Chester County seeks grant for soil, water testing

CHESTER -- Chester County will enter the race for a $200,000 grant to pay for environmental tests on properties in Chester's blighted "gateway" and at two Great Falls mill sites, including the J.P. Stevens Mill No. 3 that burned for nearly a week last year.

The competitive grant comes from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and pays for soil and water quality tests. The grant does not cover cleanup costs.

"You have to figure out what you have before you can decide what to do with it," said Robert Moody, a senior planner with the Catawba Regional Council of Governments.

Catawba Regional landed this type of grant in 2002 and 2006.

Local leaders, including Chester Mayor Mitch Foster and County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey, met at Catawba Regional's Rock Hill office this week to discuss the grant.

EPA grant funding is available for mill site cleanup but not for private property, Moody said. However, land and water tests can be conducted on private or public land.

The decision to pursue the grant marks the latest effort to clean up Chester's gateway, a series of dilapidated buildings and crumbled remnants of the Springsteen mill site.

County Councilman Alex Oliphant has been spearheading the movement to clean up the gateway area. He said Springsteen, along with J.P. Stevens Mill No. 1 and No. 3 in Great Falls, were included in the grant request because Catawba Regional felt like combining the projects would increase the county's chances of landing the grant.

A fire at the J.P. Stevens Mill No. 3 ignited June 6, 2006. For about a week, the smoke that covered Great Falls contained hydrochloric acid, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Shifting winds blew the smoke in every direction and caused mass evacuations of more than half the town. Nearly 1,300 of the town's 2,200 residents were out of their homes for almost a week.

The sites in the grant request will not include the J.P. Stevens Mill No. 2, where an oil leak in 2003 cost the county more than $1 million. Last month, county leaders decided to apply for another federal grant to pay for an environmental study at that site.

One way or another, leaders hope to clear the county's blighted properties. "They all need to be cleaned up," Oliphant said. "Every single one of them."

Roddey echoed those thoughts.

"Something needs to happen with this stuff," he said.

The grant application is due by mid-October, Moody said. The county should know by May if it will get the grant and, if it does, money would be available in October 2008.