Don Worthington

Rock Hill keeps moving forward with Knowledge Park plans

Rock Hill wants to hire a consultant to see how the massive machinery in the power plant could be removed or incorporated into the design of a new use.
Rock Hill wants to hire a consultant to see how the massive machinery in the power plant could be removed or incorporated into the design of a new use.

While the tiff over the TIF – the special tax district to fund public improvements at the Knowledge Park – continues to make headlines, Rock Hill is quietly preparing the Bleachery for development.

The city will spend $520,000 – most of it federal grant money – to hire an architect and an environmental consultant to identify constraints the site’s developer might face.

The environmental consultant’s job will be to complete the clean-up plan for the Bleachery.

Several environmental consultants have previously studied the site for the city. The result, said Jennifer Wilford, the city’s project manager, is “we have a good idea what’s out there, what needs to be addressed. The good news is it’s not as bad as we expected based on previous uses.”

There is some petroleum pollution on the site, especially near the power plant where there are three underground tanks.

There also is some bleach and dye contamination, as well as some metal pollution, especially from the chrome-plating operations on the site, Wilford said.

The city has a $400,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to do the final clean-up plan. The city’s contribution is $80,000, bringing the total amount to $480,000 – twice as much as previous clean-up grants for the city’s other textile plants.

The plan is for the consultant and developer Sora-Phelps to work together, overlaying proposed development plans on the known environmental problems, Wilford said. The proposed development will determine how much remediation is required, she said.

If the proposed use is a parking lot or street, pavement may be all that’s required, she said. The asphalt would “cap” the contaminants.

If the use is residential or public-use space, more remediation would be required.

In its search for consultants, the city said there are three options to address soil contamination: removal of the soil, engineering controls or bioventing – a process where “indigenous microorganisms” are used to biodegrade some contaminants.

The city’s preferred alternative is engineering controls such as building physical barriers or venting systems to contain and prevent exposure to contamination on a property.

The city’s goal is to do the remediation concurrent with new construction. It hopes to have a final clean-up plan in place by the beginning of 2016.

The city also has a $40,000 grant from the S.C. Department of Archives and History to determine the feasibility of rehabilitating the Bleachery’s power house and water filtration plant. The state and the city shared the grant’s cost. The city expects the developer to reimburse it for Rock Hill’s portion of the grant.

The power plant is the site of the iconic RHP&F twin smokestacks.

The coal-fired steam plant was initially built in 1929 and was expanded in 1949 when then-state-of-the-art turbine generators were installed. The interior of the power plant now looks like a perfect horror movie set with broken windows and massive equipment, pipes and valves. Most of the equipment has plates stamped with “Rock Hill Printing & Finishing Co. 1935.”

As proposed, the selected architect would identify any environmental hazards such as lead or asbestos, recommend steps and costs for immediate repairs, and estimate the cost to remove the heavy machinery and the “general cost estimates” to rehab the building. The most often proposed use for the building is a restaurant and brew pub.

All of the proposed work must comply with federal historic preservation guidelines, as qualifying for federal and state historic tax credits – as well as several other possible tax credits – is seen as essential to development.

The credits are worth “well north of $20 million,” said David Lawrence, the city’s Knowledge Park development manager.

Both grants, city officials say, are “road maps to move forward.”

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066 •

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