Columbia, environmental groups fight junkyard on downtown core and near creek | Colombia News
COLOMBIA — The city and local environmental groups have been engaged in a legal battle for more than a year to challenge the city’s own zoning board for authorizing a car rescue operation that opponents say is frustrating efforts by cleaning and beautification of a walkway with a history of industrial pollution.
The four-lane Shop Road thoroughfare is a busy route off Interstate 77 that leads to downtown Columbia, University of South Carolina football games at Williams-Brice Stadium and the State Fairgrounds.
Along the road are rows of decommissioned vehicles – sedans, work vans, pickup trucks and at least one small bus – behind tall barbed wire fences along Shop Road at the intersection of South Beltline Road. They belong to American Scrap Iron & Metal, the company at the center of the fight against zoning.
“There’s a lot we can and we are doing to make this a real embellished entrance to our city,” said Councilman Will Brennan, whose district includes the Shop Road property. “Because I would say most people coming from the east to watch USC games come to Shop Road. Do you want (a heist) to be what they remember from their trips to Williams-Brice? C is what we are working against.”
Before American Scrap arrived, local officials tackled other industrial messes at nearby properties.
Next to the junkyard is the defunct Cardinal Chemical Co., which closed over 20 years ago and was the site of past environmental cleanup efforts, and the former manufacturing plant of ‘Intertape Polymer Group, which had operated at the site for over five decades. before moving operations to Blythewood in 2013. Intertape permanently closed the South Beltline site after the site flooded in the historic 2015 storm.
Columbia officials are working with Richland County to complete the cleanup of the Cardinal Chemical site, Brennan said, and potential new owners have expressed interest in repurposing the Intertape Polymer property to a new, cleaner light industrial use.
Now the city and local environmentalists are fighting the arrival of a company they say would be a setback to those efforts.
The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously in March 2021 to approve a special zoning exception for American Scrap at 2420 Shop Road, on the condition that vehicles be isolated from the roadway. The company plans to dismantle the vehicles and sell the parts wholesale and demanded that the council grant an exception to the permitted uses of the property to be able to store scrap metal on site and dispose of scrapped cars.
The city sued its zoning board the same month to appeal the decision, arguing that the board had failed to properly consider guidelines for approving special use at the site.
American Scrap owner Tim Dickensheets said he has suspended operations at the site while the appeal is pending.
A hearing on the appeal scheduled for March has been postponed and a new date has not yet been set, according to court records.
The property is also partially located in a floodplain and subject to additional municipal zoning rules for areas prone to flooding, the city said.
Congaree Riverkeeper and Gills Creek Watershed Association, nonprofit groups dedicated to the Columbia area’s protected waterways, separately appealed the zoning decision in a case that has since been consolidated with the city’s appeal. The groups argued that the site is only 400 feet from Gills Creek, which empties into the Congaree River, and right next to a ditch that leads into Gills Creek and that contamination from mining could water damage.
“If you’re in the floodplain, you don’t want to have big containers of gasoline, oil, and radiator fluid and anything left there with the potential to get flooded and then washed away or cause damage and dangers,” said Riverkeeper director Bill Stangler. “And that’s exactly what’s happening right now. You walk past and you look at this site and you see these containers of liquids stacked up, I mean it doesn’t take a genius to try to guess what they contain.”
The council and American Scrap in court filings say industrial use is appropriate and concerns about stormwater runoff and nearby Gills Creek fall within the purview of state regulators and supersede city rules. .
The company submitted the initial paperwork needed for a stormwater permit in May 2021, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control said. A permit has not yet been issued, the agency said.
Dickensheets told The Post and Courier that the appeal has prevented him from investing in hiring employees and improving the aesthetics of the property in full view of everyone traveling to and from the capital. . The auto parts operation integrates with other industrial uses in the area and complies with zoning requirements and environmental considerations, he said.
“Long term, recycling is actually (more) a benefit to the environment than a harm,” said Dickensheets, who leases the property.
Stangler said Richland County’s environmental citations against Dickensheets and its related businesses in the Midlands are proof that American Scrap cannot be trusted to operate responsibly at the Shop Road site.
American Scrap Iron has locations in Cayce, North Columbia and Florence, according to its website. Richland County records show Dickensheets was cited and paid fines for hazardous waste management violations in May 2019, December 2020 and March 2021.
Dickensheets also faces criminal charges under a recent state law aimed at cracking down on the theft of catalytic converters after he was arrested by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in September for failing to prove ownership of 47 catalytic converters at its Fairfield Road facility. He was also charged by the Lexington County Sheriff in February with possession of a stolen vehicle and related charges at the location of American Scrap’s Cayce.
Columbia attorney Todd Rutherford, who is defending Dickensheets on the charges and is the leading SC House Democrat, said the catalytic converter charges were the result of faulty paperwork by another employee and that none of the 47 catalytic converters were stolen.
Dickensheets was charged in the Lexington County case solely because he was driving a crane moving a vehicle that was reported stolen, Rutherford said. Dickensheets did not know the car was stolen and had no criminal intent, the attorney said.