US 41 Reopened in Manatee Near Piney Point Wastewater Site

PALMETTO -- Manatee County Public Safety officials are reopening U.S. 41 near the Piney Point phosphogypsum site, where a partial breach occurred last week.

Homes in the area are still under an evacuation order and side streets remain closed.

U.S. 41 is a vital highway, not only for through traffic but access to Port Manatee as well. Officials have allowed port traffic past the roadblocks, as the port is vital for moving gasoline supplies into Florida.

Also Tuesday morning, during a briefing at the Manatee County Commission meeting, county administrator Scott Hopes said the county could back down from a full Level 1 emergency activation later today, if engineers say a full breach of the stack is no longer imminent. That could mean residents and business employees will be allowed to return to the evacuation zone.

Hopes said not all of the hundreds of millions of gallons of water being pumped out of the stack are going into Tampa Bay. Hopes says only the water on top, which is salt water dredged from the Bay years ago, is being pumped into Piney Point Creek. Water at the bottom, containing silt and residue from prior phosphate operations, is being taken into tanker trucks and into a nearby retention pond that is lined to keep the water from seeping into the ground and potentially the aquifer.

During the meeting, Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge called out local and national media coverage, accusing reporters of "clickbait" headlines for using words that "scared and misinformed people" such as "radioactive, arsenic and toxic." Van Ostenbridge and Hopes agreed that radioactivity and presence of toxic chemicals are not above safe levels.

Photo: Manatee County