13233 S.C. Highway 56

This nearly 7-acre complex at 13233 S.C. Highway 56 was the proposed site of a wastewater evaporation facility.

CLINTON

Driving up Highway 56, it’s hard not to notice the often-packed parking lot outside Blue Ocean Seafood Restaurant, a brick building with a signature blue roof just past Interstate 26. Quality Inn sits behind the eatery while Comfort Inn is just north of the restaurant, across from a sign for Musgrove Mill State Historic Site, with the hotels serving as resting spots for those visiting the scenic Revolutionary War battlefield or Presbyterian College’s campus.

Next, motorists heading to Musgrove Mill — either the state park or the nearby golf course — see small houses and mobile homes dotting the left side, perhaps with children playing in a front yard or seasonal decorations adorning some of the modest homes. To the right, dense woods.

Staying straight on the two-lane highway, vehicles pass property that was home to a contracting firm before the business moved to Hurricane Church Road. The unassuming, nearly 7-acre complex at 13233 S.C. Highway 56 sits about 3 miles from property owned by the U.S. Forestry Service and 5 miles from Musgrove Mill. It now belongs to H2O Blue, which wanted to turn it into a wastewater evaporation facility.

Wait. A what?

The gist is this: The plant would take in truckloads of wastewater that couldn’t be processed by local treatment plants, either because of capacity limits or because the wastewater is too difficult to treat. The company would then pump this water into two evaporators that can each vaporize 400 gallons per hour. The process mostly puts out steam, but also produces a sludge that would be mixed with sawdust and taken to a landfill.

H2O Blue listed some of its potential customers and intakes on an application to DHEC. One possibility, machine washing or mop water from Sterilite, didn’t sound so foul. But the plant could also take in something called “landfill leachate,” which is runoff from decomposing trash at the dump. The company, which would have housed more than 200,000 gallons at its proposed Clinton site, expected this wastewater to come from North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.

The good folks of Clinton were awash with questions:

What does it smell like when someone evaporates 400 gallons of wastewater — perhaps including landfill leachate — in an hour? Would water entering the plant or sitting in storage create an odor?

How far would any stench stretch? Would the “fragrance” waft down to the hotels and Blue Ocean a half-mile away? What about the city center?

Would this water, which was trucked in because it wasn’t good enough for traditional wastewater treatment facilities, pose an environmental hazard?

What would this do to property values? Economic development? Tourism?

Let me tell you, as someone who lives 4 miles from where this would go in, I had all these same questions and more.

Residents, especially those who own property near the proposed plant, did everything they could to be heard. After concerned parties organized an informational meeting last week, the Laurens County Legislative Delegation asked DHEC for a public meeting about the application and Clinton City Council approved having the city manager share with DHEC the city’s concerns about the impact of this plant, which would be just outside the city’s limits. There’s also a Facebook page, Keep Laurens County Clean, to help air concerns about the proposed plant. Residents also used DHEC’s public comment period to let the state Department of Health and Environmental Control know their thoughts on the proposed facility.

The result: On Tuesday, H2O Blue pulled its permit application.

It’s not clear yet if the project has been abandoned or if H2O Blue will come back with a different plan. Still, it is a good reminder that civic engagement works.

Contact Managing Editor Matthew Hensley at 864-943-2529 or mhensley@indexjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @IJMattHensley.