Augusta Business Daily

Friday, June 9, 2023

A Little Chunk of SRS for Economic Development?

A resilient concept to carve a small piece out of the vast Savannah River Site for industrial development appears to be coming back to life, especially in economically lagging Barnwell and Allendale counties. It would also be a boon to the more prosperous Aiken County and surely to their close neighbors across the Savannah River in Georgia.

In 1951 the Federal Government carved 310 square miles out of the three South Carolina counties to build the next generation of nuclear weapons isotopes to keep up in the Cold War with the Soviet Union. That’s about 200,000 acres and the plan for a huge “mega” industrial park astride Barnwell, Aiken and Allendale counties would see them take back 5,000 acres, or 0.025 percent of what was taken from the three counties 70 years ago.

Will Williams, President of the Regional Economic Development Partnership which works with all three counties, conceded the concept resembles similar failed efforts in the past but that this time it has a lot of support in state government and the state’s national representatives, and for once, some money behind it.

To start with, local officials are asking legislators for $25 million to build the water, sewer and other infrastructure that companies would need. That already has the backing of S.C. Gov. Henry McMaster, who will include the funding request in his recommendations on how to spend $525 million available from the state’s settlement with the federal Department of Energy over plutonium stored at SRS, according to his spokesman.

Danny Black, President of the Southern Carolina Alliance, the regional economic development group based in Barnwell said, “This could be the best thing that could happen to us. If this were to happen, we could compete with anyone for big ticket items.” He has a mockup of the proposed site that has a major highway, U.S. 78, that runs through it, access to the Savannah River and is large enough for an automobile manufacturing plant with plenty of space left over for other industries.

While the specific location is far from settled, Black said he prefers a tract that “is on the south edge of SRS near Barnwell but on the Barnwell/Aiken County line and about equal distance from Augusta and Aiken.

Although there are innumerable bureaucratic stumbling blocks, the federal government has already given back large tracts of land at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Richland, Wash., the other two gigantic former nuclear weapons materials manufacturing sites in the U.S.

Black gave as an example the East Tennessee Technology Park Industries which was transferred back to Tennessee from Oak Ridge and already includes at least eight industries, representing well-more than $600 million in local investment.

“When all three sites were built, they wisely included broad buffer areas between the nuclear reactors and the public,” said Black. “But reactors at all three sites have long since been shut down and we contend that much of that is no longer needed to protect our citizens from radiation that is no longer being produced.”

More Posts

Trends at area businesses

Laurie McRae is one of the most experienced and credentialed interior designers in the Southeast. Amy Richardson of Richardson Professional