Fort Lawn sees woes compounded

FORT LAWN -- Tiny Fort Lawn already had one crisis, knowing the inevitable closing of Springs Global's Grace plant in Lancaster County would mean the end of the facility treating the town's sewage.

But when Springs announced Wednesday that it was shutting down both the Grace facility and the Close plant, which is inside the town's borders, the news meant nearly half the town's tax base also was leaving.

Springs will close the last of its two South Carolina manufacturing plants this fall, slicing 750 local jobs and ending the company's 120-year tradition of making products in the state.

Fort Lawn officials expected the news about Grace, but they didn't think the Close site would shut down so quickly. This year, the town has collected $83,340 in taxes, and more than $35,000 came from Springs. The company also paid $11,500 of the $23,553 that the town collected in business license fees.

"It'll hurt the town," Fort Lawn Mayor Charles "Clif" Ferguson said of the lost tax revenue. "Yes, it will."

The elimination of the Close plant compounds an already difficult situation for the town of about 850 residents.

"We've got two crises," said Fort Lawn Police Chief Richard Smith.

The other crisis involves the town's wastewater treatment.

In January, Springs sent a letter to the town saying the company would stop treating Fort Lawn's sewage by 2010 but couldn't guarantee it would provide the service that long.

The letter also said Springs expected to reduce the volume of its industrial wastewater processed at the facility, meaning it would cost Springs more to treat Fort Lawn's wastewater, which it has done since 1979.

Although the Close and Grace plants will be closed around Aug. 31, Springs will continue to treat the town's wastewater beyond that date, Smith said.

But town leaders don't know how long that will last.

Springs spokesman Ted Matthews declined to discuss the sewer matter last week, except to say the company is working closely with the town.

"We feel like there is a clear solution that has some good prospects for all the parties involved, and we're going toward that," he said.

Town leaders have said they hope to get grant money for laying sewer lines, but before the town can look for grants, leaders have to determine where they'll go for water treatment.

One study found connecting Fort Lawn to the Chester Metropolitan Water District -- about nine miles away -- was the most reasonable option, costing about $3 million. Another study is examining how much it would cost to link Fort Lawn with the Lancaster County Water and Sewer District.