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Evacuation alert issued for residents living near Piney Point in Manatee County

Portions of US-41 now closed
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Posted at 6:15 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 23:48:33-04

PINEY POINT, Fla. — WATCH LIVE VIDEO

PALMETTO, Fla. — Officials closed a portion of US-41 in the area near the Piney Point wastewater overflow on Saturday afternoon.

Florida Highway Patrol says US-41 at 113th St E in Manatee & College Ave in Hillsborough is closed. Drivers are asked to detour on College Ave & Moccasin Wallow Road.

There is major concern the
The notice now extends west to U.S. 41, and covers the neighborhoods one mile north of the gypsum stack, which is on the brink of collapse if the latest leak is not stopped.

"Due to continued concerns regarding the Piney Point Phosphogypsum Stack and waste water overflow, FHP Troopers from Manatee and Hillsborough Counties will close US-41. Currently, US-41 is closed at 113th Street East in Manatee County and now at College Avenue in Hillsborough County. Motorists desiring to travel south will need to detour onto College Avenue, travel east and access I-75. Motorists desiring to travel north should travel east on Moccasin Wallow Road and access I-75."

Officials in Manatee County expanded the evacuation area due to the leak in a retention pond at the old Piney Point phosphate mine off of U.S. 41.

The notice now extends west to U.S. 41, and covers the neighborhoods one mile north of the gypsum stack, which is on the brink of collapse if the latest leak is not stopped.

Here are the maps of the two evacuation zones:

Officials say around 4 p.m. on April 2, they noticed another leak on the north wall of the containment area, leading to the expansion of the evacuation zone.

If the gypsum stack can't hold, officials say nearly 700 million gallons of water could spill over, and cause a major environmental disaster.

Manatee County officials met with Senator Jim Boyd and Representative Will Robinson for a press conference late Friday night to give an update on the situation.

Manatee County Administrator Dr. Scott Hopes said he believes officials have everything under control.

County Administrator Hopes says officials are actively emptying around 22,000 gallons of water every minute into Tampa Bay at Port Manatee.

At this point, he says it will likely take between 10 and 12 days before the pond is completely empty. So as far as when people who live in the evacuation zone can get back into their homes, he says that is a moving target.

“If we are only dealing with the current situation, then they should be able to offload a majority of the water in that one 77-acre area, within 10-12 days, and then it would be safe. The other structures are far more stable at the moment. This happens to be the highest one, and it’s one that has been perhaps the least stable," said Hopes.

While it is a small residential area, there are still between 15 and 20 homes with families and animals, which are all under that mandatory evacuation.

“It goes into being a little nervous about the future. We live out in the country on 6 acres, and we live on a well. So is this gonna get into our well water? How long has it been leaking, is it safe to bathe my children in it? Wash my dishes in it, you know, how long is the long term effects gonna be? And then, we’re avid boaters, and we fish, and we don’t want to see that being dumped out into our beautiful bay and to have fish killed and wildlife killed,” said Skye Grundy, a resident who lives near the evacuation zone.

County Administrator Hopes says the Department of Environmental Protection is constantly testing the drinking water in the area, and that it is still safe to drink.

Hopes says the majority of the water in the retention pond is silt and saltwater from a dredge project in Port Manatee several years ago. He says the water has a pH balance around 5.7, and that it is safe to put back into Tampa Bay, but that the water is still contaminated.

Manatee County Public Safety is working with the American Red Cross to establish a shelter for affected residents. Manatee County’s Emergency Management Team has responded to the scene to assist on-site.

While crews continue to relieve water from the pond, Hopes says crews are actively trying to back up support of the southeast wall of the retention pond in order to prevent a total collapse of the gypsum stack.

This problem is one that has been ongoing, and county and state leaders committed themselves on Friday to putting an end to the problem once and for all.

“Our top priority is getting through this emerging problem, this instant problem, this emergency that we have today, and we’ll get the money, we’ll solve the problem. this has been our top legislative delegation priority for at least a year now, but, and I said this to the press a couple days ago, this quarter century debate on what to do with this property needs to come to an end,” said Rep. Will Robinson, (R) Manatee, Sarasota.

Previously:

An emergency alert was issued for residents living near Piney Point in Manatee County to evacuate Friday, April 2.

The alert was sent just before 6 p.m.

According to a statement released from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, a breakout of seepage in the east wall of the NGS South containment area was observed around 4 p.m. on Friday.

"This water is the same mixed seawater in the reservoir. These discharges are currently contained in the onsite lined stormwater system. DEP’s Emergency Management staff are onsite and coordinating with Manatee County to provide assistance with an engineered blockade of natural landscape to halt the breakout to contain the system," the statement read.

A tweet by the Manatee County Public Safety Department says the evacuation notice is for anyone living in a half-mile radius of Piney Point.

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The alert sent to cell phone users in the area urged the immediate evacuation of the area near Buckeye Road and Bud Rhoden Road.

"The area of concern is south of Buckeye Road, from US 41 to O'Neil Road. Make plans to evacuate immediately from the area. Affected individuals can call 3-1-1 for information."

This situation is breaking, check back for updates.

During a meeting on Thursday, the Manatee Board of County Commissioners discussed what was being done to remove water off the gypsum stack to maintain its stability.

Earlier this week the Florida Department of Environmental Protection issued an emergency order allowing the release of the leaking wastewater into Tampa Bay to prevent an "uncontrolled discharge.” now it seems that the order is too little too late.

As of 3 p.m., HRK Holdings LLC. reported the leak of process water into Piney Point Creek "appears to have stopped." However around 6 p.m. on Friday that evacuation alert was issued.

There will be a meeting on April 6, where commissioners want an update from DEP.