Landfills, Nuclear and Toxic Waste

American Scrap

On behalf of the Congaree Riverkeeper and the Gills Creek Watershed Association, we are seeking to reverse the City of Columbia’s Board of Zoning Appeals’ approval of a new automobile scrap yard sited just 400 feet from Gills Creek.
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Case background

Under Columbia’s zoning ordinances, scrap yards are not permissible unless a special exception is approved based on the assessment of specific criteria. But on March 4, 2021, the City’s own appointed body did exactly that without any consideration of the required criteria. In an unanimous vote, the Board of Zoning Appeals gave a special exception to an automobile scrap yard and recycling center on 2420 Shop Road owned and operated by a company named American Scrap Iron & Metal. The contested site is about 400 feet from Gills Creek and immediately adjacent to a ditch that drains to the creek, which ultimately flows into the Congaree River.

On April 28, 2021, we filed an appeal on behalf of Congaree Riverkeeper and Gills Creek Watershed Association before Richland County Circuit Court seeking to reverse the zoning board’s decision.

Why we are fighting

American Scrap already owns and operates scrap yards in Cayce and Columbia and has a history of environmental violations at those sites, including leaking of hazardous waste and spilled fuel from the cars being broken down, which contaminates groundwater and surface waters. The company has also had five fires at its other Shop Road facility. American Scrap’s noncompliance history and the increased potential for significant environmental damage highlights the importance of challenging the establishment of this scrap yard.  

Congaree Riverkeeper and Gills Creek Watershed Association are concerned that the potential discharges of fuel, oil and grease, heavy metals and other pollutants from the facility’s operations would risk the water quality of Gills Creek and its tributaries; deprive their group members of the full enjoyment of the waterbodies; and negatively impact subsistence fishers who regularly fish in the creek.

Gills Creek side channel. Photo courtesy of Gills Creek Watershed Association

Further, our appeal claims the zoning board did not follow the City’s ordinances for special exceptions, along with additional requirements due to the site’s location in a floodplain overlay district. Significantly, an engineering review required by the city ordinance for uses proposed within designated flood plains was never conducted.

Moreover, the City of Columbia has committed to protecting the health of already-threatened ecosystems stemming from these unwise industrial activities. The Columbia Development Corporation has been seeking funding to redevelop the area surrounding the facility to better serve the surrounding community, which is underserved and often bears the burden of these types of environmentally detrimental practices. If the zoning board’s special exception is upheld, it would foreclose the possibility of creating a beneficial area for residents.  

Notably, the City has also appealed its own zoning board’s decision. We fully support the municipality for taking the right steps to protect the community’s natural environment.  

Case update

After more than two years, we are happy to announce that in June of 2023, we reached a settlement in the zoning appeal we filed on behalf of Congaree Riverkeeper and Gills Creek Watershed Association over the proposed scrap yard near Gills Creek. Through our collective efforts, we helped stop an illegal scrap yard from operating, required the new owner of the property to take measures to protect the environment and sent a message to the Board of Zoning Appeals and other local decision makers that they must be thoughtful, thorough and consider environmental impacts when reviewing these types of projects.

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