That ash contained arsenic and lead, and it was a major concern when Hurricane Florence flooded Conway in 2018. Though one pond had been cleared, 200,000 tons of material still sat in the second lagoon when Florence arrived. To contain the ash, the utility reinforced the dikes with sandbags. Crews brought in rocks to fill any breaches.
After the storm, Santee Cooper expedited the cleanup. And in 2021, Santee Cooper finished returning the coal ash pond to its natural state. The ash pond land covers about 80 acres.
Along with removing all the ash, Santee Cooper also dug an additional foot of soil from the pits and began planting cypress and oak trees there. They did the same type of planting with the former Lake Busbee site across the street. Originally a cooling pond for the Grainger plant, the lake spanned more than 300 acres. Now it’s wetlands.
The site is popular with dog walkers, joggers and those just looking for an afternoon stroll.
“I come out here sometimes,” said Brooklyn Pritchett of North Myrtle Beach, who walked there on Tuesday. “Just [enjoy] being outside.”
At one point, local leaders considered recruiting industry to the 12 upland acres across from Busbee that once held the plant’s smokestacks. That site was graded and a committee was formed to plan for the property’s redevelopment. But the committee stopped meeting years ago.
Sandy Davis, the head of the Myrtle Beach Regional Economic Development Corp. (EDC), said there are no industrial plans for the site.
That leaves the city’s goal, which is to expand the area’s recreational offerings. Emrick said a hospitality bond could pay off the project’s cost, though a lot of the work could be funded now.
“Every 5K in the county will be done here,” Emrick said, adding the scenic route wouldn’t require road closures.
As far as a timeline, Emrick said it could be over a year before the city secures the land from Santee Cooper.
But city council members see many options for the property, including extending Conway’s Riverwalk to U.S. 501.
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