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3 years after Piney Point disaster, Florida settles lawsuit with environment groups

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3 years after Piney Point disaster, Florida settles lawsuit with environment groups


Florida environmental regulators on Monday settled a federal lawsuit with advocacy groups over the 2021 Piney Point wastewater disaster that dumped 215 million gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay, likely sparking a red tide outbreak that caused widespread fish kills.

Five environmental advocacy groups agreed to dismiss their lawsuit against the state once regulators issue a permit aimed to prevent future pollution disasters and lay the groundwork for enforceable oversight at the troubled Manatee County phosphate plant.

Piney Point operated for more than two decades without the Clean Water Act permit meant to curb pollution from emptying into nearby waterways.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection also agreed to pay $75,000 for water quality monitoring around the area where Piney Point wastewater dumps into Tampa Bay. The money will go toward the Tampa Bay Estuary Program’s efforts to track oxygen levels, nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations and other metrics to determine the bay’s health.

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“This failing facility has loomed over Tampa Bay for decades without any accountability, and this permit changes that,” said Ragan Whitlock, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, which was part of the lawsuit.

“In many ways, this is too little too late,” he added. “Florida failed to properly regulate this facility, and the harm from the 2021 discharge can never be undone. It is unacceptable that it took citizen-suit enforcement and a massive pollution event to compel our state regulators to do their job.”

Herb Donica, the court-appointed receiver in charge of day-to-day operations at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack system, observes an area containing geotextile fabric tubes being used to store and drain a slurry of dredged sediment from an adjacent phosphogypsum stack on Nov 29, 2023. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

The groups that sued the state, including the nonprofit Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Tampa Bay Waterkeeper, say the settlement will improve transparency about water quality dumping from the plant and restricts pollutants known to cause ecological harm in Florida’s largest open-water estuary. In their 2021 lawsuit, the groups alleged “a decade of bad decisions by Florida regulators that directly led to the crisis.”

The state agreed to post future reports online of pollution leaving the Piney Point facility within 10 days of receiving them, according to the settlement. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection did not respond to requests for comment.

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The phosphate plant skirted environmental laws for over 20 years, and it took organizations coming together to push the state into compliance, according to Dan Snyder, director of Public Justice’s Environmental Enforcement Project. The settlement is a win for Floridians and “shows just how important citizen suits are in an age where regulators are too cozy with polluting industries,” he said.

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A 2023 research paper suggested the plume of dirty water leaving the troubled phosphate plant in 2021 had spread farther than previously thought, flowing outside of Tampa Bay and more than 30 miles away to waters near Tarpon Springs. The study added more scientific weight to the theory that red tide and other algal blooms that flared during summer 2021 were linked to the nutrient-laden discharges from Piney Point.

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Herb Donica, the court-appointed receiver in charge of day-to-day operations at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack system, explains contingencies for stormwater drainage with a graphic of a simulated 100-year, 24-hour storm event.
Herb Donica, the court-appointed receiver in charge of day-to-day operations at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack system, explains contingencies for stormwater drainage with a graphic of a simulated 100-year, 24-hour storm event. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]

Last year, Manatee County utility crews drilled a well to a saltwater aquifer 3,300 feet below the earth’s surface to begin pumping Piney Point’s water underground. As of Friday, more than 209 million gallons had been “transferred for disposal” underground, according to Florida environmental regulators. That’s enough water to fill more than 315 Olympic swimming pools.

The Tampa Bay Times toured the phosphate plant last last year to document progress on the site’s eventual closure. Herb Donica, a lawyer and the court-appointed overseer of the plant, told the Times that “shutting the plant down is an angry animal.” It’s time consuming and expensive, he said.

While a state-approved plan had estimated Piney Point would close by December, site managers said earlier this year it will likely be mid-2025.

After the disaster, the site owners HRK Holdings entered bankruptcy. The groups who sued the state are still seeking accountability for the company from a U.S. district judge.

“The Piney Point disaster shook the Tampa Bay community to its core. It wasn’t too long ago that shorelines once teeming with life were littered with all kinds of dead fish for months. If you had previously found it swimming in Tampa Bay, it was likely dead after Piney Point,” said Justin Tramble, executive director of Tampa Bay Waterkeeper.

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“This brings some closure to the past and shifts the focus to making sure mechanisms are in place to prevent even more tragedy in the future.”

Environmental compliance technician Scott Martin collects data from a flow rate meter while monitoring the transfer of water between reservoirs at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack system on Nov 29.
Environmental compliance technician Scott Martin collects data from a flow rate meter while monitoring the transfer of water between reservoirs at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack system on Nov 29. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
A patched area remained intact on Nov 29,. 2023, at the New Gypsum Stack South reservoir at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack system where a leak was discovered in April 2021, in Palmetto.
A patched area remained intact on Nov 29,. 2023, at the New Gypsum Stack South reservoir at the Piney Point phosphogypsum stack system where a leak was discovered in April 2021, in Palmetto. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]



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Florida

Florida Gators Add Versatile USF Transfer

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Florida Gators Add Versatile USF Transfer


Former USF Bulls utility man Bobby Boser is transferring to the Florida Gators for next season, according to multiple reports released on Wednesday. 

This is a big addition for the Gators going into next campaign as he brings much versatility to the Gators infield. He made 17 starts at second base, 11 at shortstop and two at third base this past season, but the expectation is that Boser ends up at third base after looking at the returning players and those transferring in. 

More importantly, he brings an experienced bat with some home run power to a program in Gainesville that loves to hit the long ball. 

Boser ranks eighth in program history with 31 career home runs. Also, he became the first USF player since 2004 to hit for the cycle when he played at Jacksonville in early March this past year. 

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Overall, during his three years with the Bulls, Boser slashed .286/.386/.580 and totaled 85 RBI. Although most of his production came in the last two years with the Bulls to make up for the lack of production as a freshman.

In 2023, Boser hit .323 with 15 home runs and 41 RBI. Then, this past season, he hit .299 with 12 home runs and 32 RBI. 

There was slight regression in 2024, but that was due to a broken hamate (hand) bone injury sustained in March that caused him to miss 22 games from the starting lineup before returning on April 19 full-time. 

Boser is Florida’s eighth portal addition this summer, joining Miami utility player Blake Cyr, former Jacksonville infielder Justin Nadeau, former Texas Tech infielder Landon Stripling, former Santa Fe College pitcher Matthew Jenkins, former juco pitcher Mason Laurito, former Clemson pitcher Billy Barlow and former Stetson outfielder Kyle Jones so far this offseason.

So, to say the least, head coach Kevin O’Sullivan has been extremely active in the transfer portal as continues to rebuild his lineup in the post-Caglianone era to make sure that he can make it back to Omaha in 2025. 

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Post Endorsements: Choose Acosta in Florida House 89 and Tendrich in Florida House 94

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Post Endorsements: Choose Acosta in Florida House 89 and Tendrich in Florida House 94


Florida House 89: Choose Acosta in GOP primary

Next month voters in the northwest and western areas of Palm Beach County will begin the process of choosing a new state representative as Republican Rick Roth cannot run for re-election due to term limits. Four Republicans have qualified in the Aug. 20 primary to vie for Florida’s 94th House District. The Palm Beach Post recommends voters choose Christian F. Acosta. The winner will face Democrat Rachelle Litt in the November general elections.

The district leans Republican due to its mix of growing suburbs and vast areas of sugar cane and other farmland. It includes Palm Beach Gardens, Royal Palm Beach, Westlake and the Glades communities along Lake Okeechobee.

Acosta, 41, is an engineer by trade. He’s an adjunct professor at Palm Beach State College and he has worked with Roth. That opportunity in particular has given Acosta a better understanding of the district’s constituents and needs.

If elected, Acosta has said he’d like to serve on the House Agriculture committee, an assignment that would be tailor-made for the district. He would work to boost opportunities in technical education and explore using technology to better secure school perimeters. He would also like to develop new leakage and waterproofing standards for roofs as a way to lower property insurance premiums.

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The three other candidates in the race include Gabrielle M. Fox, a 41 year-old small business owner in Palm Beach Gardens and Anthony Aguirre, 40, a Palm Beach Gardens resident who works as an operations manager in the healthcare field. Of the two, Aguirre is the better prepared candidate. If he fails to win the primary, he should continue seeking public office. The fourth candidate, Meg Weinberger, declined to be interviewed by the Post editorial board.

Florida House 94: Vote Tendrich in Democratic primary

Term limits are also forcing a change in Florida House District 89, where state Rep. David Silvers, D-Lake Clarke Shores, has served for eight years and is term-limited from re-election. Two Democratic candidates have qualified for the Aug. 20 primary, and the winner will face Republican Daniel Zapata in the November general elections.

The Palm Beach Post recommends voters choose Debra Tendrich. The 37-year-old Lake Worth resident brings energy and her community involvement has helped her build connections with businesses, faith-based organizations, nonprofits and political groups within the district. which has prepared her for the role as an elected official.

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District 89 is a majority Democratic with a growing Hispanic population. It stretches south from West Palm Beach through Lake Clarke Shores, Lake Worth Beach and includes Palm Springs and portions of Greenacres.

Tendrich is a fitness and health educator who founded Eat Better Live Better, a Delray Beach-based nonprofit that provides health food and nutrition advice to children and their families. She would be a reliable Democratic vote in addressing concerns important to the district, like reasonably priced housing, quality public schools, environmental protection, small business support and access to healthcare, reproductive rights and mental health services.

Her priorities include pushing for greater regulation of insurance firms and allowing for more premium discounts for homeowners who invest in measures to reinforce their properties. She’d also support developing down-payment assistance programs for first-time homebuyers and rental assistance programs to ensure individuals and working families looking for apartments and other rental property can afford to live in the communities in which they work.

Destinie Baker Sutton, a 44 year-old attorney, is also running for the seat. Her legal background, volunteer work within the county and stand on issues make her a credible candidate but we believe Tendrich is the better fit for the district.

Up Next: U.S. House primary races

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‘Adding a city:’ Millions more could flock to Florida. Here’s when to expect it

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‘Adding a city:’ Millions more could flock to Florida. Here’s when to expect it


Florida has been a hotspot in the U.S. for many people over the past few years, with more than 1 million people moving to the state in 2022.

U.S. Census Bureau data shows that a large chunk of Florida’s incoming residents have moved from states like New York, California or foreign countries.

The state’s population has been on an incline for decades, though it saw an explosion of new residents beginning back in 2016.

In fact, inbound migration to Florida has been so high that the state’s population has passed 23 million people for the first time ever, according to the state’s Demographic Estimating Conference.

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Earlier this month, the DEC announced that the record figure had been reached back in April, though rapid population growth is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

To be precise, Florida is set to see well over 300,000 people move in annually through 2026 — just under 900 people per day on average.

“These increases are analogous to adding a city slightly smaller than Orlando, but larger than St. Petersburg every year,” the DEC report reads.

By these estimates, Florida will reach 24 million residents by 2027; 25 million residents by 2031; and 26 million residents by 2036.

Fiscal Year Population (End of Fiscal Year) Growth Rate
2023-2024 23,088,994 1.59%
2024-2025 23,411,344 1.40%
2025-2026 23,719,175 1.31%
2026-2027 24,015,118 1.25%
2027-2028 24,300,771 1.19%
2028-2029 24,574,248 1.13%
2029-2030 24,836,074 1.07%
2030-2031 25,086,130 1.01%
2031-2032 25,324,175 0.95%
2032-2033 25,549,255 0.89%
2033-2034 25,761,882 0.83%
2034-2035 25,964,259 0.79%
2035-2036 26,156,254 0.74%
2036-2037 26,336,762 0.69%
2037-2038 26,507,435 0.65%
2038-2039 26,670,769 0.62%

This huge influx of people into Florida is also set to bolster the state’s GDP and job growth, according to UCF economist Sean Snaith earlier this year.

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“Florida is going to keep cruising at a higher altitude than the rest of the country,” Snaith predicted. “That’s because the ‘twin engines’ of a robust labor market and population growth are propelling us forward.”

Snaith explained that many of the people moving into Florida are retirees, which means more jobs are being created to meet their needs and wants.

However, this population growth could have other consequences.

With more people moving into the state, there are more people seeking goods and services like housing, food, gas and insurance — among many other products.

As a result, Florida’s cost of living is becoming inflated, outpacing wage growth in the state. This is despite having predicted average growth higher than the rest of the nation.

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“Florida should enjoy the ride through these economically friendly skies with seatbelts fastened — just in case,” Snaith said.


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