Tuesday, October 29, 2013
The mountain of rubble – the remains of the historic buildings destroyed by the Sept. 25 fire in the 700 block of Front Street – cannot be moved, at least for now.
That’s because asbestos has been found on the property. But just how much asbestos is on the site has not been determined.
The revelation was made Tuesday as Gov. Nikki Haley made her second visit to Georgetown since the fire. Her first stop was to speak to the Georgetown Lunch Rotary Club, a visit that was planned before the fire took place.
After Rotary, Haley met with local, state and federal officials at the S.C. Maritime Museum on Front Street to get an update on the recovery efforts and to see what can be done in the future.
Mayor Jack Scoville said the asbestos was discovered Friday.
“Hopefully it will be rather minor,” Scoville said.
Myra Reece, Chief of the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control’s (DHEC) Bureau of Air Quality, said she does not want asbestos regulations to slow down the cleanup process but debris removal has ground to a halt until more testing takes place.
Reece said DHEC was originally working with the city, but the city asked them to work directly with the property owners.
“We thought the asbestos was confined to the roofing and flooring material..but based on the current data we have, it does not indicate that,” Reece said.
She said DHEC will “go back and do some sampling” in hopes that the contamination is localized and not in the entire debris pile.
“If we can do some additional sampling and squeeze down the amount that we have to deal with, that will help us expedite the process and it will be more cost effective,” Reece said. “That is our goal.”
She said it costs more but results can be received about 24 hours after the testing.
Eric Emerson of the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History said the city may qualify for brownfield tax credit grants to help with the asbestos removal.
Use the Guard or a private firm?
During the meeting, Scoville handed South Carolina Adjutant General Robert Livingston a request for the National Guard to help with the cleanup of the Sampit River.
The bottom of the river behind the 700 block of Front Street is full of debris from the buildings, City Fire Chief Joey Tanner said earlier this month.
“The cost of what it will take for the Guard to do the work is about the same as if you hired a private company,” Haley told the city leaders. “They both have to deal with the Corps of Engineers. A private company will do it faster and more efficiently.”
Haley said bringing in the Guard means bringing in the government.
“I caution you in bringing in government to do things because government has strings attached,” she said.
Livingston said the Guard is very capable of doing the job but if they do it, work would be taken away from local contractors.
Scoville said the idea for using the Guard came from Sen. Yancey McGill during a meeting earlier this month.
“I think Sen. McGill feels it would show state support. You have state support. I have never been more proud of South Carolina,” Haley said.
Outside architect suggested
Emerson said a representative from the state Department of Archives and History have surveyed the damage.
He said there are 754 properties in the Historic District and 275 contribute to the District.
“The properties that were lost comprise one percent of the total properties and two-and-a-half percent of the contributing structures were lost,” Emerson said. “That in no way endangers the continuity of the District.”
He said because of the damage to the waterfront, there will likely be permits issued by the Army Corps of Engineers.
“We have to comment on any federal undertaking that involves National Register properties,” Emerson said. “It’s fair to help Georgetown reconstruct in a way that is sympathetic to the Historic District.”
He suggests the city seek a Federal Historic Preservation Fund grant that will be used to hire an architectural firm to facilitate discussions to help set up guidelines to make sure the construction is compatible with the Historic District.
Fire Fund update
Chamber of Commerce president Brian Tucker said so far about $150,000 has been collected in the Front Street Fire Fund and nearly $130,000 has been distributed.
“We are very grateful for the Gov. Haley’s commitment to the Georgetown community as we continue to respond to and recover from the Front Street fire,” said Tucker. “We were encouraged by the governor’s visit the day after the fire, but we have been truly astounded by her interest and engagement over the past month. To date, five of the nine impacted businesses have relocated to other areas along Front Street.
Read more about Haley’s visit in Friday’s Georgetown Times