St. Helena jellyfish dock could expand to processing site in future

emoody@beaufortgazette.comFebruary 5, 2014 

jellyball

In this photo taken Feb. 4, 2014, a jellyfish processing company is readying a dock on St. Helena Island at Golden Dock Road for offloading.

ERIN MOODY — Erin Moody Buy Photo

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    Beaufort County Councilman Gerald Dawson has organized a community meeting with representatives from Carolina Jelly Balls LLC. The presentation will be 7 p.m. Thursday at James J. Davis Elementary School, 364 Keans Neck Road, Dale.

A company that wants to use a St. Helena Island dock to unload cannonball jellyfish intends to process its harvest elsewhere at first.

But that might not be the case forever.

Company representative Steven Giese said the dock on Jenkins Creek could be expanded to include a processing plant -- an operation that is getting a cold reception from some who live near another proposed processing site in northern Beaufort County.

Giese's company has applied for a wastewater discharge application from the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control that would allow Carolina Jelly Balls LLC to convert a vacant chemical plant.

The company is operating as Millenarian Trading Co. at the St. Helena dock site, for which it signed a lease Monday and where it could shift its processing operation if it doesn't get the permits it needs elsewhere.

According to a permit application for the St. Helena site, as much as 100,000 gallons of water could be discharged daily into Jenkins Creek, which flows into the Morgan River, from the "proposed seafood processing plant at the end of Golden Dock Road."

That discharge would be the byproduct of the process used to dehydrate jellyfish before they are shipped to Asian markets, where they are considered a delicacy. The jellyballs, as they are called, are treated with a mixture of salt and alum,

Giese said there is "no rush" on the permit, which the company does not need to use the dock as a collection site for its catch. It has been used for decades by various seafood companies for offloading.

DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said the permit will not be considered until after a decision is made on a permit for the Lobeco site at 23 John Meeks Way

Giese's company hopes to begin large-scale processing there soon, in the former ArrMaz Custom Chemical plant. Despite ongoing clean up by previous owners, toxic PCBs have been discovered there.

Although Carolina Jelly Balls will not use the contaminated areas, Giese said, the company is applying for and has a proposed Brownsfield Voluntary Cleanup Contract from DHEC. Such contracts provide financial incentives to companies that acquire and help clean up contaminated properties.

The Lobeco plant would process about 200,000 to 250,000 pounds of jellyfish a week, according to the DHEC wastewater permit application. About 250,000 gallons of wastewater a day could be discharged into Campbell Creek, which leads into the Whale Branch and Coosaw rivers, according to the application.

The permit is under review, Beasley said, and no decisions have been made.

Giese says wastewater will be filtered, treated and diluted to be compatible with the surrounding water.

Some Lobeco residents have expressed concerns about the discharge's smell and its impact on water quality.

Carolina Jelly Balls' permit application says its operation in Lobeco would closely resemble that used at a plant in Darien, Ga., owned by Golden Island International.

A city of Darien engineer there said it's important to get the treatment of the discharge right.

"It's a high-strength industrial waste water that's discharged from a facility," Brennen Jones said. "... It's acidic. It's corrosive water. If it touches metal or concrete it will corrode it."

For years, he said, the facility in Darien sent wastewater down the city's pipes. That changed after environmental watchdogs became concerned about runoff into the water system, and the city noticed blockages in the pipes and at its water-treatment plant.

At one point, a water pipe that carried both public and processing-plant waste collapsed, Jones said.

"It's hard to definitively say if the jellyball processing facility was responsible, or if it was just an old pipeline," he said.

The plant has since put in a new treatment plant, Jones said. He hasn't kept close tabs or heard reports of how things are going, but said he's not aware of any recent problems.

For water to be safe, solids need to be removed, the water clarified and the pH adjusted with chemicals to a neutral 7. It is approximately 4, which is acidic, after processing, he said.

"There's things they could have done in Darien that could have saved them a lot of money," he said. "If this is a brand new facility, they have an opportunity to put something in that is well thought-out in advance."

Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.

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