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August 29, 2012

Unpopular asphalt plant on the move?

The city of Columbia is negotiating to move an unpopular asphalt plant out of the Rosewood community to a remote, unincorporated location.

The city of Columbia is negotiating to move an unpopular asphalt plant out of the Rosewood community to a remote, unincorporated location.

Mayor Steve Benjamin said Tuesday night the city is talking with Richland County and SEACO Inc.’s parent company about a land swap that would relocate the 63-year-old factory. He did not elaborate.

“We did meet with some of their lawyers and sat them down with some of our economic development” officials, Benjamin said. “We’re trying to figure out, ‘Are there creative ways we can move an industrial use to a more appropriate location in the unincorporated area of the county?’”

The SEACO plant, bought this summer by Associated Asphalt Inc. of Virginia, is on contaminated land near long-time neighborhoods, high school athletic fields and recently developed urban farms. Residents of the Rosewood community have long complained about odors from the SEACO asphalt process, but concerns have intensified recently amid revelations about polluted groundwater and soil contamination.

Speaking at a community meeting to discuss pollution at SEACO, Benjamin acknowledged relocating the asphalt plant would not be easy, but he said the Rosewood community’s future is as a residential area.

“The perfect result would be ‘Yes, moving to a different location,’” Benjamin said to enthusiastic applause from a crowd of about 100 at the AC Moore Elementary School auditorium.

Associated Asphalt officials weren’t commenting on the proposal Tuesday night. But company executive Sam Cannon, who confirmed that Associated Asphalt is owned by a division of the Goldman Sachs investment banking and securities firm of New York, told community residents the new asphalt factory’s owners would run a clean operation.

If a move occurs, that would eliminate the last major industrial plant from the Rosewood community, Rep. James Smith said. Smith, D-Richland, was involved in persuading a nuclear laundry to move out of the Rosewood area and into Barnwell County in the 1990s. The laundry had operated for decades in the Edisto Court section of Rosewood, but many people said they didn’t know it was washing clothes for the Savannah River Site nuclear weapons complex.

Smith, who has been involved in the discussions, noted that the city could choose to rezone the SEACO area to restrict expansion of the plant should the relocation negotiations fail to materialize.

Tuesday night’s meeting was to discuss a limited cleanup plan proposed for the SEACO property so the land can be re-used by Associated Asphalt. But the meeting was dominated by questions about arsenic and lead contamination recently found in a neighborhood down the street from SEACO. State regulators repeated their contention that SEACO didn’t pollute the neighborhood because it doesn’t produce arsenic and lead. A fertilizer plant that closed in the late 1930s is the probable source of the pollution, agency officials said.

Contamination has shown up in about a dozen Edisto Court yards. City Councilman Moe Baddourah said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to meet with neighborhood residents Friday at 2 p.m. to discuss digging up their yards and removing the contaminated soil.

Ken Taylor, an official with the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control, said the state has about 10 sites near old phosphate and fertilizer factories that show a link to soil contamination. But the area in Edisto Court is one of the few that has affected a neighborhood, he said.

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