Buchanan tours Piney Point

PALMETTO – On Monday, Congressman Vern Buchanan toured the Piney Point reservoir area by helicopter before participating in an early afternoon press conference.

At Buchanan’s request, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Army Corps of Engineers are now involved in the Piney Point response and containment efforts.

Buchanan said the EPA and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) are now jointly in command of the situation. The Florida Department of Emergency Management and Manatee County also remain involved in the response efforts.

Before Buchanan spoke, Public Safety Director Jake Saur said state and county drone teams are flying over the site every hour on the hour and providing decision-makers with real time aerial views of the site. Saur said the drones can detect temperature changes within the berms, which indicates penetration by the contained water.

Saur also 100,000 bottles of drinking water are now available at the Bradenton Area Convention Center in Palmetto for those who need it.

According to Saur, 305 households remained under an evacuation order and the Red Cross and the county are assisting displaced residents. Saur said approximately 30 people, and their pets, had taken shelter at local hotels.

On Monday, it was announced that 345 inmates at the Manatee County jail were being relocated to an undisclosed location, with approximately 720 inmates to remain at the jail after being relocated to an upper level of the facility. 

Buchanan shared his concerns about the water being discharged into Tampa Bay.

“It’s very concerning to me. I know they’re making some progress, but to see the water spewing out, it looked pretty contaminated to me,” he said, noting the Piney Point crisis impacts the entire Tampa Bay region. 

“I am concerned about the threats to public safety, homes as well as businesses, and of course marine life. I’m very concerned about the impact on that. We know what that does to our communities. I really hate to see what’s happened in terms of the algae bloom and red tide, not just here, but across the state. When I see water flowing into Tampa Bay, frankly, it makes me sick,” Buchanan said.

“I want to be hopeful and optimistic, but just the fact that we’re running water into Tampa Bay is not a great thing, but the reality of is it seems like the right thing to do right now,” he added.

“I’m not an expert, but you can see in and around where the water’s spewing in there. Around the port – I hate to say it – if you go a couple miles in each direction to me it looks like algae bloom or something, but that’s something for the scientists to determine,” Buchanan said. “I’ve been following red tide for 20 years and that could have a big impact on all of Florida.”

Regarding the unaddressed Piney Point environmental concerns that lingered for the past 20 years or so, Buchanan said, “This is something that’s being going on for too long and we’re going to come together collectively between the county, the state and the federal government to make sure we get this resolved quickly. We’re going to make sure we’ve got the resources to fix this permanently – not a patch. The company, HRK, needs to be held completely responsible.”

County Commissioner Reggie Bellamy also chairs the Port Authority. He said the Port remains fully operational and anyone conducting port business still has access.

After thanking Buchanan for bringing the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers in to assist, acting County Administrator Scott Hopes addressed the retention area and the breaches in its outer berms.

Hopes estimated there were just shy of the 300 million gallons in the breached reservoir at that time. He said public officials will have a much clearer idea of that status of the breached reservoir now that the Army Corps of Engineers are on the scene.

“Up to this point, we have been relying, and DEP has been relying, on HRK’s third party engineering team. Now we have the Army Corps of Engineers in here with their engineers and we will have an additional independent evaluation,” he said.

“If we go from (pumping out) 35 million gallons a day to 100 million gallons per day, within 48 hours we will be at a situation where we will no longer have that risk of that full breach, which would send that 20-foot wall of water across,” Hopes said.

“The only pool that’s at risk is that southernmost pool where we have identified breaches where we do have some uncontrolled release of water. Regarding the breaches on the eastern wall, the most visible is at the southeast corner where you see the water coming out of the side and then flowing to the north,” he explained.

“There is an area at the top of the berm, around the middle of the eastern wall, that they recognized an extrusion of that wall pushing out about 10 feet. Thermal imaging last night from the DEP drones identified a number of sites with one concentrated site in the norther portion of eastern wall where the temperatures indicate there is water intrusion into the wall at that point,” Hopes said.

$204,000 Coryea separation agreement finalized

Coryea separation agreement finalized
Cheri Coryea’s tenure as as county administrator came to an end on Tuesday.
Photo: Joe Hendricks

BRADENTON – The Manatee County Commission, on Tuesday, voted 6-1 to accept a separation agreement that at the end of the day ended Cheri Coryea’s two-year tenure as the county administrator, and her 30-year tenure as a county employee.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy cast the lone opposition vote to the separation agreement. He said he could not support an agreement that resulted in Coryea vacating her administrator’s role.

The separation agreement calls for the county to pay Coryea a lump sum payment of approximately $204,000, minus any taxes to be deducted. The separation agreement is not a termination and it is not a resignation.

The commission-approved separation agreement includes 20 weeks of regular pay per Coryea’s $192,000 annual salary. The separation agreement also includes 400 hours of paid leave, 500 hours of sick leave pay and 197 hours of compensatory time pay.

Before the separation agreement vote took place, Commissioner Carol Whitmore unsuccessfully sought to have Coryea’s vacation pay increased to 1,000 hours.

Before that 6-1 vote occurred, the commission rejected by 4-3 vote Commissioner Reggie Bellamy’s motion to discontinue the separation discussion and give Coryea one year to prove she can move the county forward. Commissioners Vanessa Baugh, Kevin Van Ostenbridge, George Kruse and James Satcher opposed Bellamy’s motion. Bellamy, Whitmore and Commissioner Misty Servia supported it.

The commission-approved separation agreement brings to an end two previous efforts to terminate Coryea. Those efforts were first initiated by Van Ostenbridge in November, and then again by Kruse in January,

Acting county administrator

After a short break, the commission then engaged in a lengthy discussion regarding the appointment of an acting county administrator.

The commission ultimately voted 4-3 in opposition to hiring Venice-based attorney and former Sarasota County Commissioner Charles Hines to serve as acting county administrator while a search for a new county administrator is conducted.

Coryea separation agreement finalized
The commission majority opposed Charles Hines serving as acting county administrator. Photo: Joe Hendricks

Commissioners Baugh, Kruse, Satcher and Van Ostenbridge opposed Hines’ temporary hiring, which was previously proposed by County Attorney Bill Clague. Bellamy, Servia and Whitmore supported hiring Hines.  

Before those votes were cast, school board member Dr. Scott Hopes expressed interest in the acting county administrator’s job.

Van Ostenbridge and James Satcher also touted Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance President and CEO Dom DiMaio as a potential candidate.

“Dom DiMaio’s beating down my door. I’ve talked to Dom a couple times as well,” Van Ostenbridge said. “DiMaio’s not here, but he seems pretty interested the way he blows my phone up.”

During public comment, county resident Carol Felts expressed concerns about DiMaio’s connections to developer Carlos Beruff. She also oppossed Hopes serving in that role.

Satcher mentioned Rick Mills as another potential candidate. Mills formerly served as superintendent of the School Board District of Manatee County.

After another short recess, the commission voted 6-1 in favor of appointing current Deputy County Administrator Karen Stewart to serve as the acting county administrator, but only until March 23. It was noted during the meeting that Stewart is not interested in serving in that role on an extended or permanent basis.

Coryea separation agreement finalized
Karen Stewart will serve as acting county administrator until March 23.
Photo: Joe Hendricks

As a final action, the commission voted 7-0 to direct Clague to draft a contract and accompanying resolution for the position of acting county administrator, to be presented to the commission no later than the commission’s land use meeting on March 4.

The commission will then have until March 23 to appoint someone to serve as acting county administrator while a search for a permanent county administrator is conducted. Van Ostenbridge expressed hope that the