MANATEE COUNTY, Fla. (FNN) – Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried addressed the Piney Point reservoir water leak in a press conference on Tuesday afternoon, saying she was informed that “the emergency has de-escalated” over the last 24 hours, but warned that this situation could have been prevented were it not for what she called “many balls dropped” in the last twenty years.
“My concerns and my questions surrounding this is: where is the water going, how is it being treated, what is the game plan moving forward?” Fried added during her press conference at the Manatee County Emergency Operations Center.
Fried added that Manatee County emergency operators told her they were able to open the highways again and reduce the evacuation areas, having pumped out much of the water.
She added that not only local experts but also Army scientists and additional equipment from out of state are scheduled to go under the water and see what is causing the leak, and what is the best way to fix it.
“I emphasize significantly that is not enough for us to just patch this up. What is the plan to actually fix this, and that it never happens again?” she said. “We have to be sure we have the appropriate parties that are going to pay for this. This is a situation that has been in the making since the late nineties. This community is well aware of Piney Point and some of the issues that have been happening for the last twenty years, and unfortunately, a lot of balls have been dropped in the process.”
The 77-acre water reservoir holds 480 million gallons of mix of seawater, remnant process water from the former fertilizer manufacturing, and stormwater runoff, and also contains phosphorus and nitrogen from the old phosphate mine and is contained in a phosphogypsum stack, a radioactive waste-product of fertilizer manufacturing.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency Saturday to stop the leaking and ordered an evacuation of the area.
Fried asked that the immediate issue be taken care of quickly and that the problem be resolved in a more permanent way “to avoid that we have another environmental problem in some other part of our state.”
Florida Senator Janet Cruz (D-18) joined Fried, who considered the situation as “paying for the sins of our fathers.” “And when I say that, I mean our former elected officials who turned a blind eye to what’s happening here,” Sen Cruz added. “There are local officials and local residents that have been complaining for ages about what’s been happening at Piney Hills and no one paid attention.”
Cruz announced that the Senate would amend the budget to receive $200 million to fix the situation instead of the $11 billion of federal relief money.
“This is private property. We didn’t create this mess, yet we, the taxpayer, are rushing in to fix this to protect our community,” she added.
She proposed that all the ponds in Manatee County be inspected to make sure that another accident happens. She is concerned that “we could be headed to ecological disaster here.”
Fried agreed with Cruz, saying that “nothing was done” for twenty years, and the local residents are aware that there are other similar leaks in other, smaller ponds. She noted that the local gas plant would have collapsed and “had three counties’ worth of energy taken down,” plus a possible red tide situation. She said she would be “much more aggressive” in getting involved in the situation and seeing the state of the ponds and the waterways.
“Most importantly, we need to figure out what happened in the last twenty years. Why did no one have their eyes on this ball, and what do we need to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen in other parts of our state?” Commissioner Fried said. “We have natural life in the waterways, we have aquaculture that is close by, we have humans and the environment that we have not spent any time in the last twenty years making that a priority.”
Fried proposed that a closer look be taken into legislation as far as mining permits are concerned in the area.
“Florida is one of the most amazing states in the country, one of the most abundant natural resources in the world, and we are destroying the environment. We cannot afford to do that. And had we done what was right twenty years ago and every subsequent administration since, then we might not be on the hook for $200 million,” she said.
“If we are going to continue loving our state, and continue bringing tourists here, and having our beautiful beaches and springs, then we have got to make the environment a top priority,” Fried added. “We’ve got to make sure that we get this right for the next generation.”
Juan Carlo Rodriguez is a politics and entertainment reporter for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org