PUNTA GORDA — As crews work to pump wastewater out of the Piney Point retention pond that leaked in Manatee County, we’re already asking the question: Could the same type of disaster one day affect Southwest Florida?
The wastewater getting pumped out of Piney Point is a by-product of phosphate mining, something we don’t have here in Southwest Florida, but we spoke with an advocate who said he's concerned future projects could affect the water in Charlotte Harbor.
For Tim Ritchie, watching crews respond to the Piney Point disaster left him with only one conclusion.
"We need to wind down phosphate mining immediately in Florida," said Ritchie.
He’s especially concerned, because he said plans for new mining operations are in the works, including in Desoto County.
"They’re going to have eight clay settling areas there. These clay settling areas are going to be in height from three to 500 feet tall," said Ritchie.
So while phosphate mining is only allowed in regions to the north of Southwest Florida, Ritchie is concerned runoff could end up downstream in the Charlotte Harbor.
But Professor Tom Missimer at FGCU said, it isn’t likely.
"Under today’s regulation, you can safely construct these facilities," said Missimer.
Dr. Missimer also said companies like which operate facilities like Piney Point are taking more steps to make sure a disaster like that doesn’t happen again.
"Impoundments today are built to a much higher engineering standard, but there’s always some degree of risk. It might be very small, but you can’t drill a hole to test every 10 feet," said Missimer.
But Ritchie said, before a new facility is built upstream from his home, he wants to see the data.
Ritchie’s group is called March Against Mosaic. Mosaic is a phosphate mining company. Ritchie said he’s planning the first ever "water summit" to discuss these issues, which he hopes to host in Englewood on April 22nd.
UPDATE 04/06/2021 at 10:30 p.m. -- In the original article, Fox 4 incorrectly stated that The Mosaic Company operated the Piney Point retention pond and gyp stack. A representative from The Mosaic Company reached out to Fox 4 clarifying that the company has at no point owned or operated the Piney Point facility, although it is helping with managing the leak. We have edited the text to reflect that.