The demolition of a Lobeco industrial plant is on hold indefinitely until a court and a state agency sort out environmental concerns -- among them, an allegation that the tear-down might spread chemical contaminants.
An official with Tampa, Fla., based Coastal Demolition and Construction, the site's current owner, did not return repeated telephone calls for comment.
Here's where things stand now, according to public records:
Two previous owners who are still working to clean up chemicals at the site allege Coastal Demolition has put the environment at risk through "haphazard and reckless demolition," according to a suit they filed against the company.
ArrMaz Specialty Chemicals, which owned the property from 2005 to 2009, and American Color and Chemical, which owned it in the 1970s, filed their suit in 14th Circuit Court of Common Pleas on Dec. 20.
The two companies share the cost of cleaning up unspecified chemicals in the soil and groundwater. Their suit states that when Coastal Demolition purchased the property in 2009, it agreed to abide by clean-up agreements and regulations and give environmental engineers access to the site. ArrMaz and American Color contend Coastal Demolition hasn't done that.
Further, the suit says Coastal Demolition has damaged the systems that purify the contaminated groundwater, and in some cases, covered those systems with debris. Damage to monitoring devices prevents environmental consultants from testing to determine if chemicals are spreading onto nearby residential properties.
The court granted a temporary restraining order Dec. 22, halting demolition and requiring the replacement of environmental equipment.
Beaufort County issued its own stop-work order Jan. 18 because Coastal Demolition did not have a required demolition permit, county administrator Gary Kubic has said.
Applicants seeking to tear down commercial and industrial sites must be thoroughly screened and the sites they want to demolish may need to be inspected for asbestos, said Arthur Cummings, Beaufort County building codes director.
County regulations do not require sites to undergo an environmental assessment, but Kubic has said that the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control is routinely consulted before the county grants a permit.
After the stop-work order was issued, Coastal Demolition applied for the county permit Feb. 1. The company submitted an analysis from a Hilton Head inspector stating no asbestos was found on site. But the county wants an all-clear from DHEC before moving forward.
"There's nothing in here that tells me DHEC has approved this," Cummings said of the application.
The unusual nature of the project also puts it under the microscope.
"I've been with the county since 1975, and this is the first time that I've ever run into a chemical plant being demolished," Cummings said.
Kubic said the county doesn't have the responsibility or resources to do a full-fledged environmental assessment, so it relies on DHEC.
"Once I get the OK from the state, I don't have a problem in lifting the stop-work order," Kubic said.
It's unlikely DHEC will act soon, according to a representative for the agency.
Spokesman Adam Myrick said DHEC has continuing environmental concerns about the property.
The department has initiated its own enforcement action, though Myrick declined to elaborate.
Any action DHEC may take is unrelated to how the court and county handle the situation, Myrick said. The agency has the authority to fine companies or compel them to clean up sites.
The goal, he said, is to make sure the work is done "with as little environmental impact as possible."
Myrick said he didn't know whether a DHEC team would visit to inspect the plant, but he said inspections have been ordered in similar situations.
In the meantime, Kubic has said the plant will be monitored closely by the county to ensure no demolition occurs.
"We have been taking pictures of the site regularly to document whether our stop-work order is being obeyed," Kubic said Jan. 30.