Chester County lands $1 million in grants

CHESTER -- Emma Ware looks forward to the day when she can wash clothes without seeing a familiar rusty tint in her white laundry.

That day is much closer than she could have imagined just last week.

That's because Chester County recently landed $1 million in federal grants.

Half of the money will go to clean up the Springsteen mill site and the other half will help pay for water lines to the Darby Road area, a neighborhood in the northeastern part of the county where Ware has lived since 1954.

For years, Darby Road residents have complained about the quality of their well water.

Officials say the community's water isn't harmful, but the many minerals in it cause odor and taste problems. It also damages laundry.

Several months ago, county leaders were told they wouldn't get a grant to extend water lines to the area's 73 residents. So the recent news came as a pleasant shock.

"We were very surprised," Ware said, adding that residents thought they'd have to wait and apply for the grant again next year. "Thank goodness, we got it."

Community Development Block Grants are federal dollars funneled through state agencies. In South Carolina, the Department of Commerce determines the communities that get the money, which can be used for a variety of projects, including job training and building demolition.

The Darby Road grant was awarded because the state had enough money left over from the latest batch of projects to fund an older request, said Grazier Rhea, community development director for the Catawba Regional Council of Governments, which worked with the county to get the grant.

"We were absolutely shocked," said Rhea, who has navigated the grant process for nearly 30 years. "They have never done this."

The other $500,000 grant will help pay for the cleanup of the Springsteen site, an abandoned textile mill near downtown Chester consisting of a large empty building surrounded by heaps of crumbled brick and weed-covered debris.

Because the site sits in what local leaders call Chester's "gateway," officials fear the run-down mess hurts the county's chances of landing industry. And with the fifth-highest unemployment rate in the state, the county desperately needs to attract companies that will bring jobs.

Chester County Councilman Alex Oliphant, the most vocal advocate of the Springsteen cleanup, said the county had to land the grant to clear the site because it couldn't have afforded to do so otherwise.

"It's something that's absolutely needed for economic development and just community spirit," he said. "(The site) looks like crap, to put it mildly."

Oliphant hopes the site will be cleared by the spring, mid-year at the latest.

But he acknowledges that soil and other environmental contamination on the property must be dealt with before the site can be used by the public. Some leaders have suggested the land be converted into a park or civic center.

The grant doesn't cover environmental cleanup, Rhea said, but a federal loan program is available for that work.

Springsteen is one of several beautification initiatives county and city leaders are working on. The nearby Thomas & Howard building is slated for demolition, as are some of the county's blighted empty homes.

"You'll see a lot of stuff getting cleaned up around here in the next few months," Oliphant said.

For now, the county is just glad to have some help.

"A big Christmas gift," County Supervisor Carlisle Roddey said of the grants. "We usually don't get that."

Charles D. Perry • 329-4068

Where the grants come from

Chester County recently landed two $500,000 Community Development Block Grants.

These grants are federal dollars that individual states divide among their communities.

In South Carolina, the Department of Commerce decides what areas get the money, which can be used for a variety of projects, including job training and building demolition.

Chester County will use its grants to clean up the site of an abandoned textile mill and build water lines to the Darby Road area, a community with unclean well water.