PALMETTO – County and state officials believe they now have the Piney Point crisis under control.
During today’s 4 p.m. press conference, acting County Administrator Scott Hopes said, “This has been short-lived. We have dramatically reduced the risk in a very controlled way, so that, hopefully, all of us have time to recover both physically and emotionally. I think everybody should rest assured that this is very much under control now. The risk has been lessened to the point that people will be able to return to their homes. Well water (and) drinking water is safe. The environment is being protected as much as possible.”
Public Safety Director Jake Saur said the mandatory evacuation order for the Piney Point area has been lifted and residents and business owners and operators are now allowed to return to their homes and businesses. US 41 is open but a stretch of Buckeye Road remains closed.
According to Saur, the breached containment pond currently contains approximately 59 feet of water.
More than 20 pumps are being used to continue siphoning approximately 33-34 million gallons a day of water from the breached containment pond and into the deep water shipping channel at Port Manatee.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) is taking frequent water quality samples at the Piney Point site, at Port Manatee and in the waters beyond the port. Water quality sample results can be found at https://protectingfloridatogether.gov/PineyPointUpdate.
Kevin Guthrie, deputy director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM), said a submersible will be brought in Wednesday to survey and hopefully repair the tear or tears in the liner of the breached retention pond.
Earlier today, during the Manatee County Commission meeting, Acting County Administrator Scott Hopes said there has been no second breach of the containment pond. He said the thermal imaging previously detected by aerial drones, and thought to be another potential breach in the containment wall, proved to be plant material rather than water seeping through a tear and into the surrounding containment wall.
Hopes said approximately 300 million gallons of water remained in the breached containment pond as of this morning.
During today’s meeting, county commissioners unanimously approved using the deep well injection method to remove any remaining water from the breached pond, and also from the more polluted water contained in two additional Piney Point containment ponds that have not been breached.
According to County Commission Chairwoman Vanessa Baugh, the water will be treated to the county’s standards before it is injected deep into the ground using a deep injection well to be located on a nearby county-owned property.
FDEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said the permitting, engineering and design work for a deep injection well typically takes two to three years before the actual injection process begins. State and possibly federal funds are expected to be provided to cover or help cover the significant cost of the deep well injection process.
In closing Hopes said he did not anticipate the county holding any additional press conferences on the Piney Point situation.
FDEP and FDEM officials and staff area expected to remain at the Piney Point property for the foreseeable future.