Originally created 04/24/98

Factory may be bought



CLEARWATER -- After sitting vacant for eight years housing hazardous chemicals, vandals and fires, the abandoned Clearwater Finishing Plant could get a new owner.

And this one wants to clean it up.

Environmental Control Systems has made the most serious offer to date on the forfeited property, said Cyrus Spradley, head of the county Forfeited Land Committee responsible for disposing of the plant. The Aiken company would buy the property with the intent of cleaning it to showcase its technology, he said.

"This is what we're looking for," he said.

Mr. Spradley and the county have been trying to dispose of the property since the county took possession of it in a 1991 tax sale. The owners owed $366,000 in property taxes. The county has been trying to sell the old textile mill at that price ever since, but to no avail.

Since 1990, the factory has been the target of three fires, one of which was started by vandals stealing copper wire.

At the request of the county, the Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Health and Environmental Control investigated the contents of the mill and discovered more than 1,000 drums of spent dyes, caustic materials and other leftovers from textile manufacturing. Some of them produce toxic fumes when burned, and some were left exposed to the elements.

ECS is a local company and will try to use as many local contractors as possible should it undertake the cleanup, and it has an interest in cleaning the plant for the community, said Milt Hazel, vice president of operations for ECS.

The company does not have an end use in mind yet for the property, but it is leaning toward light manufacturing or warehousing, he said. It will probably be in the summer when the company actually signs the papers and takes full control of the property.

"Once we get in there, people will see we've done a first-rate job," Mr. Hazel said.