to store dredge spoils on the Piney Point land, has filed a $12 million damage claim against the company. Meanwhile, a cleanup ordered by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection is in its third year.
Carlos Buqueras, the port's director, said the proposed settlement is just a suggestion from its attorneys.
"It was an idea brought forth by our attorneys," he said. "It's not even blessed by us."
Under the proposed agreement, HRK would pay Manatee County to dispose of contaminated water from its property, would turn over about 1.5 acres of its land for a well site and would allow the county to build a road from U.S. 41 to the eastern edge of its property. For its part, Manatee County would pay the port a negotiated amount to purchase the damages claim from HRK out of a cash settlement with the company. The port would provide 2 acres of property for the construction of two shallow county-wells, while the state Department of Environmental Protection would provide permits for the wells.
HRK would be forgiven
the port's damages claim and could clean up its property with access to the injection well.
Although the county and DEP are in the process of publicly vetting the idea of placing an injection well and two water recharge wells near or at Port Manatee, the proposed settlement is not part of the discussion. County attorney Mitchell Palmer said his office has received the proposal, but won't talk about it as the county's board of commissioners has yet to address it.
"This office is not going to have any commentary on this matter," Palmer said.
Carol Whitmore, the county's at-large commissioner and chairwoman of the port authority, said neither she nor her fellow commissioners have considered the settlement.
HRK aaparently is also out of the loop. Scott Stichter, an attorney representing the company, said he does not recall receiving the memo detailing the proposal.
The memo indicates that the usefulness of the settlement may extend beyond a cleanup. It states that the injection well would be for public use. The county and the port are actively promoting 5,000 acres of buildable land surrounding the port for new industrial and commercial business development. Even so, Buqueras said the port is not looking to get into the waste disposal business.
"Our expertise is not in deep injection wells," he said. "Our primary focus is on waterborne commerce."
If the parties named in the settlement agreed to go ahead with it, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court would have to approve it. The Tampa division of the court is overseeing HRK's bankruptcy.
Kevin Hennessy, an attorney with Lewis Longman & Walker who sent the settlement memo to Manatee County, was unavailable for commenbt.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or one Twitter @MattAtBradenton.