FORT LAWN, S.C. -- The largest winemaker in the world has chosen South Carolina as the location for its new bottling and distribution plant. E&J Gallo Winery has announced that its upcoming facility located in Chester County will be the company’s primary distribution hub east of the Mississippi.
If you haven’t heard of the E&J Gallo Winery project, you may know it by its other name: Project Magma. The name Magma was chosen by Gallo as a reference to the molten hot lava that serves as the primary ingredient in bottle making. The $400-million investment, which first required a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regulatory permit, will create more than 500 jobs with a potential for even more jobs in the future as expansions are planned.
Regulatory began working with the applicant on the 630-acre site in November 2020 and finished in early July of this year. While the permitting process went fairly quickly for a project of this size, USACE regulators needed to ensure that everything was in order just as it would be for any other regulatory permit application. Richard Darden, the regulatory project manager, said the level of preparation in the winemaker’s application had a huge impact on the timeline.
“What was different about their project was their level of preparation,” Darden said. “I would say their efficiency, attention to detail and constant communication kept the back-and-forth process moving. It’s always a continuing dialogue when working a large application such as this.”
The location of the plant came with its own set of challenges. Located in the upstate, the site had aquatic resources commonly found in that area. That location includes wetlands and tributaries that flow into the Catawba River, therefore requiring a USACE permit under the Clean Water Act.
Multiple streams and associated wetlands that feed directly into the Catawba River were found on the site. “No net loss” of aquatic resources is a goal of the regulatory program. This goal includes incorporating as much avoidance and minimization of impacts to streams and wetlands into the project design, while achieving the project’s purpose. After identifying the alternative with the least wetland and stream impacts, compensatory mitigation is typically required to offset the unavoidable losses.
The mitigation work by Gallo will take place on the Lancaster County side of the Catawba River where existing wetland and stream systems will be enhanced by improving the flow pathway of water through the system. The 500-acre mitigation area will ultimately become part of Landsford Canal State Park.
In speaking with Darden, it was clear that mitigating the effects of the development was not only Regulatory’s top priority, but also Gallo’s.
“We felt like their project was an important one in terms of the number of jobs it could bring to this rural area since Fort Lawn is home to less than 900 residents,” Darden said. “They had a very responsible design that minimized aquatic resource impacts and had a very satisfactory mitigation plan.”
The new plant will include the facilities needed for production, bottling, containerization and distribution of E&J Gallo wine and spirits. The range of products made at the new plant will be sold throughout the east coast, as well as exported overseas using the port of Charleston.
A twenty-minute drive to nearby Interstate 77 and with a rail line passing through town, Gallo found an ideal site for its new location. They have added railroad track spurs that go directly into the plant to allow for the loading and unloading of rail cars, therefore requiring fewer trucks for distribution.
“We see some projects where the analysis of alternative options is not thoroughly explored, but this was not one of those,” Darden said. “They really worked with us and their savviness to the process and knowing how we were going to interact made a huge difference in the timeliness of our permit decision. They just asked what they needed to do and did it.”
By choosing South Carolina as the location for its new plant, Gallo is following a growing trend of many other corporations such as Volvo and Walmart. With the district’s ongoing dredging of Charleston Harbor, Gallo says it plans to double, or even triple, its current operations as the Charleston Harbor becomes the deepest port on the east coast.
As the district celebrates 150 years of service to South Carolina and the nation, Project Magma is just one in a long line of other important regulatory permits the district has helped facilitate, while staying committed to the protection of our most precious resource, the environment. We are proud to play a critical role in the growth and prosperity of South Carolina.