He further noted that “HRK has subsequently identified and reported (February 2020 email to FDEP) a significant number of additional liner failures and deterioration areas within the NGS-S compartment,”
“Based on our current observations and the recent history of the NGS-S,” Kelley proposed, “Wood recommends that the NGS-S be removed from the process wastewater management system as the designated Emergency Diversion Impoundment.”
“The following known and reasonably assumed conditions at the NGS-S present an elevated risk of containment breach and release of ponded process wastewater.”
- Continued visible deterioration of the liner above the waterline
- Unknown and likely compromised condition of the liner below the water line and outside of the previous breach repair areas.
- Likely presence of remnant voids within the perimeter gyp dykes and throughout the pond bottom that previously developed from a combination of high head pressures, concentrated flow velocities, and gypsum solutioning by saline water contact during the dredge project liner breach.”
“Given the location of the facility and experience from the 2011 NGS-S breach,” Kelley said. “The potential for catastrophic damage to the public and the environment is considered unacceptable.”
In a letter of response, dated May 15, 2020, FDEP’s John Coates quoted, “the following known and reasonably assumed conditions,” presented by Kelley. He then proceeded to summarily dismiss each concern one by one.
“Specifically, the Department believes it is important to understand the basis for the above-excerpted statements and to understand what objective information Wood may have been aware of, and relied upon, in the formation of these statements, and when was this information obtained,” said Coates. “The Department’s primary regulatory focus is to take actions to ensure that facilities, such as and including the former Piney Point site, are operated and maintained in a safe manner and that these facilities do not constitute a threat to public safety or the environment.”
“The first bulleted item noted the continued visible deterioration of the liner above the waterline,” Coates said. “The Department finds this statement to be credible and based on objective observations of the exposed surfaces of the liner within the NGS-S compartment. However, Wood’s statement does not indicate the overall condition itself of the liner system, nor does it provide a reliable indicator of the expected performance of the liner itself. In fact, the visible deterioration is only apparent on exposed surfaces of the liner as was noted by HRK, the Department, and Wood’s representative for onsite liner inspections and maintenance repairs in 2019. Notably, it was a Wood recommendation to HRK that NGS-S liner samples be tested to provide information on such factors as surface oxidation.”
“As noted above, the Wood statement here, in part, indicates that the condition of the liner below the water liner is, ‘unknown.’ The Department understands this Wood statement as it is generally recognized that liner below the water line cannot be readily visually inspected or sampled without first removing or lowering the water level.” Coates continued, “However, during our April 30 meeting, the Department questioned the basis and asked what information Wood relied upon for asserting that liner was, likely compromised below the water line and outside the previous breach repair areas. In short, Wood responded that it did not have any information on the condition of the unexposed liner (herein meaning the liner normally below the water level in the NGS-S).”
“The Wood letter stated that Wood believes that there is a ‘likely presence of remnant voids with the perimeter gyp dykes and throughout the pond bottom…’ that developed in association with the 2011 HRK and Port Manatee dredging project,” Coates challenged. “When asked, Wood did not indicate what objective or credible information was relied upon for that statement.”
“Based on the April 30 Meeting, Wood did not indicate that Wood had any specific information to support Wood’s statement that there was a likely presence of voids within the perimeter gyp dykes and throughout the pond bottom,” Coates said.
“We respect and appreciate Wood’s established professionalism and expertise and the clarification was useful to understand Wood’s motivation for why the letter was sent directly to the Department, despite your engagement as the third-party engineer for HRK. It was also helpful to understand, as you stated, that the final version of the letter was written largely with input from a variety of other Wood representatives, and was not the sole writing of the third party engineer who we expect is more familiar with the conditions at the site,” said Coates.
“Until such time as the water can be removed from the site, HRK must continue to take steps to safely store process water and maintain compliance with the environmental protections in Chapter 62-672, Fla. Admin. Code. If HRK and Wood continue their third-party engineering engagement, the Department welcomes Wood’s continued third-party input, and keenly awaits associated information, and the completion of HRK’s pending annual phosphogypsum stack system inspection and its annual site-specific water management plan as discussed above,” Coates concluded.
It’s not clear what Coates’ motivation was for sending copies of his response to Kelley’s letter directly to Jeff Barath of HRK Holdings, Bruce Clark a Senior Engineer of Wood, Vishwas Sathe the FDEP Environmental Administrator, Amaury Betancourt a FDEP Professional Engineer, or William D. Preston a FDEP Environmental attorney.
In response to two requests for a comment regarding his decision to dismiss numerous concerns expressed by Kelley and warnings of a possible breach in the stack system at Piney Point, FDEP’s John Coates said he forwarded our emails to their press office.
FDEP’s press office did not issue a statement as to why Coates dismissed repeated concerns and warnings either.
Despite a report that Manatee County officials said that a drone equipped with thermal imaging equipment identified a possible second breach in the wall at 2 a.m. Monday. April 5, DEP Spokeswoman Shannon Herbon again dismissed concerns and warnings, saying the assessment was based on conflicting engineering reports by the engineer hired by HRK.
“Our technical group went on-site and verified that there is only one breach,” Herbon said.
However, Herbon did not indicate what objective or credible information was relied upon for that statement.