Florida Senate advances plan to use $200 million in federal stimulus for Piney Point cleanup

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TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Senate took steps Wednesday toward using $200 million in federal stimulus money to address the environmental threat caused by the old Piney Point fertilizer plant in Manatee County.

Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, amended the Senate’s $95 billion budget proposal to include a provision ordering the state to dispose of wastewater and perform site cleanup at the Piney Point property, where millions of gallons of wastewater are being pumped into Tampa Bay to stem potentially even worse problems.

State Rep. Will Robinson (R-Bradenton) and Sen. Jim Boyd attend a press conference during response to the Piney Point emergency wastewater spill and release.

The move brings the legacy of Piney Point problems into budget negotiations with the House in the legislative session’s closing weeks. Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, has joined with Boyd in calling for using some of the $10 billion coming Florida’s way under the federal American Rescue Plan toward clearing Piney Point.

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Related:DEP official says no second breach in Piney Point retention pond wall

Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, formerly represented Manatee County as a House member. He said Wednesday’s budget amendment “will start us on a pathway toward cleaning up what has been recognized as a true mess.”

Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said that with Piney Point under private ownership by HRK Holdings but endangering the entire region “we are essentially stuck taking care of this.”

A leak at a large pond of wastewater had threatened to flood roads and homes if it developed into a larger breach of a system that stores polluted water at the old Piney Point plant, where phosphate rock was turned into fertilizer years ago, leaving looming mounds of residual waste and polluted water. Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an emergency order Saturday, bringing more pumps and equipment to the area to ease the crisis.

Environmental effects of pumping millions of gallons of nutrient-rich wastewater into the bay continues to be a concern, with widespread algal blooms a potential outcome.

John Kennedy is a reporter in the USA TODAY Network’s Florida Capital Bureau. He can be reached at jkennedy2@gannett.com, or on Twitter at @JKennedyReport

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