Former Manatee County phosphate plant an area of concern

Florida's algae crisis center of Bradenton luncheon

League of Women Voters of Manatee County had a discussion on Florida's algae crisis on Monday.
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League of Women Voters of Manatee County had a discussion on Florida's algae crisis on Monday.

Despite being out of operation, Piney Point Phosphates Plant is still an area of concern as there is no closure plan for the facility, warns Manatee County’s parks and natural resources director.

“That’s something that we should be concerned of,” Charlie Hunsicker said Monday at League of Women Voters of Manatee County luncheon about Florida’s algae crisis.

Without a company owning the plant, which is just east of Port Manatee, Piney Point may be the only plant in Florida without a closure plan or a funding source, Hunsicker said.

At Piney Point, the threat isn’t so much from groundwater but continues to be from the top, which still holds water, Hunsicker said.

But, he noted, it is not the county commission’s problem.

“We have no plan. None. Other than status quo for our future for Piney Point and that is something we’ve got to work on,” he said. “It is not a Manatee County taxpayer problem, but it is a problem nonetheless and right now we are just ignoring it.”

During the luncheon at the Bradenton Woman’s Club, several experts spoke about various natural resources issues, including phosphate mining, red tide and pollution.

“The answer is stopping pollution at its source,” said Cris Costello with Florida Sierra Club. “Stop it where it is. We can no longer let our garbage flow into our waterways.”

Using photographs from several algae blooms across the state, Costello said these were a result of water bodies reaching their tipping points.

“Now our water bodies have gotten to that tipping point that they are chock full,” she said. “They cannot take any more without feeding the kind of algae blooms and algae outbreaks that we’ve seen.”

Buying land for conservation is an integral part of water quality, Costello said.

“You cannot separate conservation land and water quality or quantity,” she said. “They go hand in hand. You cannot have the water supply and quality of water that we need without the wetlands, the functioning wetlands, the conservation lands, the buffer lands. One is impossible without the other.”

There is also a need for clear pollution limits, Costello said.

“We do not have them in the state of Florida for nitrogren and phosphorous,” she said.

But in Manatee County, it is a good picture environmentally with some challenges, Hunsicker said.

One of these challenges is stormwater, which has been taken from a poor condition to a moderate condition, Hunsicker said, adding that wastewater is under control.

While there are stormwater regulations in place for new development, some developments came in before the regulations were in place, Hunsicker said.

“We’ve got to go back there and retool those places,” he said. “We can solve those problems, but it is going to take a funding source to do. ...We are aware of our problems and we are going to stay energized with them. We will continue to improve.”

Claire Aronson: 941-745-7024, @Claire_Aronson