From Superfund site to waterfront park

The old Baker Hospital property in North Charleston could soon become a new waterfront Charleston County park. (Ed Buckley/Staff)

It’s served as the site for a phosphate mine, a landfill, an industrial equipment rental company, a hospital and the Charleston Metro Chamber of Commerce. Now a blighted brownfield site along the Ashley River in the northern part of the Charleston Neck could get a new lease on life as a waterfront park.

The property, best known as the site of the former Baker Hospital, has seen better days. It currently lies vacant. And even after extensive cleanup efforts in recent years were sufficient to remove it from a list of Superfund sites designated by the Environmental Protection Agency, it was considered suitable only for industrial use.

Developers most recently asked to rezone the property for a recycling facility or warehouse, but neighborhood residents protested and the North Charleston City Council voted against the proposal last spring.

Thanks to a partnership between the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission and private developers and donors, the land could soon be restored as a beautiful public amenity instead. Even better, its acquisition didn’t cost the park agency anything.

The PRC has not yet decided how to best utilize its newest land acquisition, but commission officials have suggested the finished park could include sports facilities, running trails and picnic facilities. It’s also part of a strategic plan to connect the peninsula and North Charleston with a network of green spaces, trails and bike paths.

That’s an incredibly worthy goal that would enhance quality of life in the Charleston area for decades to come.

But it’s going to take a lot of work.

According to a voluntary cleanup agreement filed with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, a portion of the 57-acre property along the Ashley River served as a phosphate mine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The mine closed in 1940, but left the area badly polluted.

Later, soil from a portion of the property was excavated for the construction of Interstate 26 and the resulting pit was used as a landfill.

After the landfill closed, Baker Hospital opened in 1981 and treated patients until Baker merged with Roper and the hospital became known as Roper North.

In 2010, the old hospital building was torn down to allow for extensive environmental cleanup in hopes of developing the site as a condominium and business complex. Those plans fell through in the wake of the economic recession, as did a subsequent push to use the property for light industry.

Fortunately, the final use for the Baker Hospital land could hardly be more beneficial for the surrounding community. Turning the site into a county park ensures that a formerly troubled piece of land is restored, enhanced and protected for future generations.