COLUMBIA — Financial incentives being offered to lure a California wine giant to South Carolina could help pay for the expansion of a state park and wildlife area famous for its rare spider lilies.
In Chester County, an hour north of Columbia, where E&J Gallo has proposed to build a $400 million wine bottling and distribution plant, there is a fair number of wetlands, including on Gallo's 630-acre tract. In order to satisfy federal environmental requirements, the company must replace those covered over by its planned East Coast hub with a new wetlands area.
That's where Landsford Canal State Park, home to the world's largest population of rocky shoals spider lilies, and surrounding wildlife management areas come in.
As part of a larger incentive package being negotiated with Gallo, lawmakers gave initial approval for the state Department of Commerce to raise $8.3 million to cover the cost of the wetlands mitigation, as well as $350,000 for road improvements, to include a turn lane for the facility. The money will be raised through a bond sale, unless lawmakers later agree to fund it within the state budget.
The Gallo mitigations are part of a partnership between the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and the state park system and a larger plan to expand wildlife management areas that are open to public hunting near the park.
Lawmakers also gave the first nod to DNR's $1 million purchase of 385 acres, located about 6 miles from the town of Fort Lawn, that borders the agency-owned wildlife area's current 1,049-acre footprint. The land will be bought from New York-based environmental nonprofit Open Space Institute using funds raised from timber harvesting on state land, relicensing funds from utility companies and various unspent grant money.
"The property primarily consists of forested uplands that provide habitat for deer, turkey, and small game species," DNR wrote in its request.
The Gallo-related portion of this project is 109 acres, located on the eastern side of the Catawba River, across from the state park.
Both funding requests still need agency approval from the State Fiscal Accountability Authority.
Meanwhile, incentives for the winemaker have already been a point of contention.
The economic development deal made waves when Gallo asked lawmakers for changes to the state's liquor laws, allowing it to open three satellite tasting rooms in tourist areas around the state. Liquor store owners opposed that, as it created a new point of competition not previously allowed.
The General Assembly approved the law change May 4.
In addition, Chester County Council has given initial approvals to enter into a deal for tax incentives with Gallo, though the specifics of what those tax breaks will be are still being discussed, and a full agreement has yet to be drafted, said county attorney Joan Winters.
The amount and duration of the incentives will be decided when the agreement is given a final vote, which is expected to take place June 16, Winters said.
And the winemaker will likely be eligible for state tax credits tied to the number of jobs it creates at a rate of $25,000 per position annually, for up to five years.
Gallo has promised to hire up to 500 workers in the first phase of development and could eventually employ more than 1,000.