Murder suspect Grant in bond court

Peter Jeron Grant

Ohio businessman Rudy Socha has an idea to clean up the East Coast's polluted estuaries and help wounded veterans at the same time.

His plan is to get a ship that could sail the Atlantic's coast and crew it with veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who want to make a difference.

Socha, 57, has picked Charleston as the home port for his nonprofit group Wounded Nature -- Working Veterans. As he sees it, as many as 20 veterans at a time would live on board, traveling from site to site cleaning up polluted beaches and waterways.

"Tires would probably be about the biggest thing," said Socha, adding that plastic bottles and other trash and debris would be among the main targets.

Socha wants to focus on PTSD veterans who could use the ship as a transition job back into civilian life, living on the boat 90 days at a time. Soldiers with more serious physical injuries might not be able to maneuver in some of the more isolated wet areas, he said.

For the ex-soldiers, living at sea would be advantageous because it would provide a structured atmosphere and avoid some common PTSD memory "trigger points," including roads and vehicles, he said.

The cost for the 180-foot-long, used, live-aboard sea vessel he wants to purchase runs in the $3.5 million range.

The project blossomed about nine months ago and came about in part after watching the Gulf oil spill recovery. Smaller boats would spend hours getting to a remote spot to be cleaned, stay a while, and spend hours getting back, he said, saying it was inefficient.

Socha's plan is based on the concept of having a "mother ship," where the crews would anchor close to a site and take smaller boats to the work zone. Cleanup sites would be chosen and selected in cooperation with state outdoor resource agencies. The men would be paid through the nonprofit's operations.

Socha describes himself as a former Marine and entrepreneur. One of his recent projects included running an Internet web service that covers the zoo and aquarium industry. He said he picked Charleston for its location and ease of access to other seaboard points between Maine and Key West, Fla.

Stan Oliver, vocational rehabilitation officer at the Department of Veterans Affairs state headquarters in Columbia, said he met recently with Socha and liked what he heard.

"It could be a good thing," Oliver said, especially in landing a first job for some vets.

Oliver cautioned, though, that government involvement would probably have to be worked out through the department's more senior officials at the VA national headquarters in Washington.

How soon the effort will come about is unclear and depends a lot on finances. Socha has been trying to attract corporate sponsors and other donations, saying that whatever vessel is acquired it could be open for sponsorship decals or painted in a unique sea logo. He has filed operating papers with the Secretary of State's office.

Another part of the mission would be waterway education, with the boat traveling to coastal towns to take part in water festivals and other public relations efforts.

For now, though, Socha is trying to make the project a reality.