CHESTER -- Chester County leaders will toss the equivalent of a political Hail Mary when they ask three federal lawmakers for help with problems involving two former Great Falls mill sites.
During this week's County Council meeting, Councilman Archie Lucas suggested asking U.S. Rep. John Spratt, D-S.C., and U.S. Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Jim DeMint, R-S.C., for help with two long-standing issues:
• The county wants to recoup about $1.5 million lost because of an oil spill at the Great Falls No. 2 Mill. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials said in 2005 that the county did not report the oil spill in a timely manner, nor did it have a response plan in place to comply with the national Clean Water Act. That same year, the county received a letter from the U.S. Coast Guard's National Pollution Funds Center denying its claim for the cleanup cost, saying the county never inspected the tank and took no precautions.
• The county needs federal assistance in cleaning up the rubble of the J.P. Stevens Mill No. 3, which was destroyed by a fire in 2006. Unlike the No. 2 mill, which is owned by the county, the No. 3 site is privately owned.
The council approved sending the letters, but leaders know the requests are a long shot. Leaders say the oil spill claim repeatedly has been denied and, as for the No. 3 site, limited federal assistance is available for private owners to clean up mill sites.
The owner of the mill, John Tibbs, told The Herald in May that he didn't want to lose his investment by simply handing over the property to local government. Tibbs could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
"This is a shot in the dark," said County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey. "We hope we're going to hit something with it. ... You never know what you might receive if you don't ask."
Leading the charge is Lucas, who hopes federal lawmakers will somehow be able to help the community he represents.
"I'm a lifelong resident of Great Falls," he said. "I know what we used to look like, and I know what we're looking like. And it's not pretty."
Lucas also has the support of County Councilman Alex Oliphant, who is searching for grant opportunities to clean up blighted county properties.
"Archie and I are on the same page," he said. "We want to clean the mess up."
A spokesman from Spratt's office said the congressman would like to see the letters before commenting.