A group that wants to process cannonball jellyfish in Beaufort County has brought in its first catch, but that might get it in hot water with state officials.
The S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is investigating whether Millenarian Trading Co. and Carolina Jelly Balls operated and disposed of wastewater without permits.
DHEC spokesman said the company has been "internally referred" to the agency's enforcement program after an inspector discovered during a site visit that it had conducted a test run.
Attempts last week to reach company representative Steven Giese were unsuccessful.
Giese had told DHEC officials that jellyfish had been unloaded from boats, rinsed and shucked March 29 in a "test run of their offloading procedure." The test took place at space the company is leasing at Golden Dock on St. Helena Island, according to a report of DHEC's site visit.
An April 4 letter from DHEC to Giese says the company might have needed a permit for the test run.
The company's request for a wastewater permit, received Dec. 2, has not yet been approved by DHEC, agency spokesman Jim Beasley said. However, the site is zoned for seafood offloading and has been used for that purpose for years.
Millenarian Trading Co. and Carolina Jelly Balls have been attempting to set up shop in Beaufort County for more than a year. However, town of Port Royal officials cooled on the idea of letting Millenarian use its docks last June after learning a company owned by Giese went bankrupt in 2007 and that some Florida shrimpers said another company with which Giese was involved failed to pay them for their catch.
The group is now working to open a permanent processing plant at the former ArrMaz Custom Chemical site at 23 John Meeks Way in Lobeco. There, the jellyfish would be dehydrated with a solution of salt and alum -- which increases the potency of the salt -- then shipped to markets mainly in Asia, Giese has said.
That plan, however, hinges on DHEC approval for discharging wastewater at the Lobeco and St. Helena sites, according to agency documents. Giese and other company representatives spent early 2014 searching for a warehouse to temporarily process the jellyfish until it secures those permits.
Meanwhile, Carolina Jelly Balls will use a facility at Williams Farm in the Islandton community in Colleton County for about three months to process the jellyfish, according to DHEC documents and permit applications. The company is requesting permission to truck wastewater to Walterboro and Charleston for disposal in the public water treatment systems.
According to a copy of the request provided by DHEC, the processing facility would generate 23,000 gallons of water per week. Walterboro has agreed to accept 3,000 gallons and Charleston has agreed to take 20,000 gallons, according to letters from the utilities.
The wastewater would include organic material, suspended solids and salt, according to the request. It does not list alum.
CERTIFICATIONS AND APPLICATIONS
About 10 permit or certificate applications have been submitted to DHEC to cover operations at the three sites -- the dock, the permanent processing location and the temporary processing location.
Two applications -- for "no-exposure" certificates for the Colleton County and Golden Dock sites -- have been denied. Those certificates are used when an industrial stormwater permit is not needed because runoff from a site poses no danger of contaminating rainwater.
A March 28 letter from DHEC outlined several potential stormwater runoff problems and suggests Giese fix those problems or apply for the industrial wastewater permit.
The other eight requests remain under review, according to Beasley.
Giese has applied for wastewater permits for Golden Dock and the Lobeco site, the March 28 letter states, but permits won't be decided until after DHEC has given the public a chance to comment.
Meanwhile, DHEC continues to investigate the company's test run at the St. Helena dock, according to agency documents.
In the April 4 letter, Water Pollution Control Division director Glenn Trofatter informed Giese that shucking -- separating the jellyfish cap from the stem -- and rinsing performed at Golden Dock would require an industrial wastewater discharge permit.
The letter was sent after a March 31 visit by DHEC to both the Golden Dock and Colleton County sites. The visits were scheduled after the department received anonymous complaints.
At the Golden Dock site, Giese took the DHEC official on a tour and said the company did a test run of the offloading procedure, bringing in a haul of 14,000 pounds of jellyfish March 29, according to a report of the visit.
About half was washed and packed into containers to be sent to the Colleton County site, Giese told the inspector. The other half was rinsed and shucked before being packed. Rinsing water was pulled from and disposed into Jenkins Creek.
"The heading or shucking activity results in a wastewater discharge with the potential for toxicity," DHEC spokesman Jim Beasley said in an email. DHEC is continuing to gather information.
The jellyfish season runs until roughly the end of June, Giese said in a request to DHEC, and "the company needs to begin operation as soon as possible."
The memo is part of a report to DHEC's enforcement program. DHEC asked Giese for more information about "potential toxicity concerns and any other relevant pollutants" in its April 4 letter. Giese was given until April 15 to respond.
The DHEC official who visited the Colleton County processing site found about 13 containers of undisclosed size filled with jellyfish. None of the DHEC reports or documents indicate a violation occurred. The jellyfish had not been processed.
DHEC is investigating the incidents and has requested additional information "to determine if further action is appropriate," Beasley said.
Follow reporter Erin Moody at twitter.com/IPBG_Erin.