Jellyfish plant may be bad fit for Lowcountry

Unauthorized test run, past financial problems hurt case for a proposed processing plant.

newsroom@islandpacket.comApril 18, 2014 

At first blush, an unauthorized test run late last month by an outfit seeking to harvest and process cannonball jellyfish in the Lowcountry suggests operators who would rather beg forgiveness than ask permission.

But it's unknown if Steven Giese is even sorry that Millenarian Trading Company and Carolina Jelly Balls might have disposed of wastewater without necessary permits.

Their operations at a St. Helena Island dock and a Colleton County plant are being investigated by the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, acting on an anonymous tip. Giese -- a principal in one of these companies and the public face of both -- told DHEC investigators during a site visit that jellyfish had been unloaded from boats at Golden Dock on St. Helena, rinsed and shucked March 29 in a "test run of their offloading procedure," according to DHEC documents.

About half of the catch was rinsed and shucked, using water pulled from and disposed back into Jenkins Creek. The other half was washed, packed into containers and sent to the Colleton County site for further processing, Giese told the inspector.

Eventually, the company would like to process its catch at the former ArrMaz Custom Chemical site in Lobeco. There, the jellyfish would be dehydrated with a solution of salt and alum, then shipped to Asian markets, Giese has said. The wastewater would be discharged into a nearby waterway and would include organic material, suspended solids and salt, according to the permit request.

Presumably, the wastewater also would include alum, although that chemical was not listed on the company's permit request. However, the application does make clear that the company is eager to get started because jellyfish season ends in late June.

Time might be money, but discharge might be environmental degradation, too. In a community defined by its waterways, Giese and company simply must wait until officials can ascertain the environmental impact of what they propose. Unfortunately, the unpermitted test run gives the appearance of a company that may skirt the rules.

That perception gets no better in light of Giese's past financial problems. A company he owned went bankrupt in 2007, and some Florida shrimpers said another company with which Giese was involved failed to pay them for their catch. That explains in large part why Port Royal backed away from a proposal last summer to let Millenarian unload its harvest at the town's public docks.

Perhaps DHEC will determine jelly balls can be collected and processed here with minimal threat. Perhaps Giese's operations will employ dozens. And perhaps those employees will be paid well and on time.

But at this juncture, there are reasons to be concerned. If rules aren't followed, there could be risks for our creeks and waterways.

We suspect others will voice similar assessments starting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, when DHEC holds a public meeting at Whale Branch Middle School to discuss a permit for the temporary site in Colleton County. Officials also will summarize the status of permits related to the Lobeco site.

The best thing for all involved is for Giese and company to ask permission each step of the way from here on out.

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