Q&A – What Florida Can Learn From Piney Point’s History

Today’s entry: What's the whole story behind Piney Point?

Bottom Line: Governor DeSantis’s decision to put an end to the site, as he ordered Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection to create a closure plan brought this back into the news and it’s a good opportunity to establish how we arrived here. Also, because everything seemingly is politicized these days, it’s helpful to cut through some of the incomplete reporting about how the Piney Point reservoir became an environmental catastrophe in the making.

The story began in 1966 when a company called Borden Chemical opened a plant which began processing phosphate for fertilizers used by Florida’s agriculture industry. The processing of phosphate produces toxic wastewater. Originally there wasn’t a plan to deal with the wastewater and Borden collected and discharged the wastewater directly into Bishop Harbor which resulted in fish kills. That caught the attention of state officials. In 1970, it was determined a reservoir needed to be created to contain the wastewater. The plant changed hands numerous times between 1966 and 2001 and the last year of operation when a company called Mulberry operated it.

After Mulberry went bankrupt in 2001, a company called HRK Holdings bought the site as part of a land purchase. However, the Great Recession took its toll on HRK’s properties and they likewise went bankrupt in 2012. Five different entities, four locally based and one a New York based investment firm bought HRK’s assets out of bankruptcy, including the Piney Point plant, however, they don’t appear to have ever appropriately maintained the site leading to the recent breach. 

For those who’ve wanted to make this about partisan politics, I don’t see anything that supports that narrative. It should be noted that Democrats were in complete control of Florida at the time the plant was founded and when the creation of the reservoir was determined to be the answer to dumping issues. Clearly Republicans are in control of Florida’s government most recently. Do with that what you will. 

From my perspective, what Piney Point represents is a different version of a similar issue to what we’ve been trying to fix with South Florida’s water management issues. Really bad decisions made decades ago resulting in manipulated waterways. The better news is current state policy doesn’t allow for the haphazard actions of the past, like draining the Everglades, creating east-west canals from Lake Okeechobee, or developing new toxic wastewater sites. From here it’s just a matter of continuing to undo the problems of the past as constructively as possible. 

Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods. 


Parler & Twitter:@brianmuddradio 

Photo by: Getty Images

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