Columbia, Richland County officials advancing talks on moving asphalt plant

cleblanc@thestate.comMarch 11, 2013 

— Talks are progressing about moving an asphalt plant from a contaminated Rosewood-area site into Richland County, according to Columbia and county officials.

A decision is a few months away; the move could take two years and taxpayer incentives are on the table, the officials said last week.

City and county officials are talking to Associated Asphalt Inc. of Virginia about relocating to either a county industrial park off Bluff Road or to sprawling, county-owned acreage at Pineview and Shop roads, according to County Councilman Seth Rose and City Councilman Moe Baddourah. Both represent the South Edisto Court neighborhood where the plant has operated for 63 years.

Associated Asphalt, which bought the familiar SEACO plant last year, has told officials the new site must have a rail line – which the two sites under consideration offer.

“The encouraging thing is they haven’t said, ‘We’re not interested,’” Rose said.

Bob Coble, a former mayor of Columbia, is one of the attorneys representing the company. He characterized the discussions as preliminary.

But, Coble said, Associated Asphalt is cooperating with the relocation talks.

Baddourah said Friday that the local plant manager told him earlier in the week that the company has agreed in principle to move.

“They pretty much told me they’re going to move,” he said.

The relocation might take two years, Baddourah said. He also said it would cost about $6 million, but that number was not confirmed by others.

Rose said a price is under discussion. “There have been numbers exchanged, though it’s confidential. I can tell you it would not be a pure land swap. There will be a monetary incentive.”

It remains unsettled whether those incentives would be cash, tax breaks or other inducements, Rose said. The plan is that whichever sum of money the company would be paid to move could be recouped in part from property taxes and water and sewer bills, he said.

Once the price is agreed to, the city and county will settle on how to share the expense, Rose said.

Baddourah, however, said that Associated Asphalt has agreed to foot the relocation bill.

Neither Rose nor Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin agree with Baddourah’s assertion. Coble would not comment.

“There’s still a lot to be done,” Benjamin said, adding that a decision is likely in spring or early summer.

Should the company agree to relocate, it would be among the last of the industrial operations in the now-overwhelmingly residential Edisto Court area to leave. Intertape Polymer on South Beltline, a tape-making plant, said in early March it plans to move to another location in Richland County. In the 1990s, Interstate Nuclear Services, a laundry that washed radioactive clothing from workers at the Savannah River Site, moved to Barnwell County.

Relocation would not come too soon for Rosewood-area residents. They have long complained about odors from the plant. Last summer, they were surprised to learn of lead and arsenic contamination that came from the plant site when it was a fertilizer plant under previous ownership.

State and federal environmental regulators notified residents once they confirmed the pollutants had spread from the site to the yards of about a dozen nearby homes.

Late in the year, the EPA used about a half-million dollars in Superfund money to scrape soil from those yards and replaced it along with grass, fencing and walkways. The cleanup coordinator in December declared the residential property safe.

Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.

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