Santee Cooper wants to convert the former Grainger plant into an industrial site, but Conway officials may have other plans.
City leaders on Friday asked Santee Cooper representatives if the state-run utility would be willing to sell the 12-acre property that sits beside U.S. 501 and for 50 years held the 300-foot smokestacks of the coal-fired Grainger Generating Station.
The discussion was the first between the council and the utility since Grainger’s smokestacks were destroyed Feb. 7. Crews are in the final stages of hauling off the remnants of the power plant, and that tract should be a grassy field by the end of June.
Conway leaders told Santee Cooper they are still processing the changes.
“It’s new to us,” councilwoman Jean Timbes said. “It’s a bigger impact, I guess, than you can even think about.”
Santee Cooper plans for the Grainger land to hold some type of business or industry.
Everything’s negotiable. ... Any proposal that you all could come up with we would be glad to look at, whether it’s on the commercial side or whether it’s on the Lake Busbee side. We just need a path forward.
Ray Pinson, Santee Cooper’s local government and community relations manager
“That’s what we’ve said all along that we could support,” said Ray Pinson, Santee Cooper’s local government and community relations manager. “We’ve said that to the stakeholder groups. We’ve said that to the [city] council and the administration. That’s our directive from management is jobs and the economy. That’s what it’s all about, and that site will be suitable for commerce when it’s said and done.”
But city leaders have said the site should be used for recreational purposes, such as a park or green space. City Councilman Tom Anderson asked Pinson if the utility would be willing to sell the land.
Although he couldn’t provide a price, Pinson didn’t dismiss the idea.
“Everything’s negotiable,” he said. “Any proposal that you all could come up with we would be glad to look at, whether it’s on the commercial side or whether it’s on the Lake Busbee side. We just need a path forward.”
One of the most pressing decisions facing the utility — and the city — is what to do with 330-acre Lake Busbee, which, unlike the Grainger site, lies in the city limits.
The lake was built as a cooling pond for the plant. When Santee Cooper decided it would be less expensive to close the plant rather than bring the aging facility up to new environmental standards, the pond was no longer needed.
Utility leaders have discussed draining the lake and letting the area become a wetlands again. But the body of water has become popular with joggers and fishermen. Community support led the utility to spend $500,000 rerouting water from into the plant they were demolishing to the lake. Santee Cooper also agreed to maintain the lake for an “interim period.”
“I want to underscore and highlight in red ‘interim period,’” Pinson said. “That period is starting to approach.”
The cost of continually pumping the water and maintaining the lake runs about $100,000 per year and Pinson said the utility is drafting a transfer agreement for another entity to take over that cost.
Although he didn’t provide a deadline, Pinson urged the city to figure out how the site would be managed and where the money to sustain it could come from.
City officials stressed that keeping Busbee is critical. If the water is drained, they fear the land will be an eyesore.
“I’m worried about the view from 501 when it starts going down,” Timbes said. “Nobody wants it to happen. We want it at least like it is, if not better.”
“We don’t want that to happen,” he said of emptying the lake. “That’s why I emphasize that ‘interim period’ because that is an alternative for us.”
I’m worried about the view from [U.S.] 501 when it starts going down. ... Nobody wants it to happen. We want it at least like it is, if not better.
Conway City Councilwoman Jean Timbes
Along with the plant site and the lake, Pinson talked about the future of the two ash ponds, which were built to collect the residual coal ash from the plant.
Pinson said the ash will be gone by 2023, but utility leaders hope the material will be out by 2020. Once the ash is removed, Santee Cooper plans to replant the area with wetlands vegetation. They’ve also discussed building a walkway that would run through the 80-acre pond site.
He added that there are also plans to construct a walkway that would connect the Conway marina area with the old Grainger site.
Pinson pointed out that this is the first power plant Santee Cooper has torn down in its 82-year history and the process has seen its challenges.
At one point, he said, Santee Cooper had secretly discussed disassembling Grainger and moving the plant to a Central American country where it could be rebuilt.
“That fell through,” he said. “We chased that thing for a number of months.”
City officials said they plan to hold a workshop to discuss the Grainger site and Lake Busbee. Several council members said they didn’t know much about Santee Cooper’s plans because the utility often dealt directly with former mayor Alys Lawson, who lost her reelection bid last year.
“My problem isn’t with y’all,” councilman Anderson told Pinson. “It was the fact that we hadn’t heard anything for the last couple years.”