Originally created 08/10/00

Polluted site gets overhaul

CLEARWATER - Clearwater Finishing Plant, on U.S. Highway 1 in Aiken, was a cesspool and a liability for anyone who dared to touch it.

But now, a central processing unit making composite wood, which costs about one-third the price of ordinary wood, will be one tenant in the 64-acre site being redeveloped, according to Milt Hazel, vice president of operations for Environmental Control Systems.

ECS, which became the owner of the plant in May, specializes in cost-effective solutions for contaminated sites, the reclamation of landfills and remediation of brownfields such as Clearwater Finishing.

Clearwater Development Corp., a subsidiary of ECS, rolled up its sleeves and began the revitalization of the textile plant 2´ years ago.

"We plan to promote and enhance environmental technology to directly benefit the environment and indirectly benefit the surrounding community," Mr. Hazel told members of the Midland Valley Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday.

But he said he could not yet release the name of the composite wood producer that plans to locate at the plant.

The corporation envisions a state-of-the-art eco-mall, which will be home to the study and development of environmental-related businesses.

Things were not always so cut-and-dried for the Aiken-based company. The site was abandoned by its former occupants 10 years ago, leaving behind more than 1,000 drums containing wastes and various chemical compounds and $366,000 in back property taxes.

The site was taken over by the Forfeited Land Commission. It cost the county to care for the land until the problems could be resolved.

"We were ready to get the land off of our hands," Cyrus Spradley, chairman of the Forfeited Land Commission, said in a telephone interview. "In the eight years the county owned it, we did not gain one penny in tax money."

The cleanup cost more than $2 million. The Environmental Protection Agency spent $1.3 million, and ECS spent $1 million. The company entered into state and federal agreements to protect itself from any liability associated with the past contamination of the site.

"We went through the EPA and (South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control) to bound the environmental liability issues, and made it a viable project for people to be able to come in and expend funds for the redevelopment of it," Mr. Hazel said. "Before, if you were associated with the plant some way, the EPA would go after you to try and recoup some of the money they spent."

The legal and environmental challenges have been overcome, and the first lease is expected to be signed in the next couple of weeks.

"We will target specific industries so that what we get is a group of business folks so that they complement each other and create a synergistic industrial park," Mr. Hazel said.

He envisions a training facility, a laboratory and various companies that will generate enthusiasm and increased business.

Reach Lisa Woods at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.


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