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Phosphate processing plants in the greater Tampa Bay region have caused some of Florida's worst environmental disasters. Accidents like the spill at the former Piney Point plant fill the history books in Florida.

Official looks to the future of Piney Point after its closure

Aerial view of Piney Point gypstack
Center for Biological Diversity Image
Piney Point south gypstack

Manatee County officials are looking forward to the next chapter in the saga.

A year ago, about 215 million gallons of wastewater poured from the troubled Piney Point phosphate plant into Tampa Bay’s waters -- a long-feared disaster come true.

Manatee County officials are looking forward to the next chapter in the saga.

Read more of WUSF's coverage of Piney Point

State officials recently signed off on a plan to close the plant. In the fall, workers will use injection wells to remove water from the ponds and then likely line and sod the tops of the gypsum stacks, with the goal of finishing the process by the end of 2024.

The plant’s four stacks held 397 million gallons of water as of January 1, according to a report. The bulk of the ponds’ water will be injected deep into the ground below the aquifer.

Manatee County administrator Scott Hopes said while the plant is still leaking — now safely into a collection system — shutting it down as soon as possible is imperative.

The stack can handle about 25 inches of rain, he said. A heavier rain could cause it to flood into Tampa Bay’s waters again.

“Right now we’re able to control it, but I think everybody will rest easier in the community, especially those businesses and residents around Piney Point, when those stacks are finally just capped and closed,” Hopes said. “This operation's been around since the '60s and it's time to write that final chapter and permanently eliminate the problem and the risk."

He said the county will eventually try to bring more industries to the site — like a manufacturing facility or other companies.

"The hope is that one day you'll be able to play soccer on those large fields at the highest level in the empty county."

And there may be room for a BMX park too, he added.

WUSF News staff writer Carl Lisciandrello contributed to this report.

Bailey LeFever is a reporter focusing on education and health in the greater Tampa Bay region.