COLUMBIA officials should do everything possible to prod the new owner of the SEACO asphalt plant to relocate from near Edisto Court to a more suitable industrial site.
I’m not sure it was ever acceptable for the 63-year-old plant to set up shop in the area, but it certainly doesn’t make sense for it to remain. Given the character and trajectory of the greater Rosewood community today, the plant should move if the city can offer a remote site that doesn’t imperil people in their homes and neighborhoods. This type of business does not belong near residents, no matter how small the potential danger. Like oil and water, an asphalt plant and residential and commercial business districts don’t mix.
At a recent community meeting on pollution at SEACO, Mayor Steve Benjamin told Rosewood residents that the city is talking with Richland County and Associated Asphalt, which bought the plant this summer, about a possible land swap that could lead to the industrial plant moving to a site outside Columbia. Good for the city.
Mr. Benjamin said that the city has met with the company and some of its lawyers in an effort to determine whether there is a creative way to “move an industrial use to a more appropriate location in the unincorporated area of the county.”
He said the future of Rosewood is residential.
While details about the negotiations are few and it’s unclear whether Associated Asphalt would cooperate, you’d think that a new corporate entity entering the community would seriously consider this offer. Not only would agreeing to move earn Associated instant good will, but it would give it a fresh start, given the history of the site.
There is an ongoing effort to address arsenic and lead contamination found at nearby homes; state regulators believe the toxins came from an old fertilizer plant that once operated at the SEACO site.
Also, the SEACO plant itself has encountered numerous spills, and groundwater remains contaminated beneath the property. Rosewood residents have complained about strong odors and questioned how safe the plant is since a 2005 explosion. Associated Asphalt plans to clean up the land through the state’s brownfields program, which allows companies to re-use contaminated industrial sites in exchange for limited cleanup, and possibly expand the business.
The new asphalt company’s owner suggests it will run a cleaner operation, but what does that mean for the long-standing neighborhoods, high school athletic fields and recently developed urban farms in the area? How much of an improvement would it really be?
The better alternative is for the plant to be moved.
If Columbia can orchestrate that move, it would not only be a big boost for Edisto Court and the larger Rosewood community, but it would reaffirm the city’s commitment to its neighborhoods.
The community, with the city’s help, has built up positive momentum that could not only preserve the area but lead to a welcome resurgence.
Residents in Edisto Court have been hopeful ever since a nuclear laundry moved out of their midst in 2000 and later was replaced by a new community center. Its neighborhood council, which works alongside other neighborhoods in Rosewood, has actively sought more improvements.
There have been other advancements as well, including the construction of the Rosewood Hills housing development, which replaced the old Hendley Homes public housing complex.
And greater Rosewood is looking for more positive change. To help facilitate that, residents worked with Columbia City Council to develop a master plan. The plan doesn’t carry the force of law, but it will give city planners a guide as to the council’s and neighborhood’s desires. Among other things, the plan would slow traffic, create a pedestrian-friendly community and maintain the bungalows-and-cottages character of the Central Rosewood, Edisto Court and Kilbourne neighborhoods. It calls for Rosewood Drive to become “a place where people gather, socialize, recreate” and includes a pedestrian-friendly shopping district.
I believe the spirit of this plan demands that the city protect Rosewood from elements not in keeping with the character of the community and the direction in which it is heading.
State Rep. James Smith has even suggested that the city could rezone the SEACO area to restrict expansion of the plant if relocation negotiations aren’t successful. Rep. Smith, Sen. John Courson, City Councilman Moe Baddourrah and others have been involved in discussions about Edisto Court and the SEACO site as state and federal environmental officials work to address contamination in the area. Mr. Baddourrah, who represents the area, has been particularly active.
It’s good to see elected leaders so engaged. That has not always been the case, particularly where Edisto Court is concerned. I know; I grew up there.
For the longest time, Edisto Court was on its own. The working-class neighborhood had little political clout and got little attention from health officials and city leaders. That’s why an industrial laundry that would eventually accept radioactive clothing from the Savannah River Site was able to pop up next to homes and expand repeatedly. What began as an industrial laundry on a tiny lot in 1971 was allowed to grow and grow on land that was covered by a mixture of industrial and residential zoning. The laundry grew from a few lots in 1985 to about three-quarters of the block.
Oddly enough, Columbia officials didn’t know how the nuclear laundry was able to locate in the middle of a neighborhood, and city records do not clearly show the process that allowed it to expand over the years.
Fortunately, then-City Councilwoman Anne Sinclair became a champion for the community. Eventually, others — Congressman James Clyburn was among them — got involved, and the laundry ultimately left Edisto Court, making way for progress.
City officials can enhance that progress by helping SEACO find a more appropriate location rather than allowing it to remain — and potentially expand — in this community.
Reach Mr. Bolton, author of “God Is Grace: Lessons to a Father from a Son,” at (803) 771-8631 or email@example.com.