Jellyfish processing plan stirs up environmental concerns in Beaufort County

emoody@beaufortgazette.comJanuary 25, 2014 

  • If you go: A community meeting with representatives from Carolina Jelly Balls LLC will be 7 p.m. Feb. 6 at James J. Davis Elementary School, 364 Keans Neck Road, Dale.

A debate about the pros and cons of a plant in Beaufort County to process cannonball jellyfish is heating up.

The plan is being considered at community, county and state levels as government officials, residents and Carolina Jelly Ball LLC representatives discuss permits and plans for the state's first such operation. The jellyfish would be caught in local waters, processed, then shipped to Asian markets, where they are considered a culinary delicacy.

Company representative Steve Giese says environmental concerns about the operation are "unfounded and dramatically exaggerated" and will be calmed after a Feb. 6 community meeting with company officials.

"I think once we get past this meeting, past what we're dealing with, I think we're going to be welcomed into the community," he said. "... There's nothing to fear."

Others are skeptical.

"When someone tells me not to worry, that's when I do," said John Marshall, owner of Old Bull Tavern in Beaufort, who buys oysters from Lady's Island Oyster Farm just a few hundred feet from where the plant's wastewater would be discharged. He is concerned the oysters -- which he says are the best he's tasted in 40 years in the restaurant business -- could be harmed by changes in the water.

Previously operating as Millenarian Trading Co. -- and now as Carolina Jelly Balls LLC -- the company's representatives are eyeing the former ArrMaz Custom Chemical site at 23 John Meeks Way in Seabrook, where a number of chemical plants have operated and toxic PCBs have been found.

S.C. Department of Health and Control and S.C. Ocean & Coastal Resource Management are considering permit applications for the processing plant.

On Wednesday, the Beaufort County Development Review Team postponed a decision on whether to recommend that the county's Zoning Board of Appeals approve the project.

The team asked for:

  • An updated site plan.

  • A notarized, executed lease with the property owner.

  • Discharge and withdrawal permits from the state.

  • A land-disturbance permit from OCRM.

  • A long-term traffic analysis for the plant.

  • A detailed community impact statement.

  • A number of residents stood to speak against the project or to encourage the team to ensure all aspects of the proposal are carefully vetted and permitted.

    John Smith, of Sheldon, said any odors could harm property values, citing a stench he's smelled at a jellyfish plant in Darien, Ga.

    "You will find no support in the Lobeco area for this venture," Joe Berger said. "... And there should be no support in this chamber."

    Bob Gross, environmental engineer for Carolina Jelly Balls and a former DHEC official, said the community's concerns are unfounded.

    "I can tell you, from what I've heard from the comments so far, there is significant, significant misunderstanding of what this project will and won't do," he said.

    He said any environmental problems would be worked out during permitting for plant discharge, an extensive process.

    Giese said Carolina Jelly Balls has improved its technology to reduce the amount of alum and salt needed to dehydrate the jellyfish so they can be shipped to market. The wastewater "is as compatible as we can get" to the water in surrounding creeks, he said.

    "A large afternoon thunderstorm would have far more negative impact," Giese said.

    The plant will also begin on a small scale and build up operations, so if there are problems, they can be handled early, he said.

    The review team will reconsider the proposal after the requested information is provided. Then it will forward its recommendation to the zoning board, which would either approve or reject it. If rejected, Carolina Jelly Balls would have to appeal to Circuit Court for consideration, county planning director Tony Criscitiello said.

    Giese first attempted to start an operation in Beaufort County last summer. Millenarian sought to open at the Port Royal shrimp docks, and a processing plant would have been located elsewhere. However, before Millenarian settled on a spot, Port Royal Town Council balked at the plan when members learned Giese owned a seafood brokerage that went bankrupt in 2007 and his son declared personal bankruptcy last summer after he helped him start a similar business.

    Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

    Related content: Public meetings set for jellyfish processing plant, Jan. 21, 2014

    Jellyfish processing operation eyeing former chemical plant site in Seabrook, Dec. 23, 2013

    Bankruptcy filings, nonpayment claims temper Port Royal officials' enthusiasm for shrimp dock deal, June 1, 2013

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