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Manatee leaders say draining toxic water from abandoned mine is county’s top priority in 2021

PINEY POINT — Resolving the issue of contaminated pools of water from phosphate mining at Piney Point is now Manatee County’s top priority in 2021.

The ponds are located across from Port Manatee and Tampa Bay where the phosphate mine was abandoned in 2001.

For nearly 20 years, ponds full of contaminated water produced as a chemical byproduct of mining have threatened the community.

Now, Manatee County commissioners say their top priority is to figure out how to drain 750 million gallons of the hazardous water before rainwater causes it to overflow into the bay, causing a major environmental disaster.

"We keep kicking this can down the road and one of these days it's going to come back and we’re going to have a mess. So the bottom line is we need to find a way that is the safest means to handle this contaminated water," said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh during Tuesday's commission meeting.

Commissioners agreed on a temporary solution to move 50 million gallons of the water through the county's water treatment plant, but that is only to prevent overflow for the time being.