September 26, 2016 – Tampa Bay Times
by Craig Pittman
For three weeks, Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials kept mum about a phosphate mine’s 300-foot-deep sinkhole that dumped 215 million gallons of contaminated water into the state’s aquifer last month. When they did at last announce it publicly, they called that going “above and beyond” what they were required to do.
Now Gov. Rick Scott has changed what’s required of the DEP.
Scott announced that, effective immediately, he wants DEP to make a new rule to require the owner or operator of any facility, including a city or county government, “to provide notification of incidents of pollution within 24 hours to DEP, local governments and the general public through the media.”
Scott said he was taking this step because of the delay in reporting the Mulberry sinkhole incident to neighbors of the plant, as well as St. Petersburg’s continuing sewage dumps into Tampa Bay.
“It does not make sense that the public is not immediately notified when pollution incidents occur,” he said in a news release. “Today, I am demanding any business, county or city government responsible for a pollution incident to immediately tell the public. That is common sense and our residents deserve that.”
He said he is also going to propose legislation next year to put that requirement into law. Currently the law requires the public be notified only if the contamination moves beyond the property owned by the company or entity that spilled the pollution.
Scott said he would visit the site of the sinkhole on Tuesday for a briefing by officials of Mosaic, the world’s largest phosphate company, on what they have done so far to deal with the contamination.
Mosaic officials have apologized to the public for being slow to warn everyone about what happened. DEP officials have taken a different tack. Last week, after the Times ran an article about DEP not notifying the public for three weeks, Scott’s office issued a news release called “Setting the Record Straight” that quoted DEP Secretary Jon Steverson as praising his agency for going “above and beyond” what the law required.
Last week a group of Mosaic neighbors filed a federal lawsuit over the sinkhole contamination. [READ MORE]