Will Magnolia be the neck jewel or an environmental wart?
A former industrial site in the Charleston Neck area along the Ashley River is poised to become the city’s largest commercial and residential development since the annexation of Daniel Island three decades ago.
Construction of the 189-acre Magnolia project, first envisioned in the early 2000s, could begin within two years now that Houston-based owner Highland Resources recently entered into a partnership with Portman Holdings in Atlanta.
“We’ve found the right partner, and they’re spending a tremendous amount of time, effort and money to upgrade,” Highland CEO Clark Davis said recently. Post and courier. Ambrish Baisiwala, Chairman and CEO of Portman, told the newspaper: “For us, this is an ideal project with an ideal partner. The project, he said, is a “game changer” for Charleston.
When completed, the Magnolia project, much smaller than the 4,000-acre Daniel Island, could still have the same population – 10,000. The developer plans to squeeze it between the Ashley River and Interstate 26, just below the small community of Rosemont next to the King Street Extension.
The land is known for three industrial sites: Koppers, a former timber processing plant; and two former fertilizer plants, Columbia Nitrogen and Ashepoo Phosphate. They are currently managed under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Federal Superfund Program with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Federal Superfund and Brownfields programs. SC. Extensive environmental remediation work has taken place at the sites, but not all work is complete, said Ron Aiken, director of media relations for DHEC.
For years, plants have polluted the soil with lead, creosote and other toxins. Lead is a concern at residential sites because it can cause neurological damage, especially in children. The sites underwent a $75 million rehabilitation effort to make the land suitable for commercial and residential use, Magnolia spokesman Jonathan Scott said. This work involved removing contaminated soil, installing a fabric barrier over an area the size of 34 football fields, and placing 13,000 dump truck loads of clean soil on top of that barrier.
An environmentalist wonders if the site is safe
Although DHEC oversaw the cleanup, “additional cleanup of these properties is required to support intended reuse,” Aiken said. Still, Jennifer Wright, a psychology professor at the College of Charleston and co-director of the Charleston Climate Coalition, asked if the site was suitable for a development with a hotel, offices and retail. A soil plug at the site could deteriorate over time, she said. “So what does this mean for a community that lives on it?” she asked.
Wright admitted she didn’t know much about the development. “But certainly if history repeats itself, [the toxins] will find [their] in the water in ways we can’t anticipate,” she said. “It will be interesting to see how they sell it hiding the fact that there is such close exposure to toxic chemicals.”
Scott said, during the construction process, “if we have to dig under the ceiling for any reason…that floor will be sanitized.”
The struggling chemical plant nearby
The property is also less than a mile from the struggling Lanxess chemical plant where large quantities of toxic chemicals are handled on site, including chlorine trains. The factory has seen a series of incidents over the years, including a mild release of toxic gas in late May 2020 and an explosion on June 17, 1991 that killed nine workers and injured dozens when the factory was then owned by Albright & Wilson.
Wright also expressed concerns about air pollution from the chemical plant.
Following the November 2019 gas release at Lanxess, DHEC conducted full air inspections on March 10, 2020 and March 12, 2022. A risk management program inspection was also conducted on February 27, 2019. As a result of these inspections, DHEC did not cite the company with violations.
Since the plant’s risk management plan was submitted in 2018, DHEC is aware of one accident that occurred in the past five years, Aiken said. The incident happened on May 22, 2019 and involved a chlorine leak that injured several employees. “There have been no known off-site impacts,” he said.
The risk management plan includes a worst-case scenario that assesses the offsite consequences of what “may or may not” happen in the unlikely event of a catastrophic accident, Aiken said. The worst-case scenario document is publicly available. Publication of its contents, however, is prohibited by federal law due to the sensitive nature of the document, he added. A formal written request to DHEC is required to view the risk management report.
Fifteen years ago, Charleston developer Robert Clement represented former Magnolia owners Ashley I and Ashley II. The 2008 recession canceled the project, but in a speech to the city’s planning commission in 2007, Clement said, “If a tragedy occurs in [the plant], this is not a concern of Magnolia or Rosemont, it would be a concern of the whole community, depending on the direction the wind is blowing. Clément, president of CC&T Real Estate Services, is not currently involved in the Magnolia project.
Magnolia spokesman Scott said current Magnolia owners have not seen Lanxess’ risk management plan to understand the risk assessment or be able to comment on it.
Rep. Wendell Gilliard, D-Charleston, whose district includes the chemical plant, said, “I’m surprised the developer hasn’t commented on this most important issue! I’m sure there will be a next one, because they should have known about this report! »
The long history of the Neck
Dozens of plantations once lined the Ashley and Cooper rivers in the Neck area. During the Revolutionary War, British troops fortified the narrowest part of the Neck. Likewise, during the Civil War, the narrowest part of the Neck served as a battlefront and encampment for Union and Confederate troops.
For more than a century, the Neck region had been considered an important, albeit undesirable, workplace. After the Civil War, phosphate was discovered on both sides of the Ashley, creating a boom for Charleston’s struggling post-war economy. Eventually, as phosphate was discovered in other areas, phosphate mining declined locally. However, phosphate ore was still brought to the Neck for processing to support Charleston’s fertilizer industry. The Koppers wood processing plant was also another major polluter in the Neck region.
Currently the site is flat with unobstructed views of the river for motorists speeding along the highway. Over time, Magnolia should drastically change this view. Some of the tallest buildings in the city, amidst a hotel, shops, parks and a marina, are expected to be built there, Scott said. Before it all comes out of the ground, however, developers plan to create a 24-acre waterfront park as a public amenity, he said.
Scott said the developers donated land to nearby Monrovia Union Cemetery to expand it. It is the largest African American cemetery along the marshy bank of the river. Highland Resources has also committed $500,000 for a community center in Rosemont, Scott said. Charleston City Councilman Robert Mitchell and the Rosemont Ward suggested the donation, he said. Rosemont, which has 320 residents, will be joined with Magnolia via existing Hagood Street, he added.
Longtime Rosemont resident Arthur “Arby” Edwards said the last time the community met with the developers was before the pandemic. Edwards, parliamentarian for the Rosemont Neighborhood Association, said he opposed the plan to connect Rosemont to Magnolia. Motorists could “get lost and they will end up going through Rosemont,” he said. “Before, we were unknown, but now everyone knows Rosemont.
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