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Big dirt pile is a big problem for Rock Hill

They call it Clay's Peak.

Rising at the end of Dave Lyle Boulevard on Rock Hill's eastern edge, the grass-covered mound of dirt doesn't seem very imposing - more like a berm. But the pile sits in a valuable spot, and it could soon become the focus of a costly removal project.

Clay's Peak occupies the only remaining industrial site of more than 10 acres at Waterford, posing a pesky roadblock for any business that might consider locating there.

"We have a dirt issue," explains Rick Norwood, in charge of marketing for the city's network of business parks.

Technically speaking, Clay's Peak is 40,000 cubic yards of unusable dirt that sits on Site D at Waterford Industrial Park.

The pile was left behind after crews completed Waterford Park Drive, the main entrance for a business park that opened in the late 1990s.

It's affectionately named for Clay Andrews, the former director of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp., who oversaw the development of Waterford Business Park and Waterford Golf Club.

The mound never should have sat untouched for this long.

After building Waterford Park Drive, crews working for the state Department of Transportation were supposed to separate unusable soils, such as bull tallow, from "good" dirt that could be hauled to other construction sites.

But the work never took place - and the dirt didn't go anywhere.

"It is just a big mess sitting right out there at the front of the site," said Stephen Turner, director of the Rock Hill Economic Development Corp.

A business prospect has shown interest in the site, city officials said. Winbro Group Technologies, based in England, makes components for the aerospace and industrial gas turbine markets.

The company recently chose Waterford for a $10 million facility that will bring 25 new jobs by January. Now, Winbro is scouting land for a second facility that could bring 120 additional jobs.

But other Carolinas communities want a piece of Winbro, too.

The dirt pile, and costs associated with its cleanup, "places us in a position of weakness instead of strength when competing with other cities and counties in the Charlotte region," city economic development officials warned in a recent memo.

Two options have materialized. For less than $200,000, the city-affiliated Rock Hill Economic Development Corp. could knock down the pile and transfer the dirt to berms around the edge of the property.

Another option would be to mass-grade the entire site for a large industrial building at a cost between $500,000 and $800,000.

Why the hefty price tag? A convoy of dump trucks would have to make thousands of trips to haul away dirt, said Jimmy Bagley, assistant city manager. Fuel costs and labor can quickly add up.

The good news, according to city officials, comes on the back end: The eventual sale of the property could generate $500,000 to $700,000 for use on other projects and activities.

A city economic development committee is evaluating options and could make a decision sometime in early 2011.

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