COLUMBIA — The city and local environmental groups have been in a legal battle for more than a year to challenge the city’s own zoning authority over authorizing a car salvage operation that opponents say is linked to efforts to clean and beautify a gate with a history of industrial Pollution collides.
The four-lane Shop Road thoroughfare is a busy route off Interstate 77 that leads to downtown Columbia, the University of South Carolina football games at Williams-Brice Stadium, and the State Fairgrounds.
Along the route, rows of immobilized vehicles — limousines, work vans, pickup trucks, and at least one small bus — stand behind high barbed wire fences along Shop Road at the junction with South Beltline Road. They belong to American Scrap Iron & Metal, the company at the heart of Zone Combat.
“There’s a lot we can and are doing to make it a real, beautified entrance to our city,” said Councilman Will Brennan, whose district owns the Shop Road property. “Because I would say that most people who come from the East to go to USC games come to Shop Road. Want (a junkyard) to be like how they remember their trips to Williams-Brice? We are working against that.”
Prior to American Scrap’s arrival, local officials grappled with other industrial disorders on nearby properties.
Adjacent to the junkyard is the defunct Cardinal Chemical Co., which closed more than 20 years ago and was the site of previous environmental cleanup efforts, and the former Intertape Polymer Group manufacturing facility, which operated at this site more than five decades ago moving operations to Blythewood in 2013. Intertape permanently closed the South Beltline site after the site was flooded in the historic 2015 storm.
Columbia officials are working with Richland County to complete the cleanup of Cardinal Chemical’s site, Brennan said, and there has been interest from potential new owners in converting the Intertape Polymer property to a new, cleaner light industrial use.
Now the city and local environmentalists are fighting the location of a company they believe would backfire on those efforts.
The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals voted unanimously in March 2021 to approve a special zoning exemption for American Scrap at 2420 Shop Road, on the condition that vehicles be shielded from the roadway. The company plans to disassemble vehicles and wholesale the parts, and has asked the board to grant an exemption from the permitted use of the property to store scrap on-site and dispose of the scrapped cars.
The city sued its planning approvals committee that same month to appeal the decision, arguing that the committee failed to properly consider the guidelines for permitting a special use of the site.
American Scrap owner Tim Dickensheets said he has suspended operations at the site while the appeal is pending.
An appeal hearing scheduled for March has been postponed and a new date has yet to be set, court filings show.
The property is also partially in a flood zone and is subject to additional city zoning regulations for flood-prone areas, the city said.
Congaree Riverkeeper and Gills Creek Watershed Association, nonprofit groups working to protect waterways in the Columbia region, separately appealed the zoning decision in a case that has since been merged with the city’s appeal. The groups argued the site is just 400 feet from Gills Creek, which flows to the Congaree River and right next to a ditch that leads to Gills Creek, and contamination from the operation could damage the water.
“When you’re in the floodplain you don’t want to have big containers of gas and oil and radiator fluid and all that stuff sitting there with the potential for it to flood and then wash away or cause damage and danger. said Riverkeeper director Bill Stangler. “And that’s exactly what’s happening right now. You drive by and you look at this site and you see these stacked containers of liquids. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius to try to guess what’s inside.”
The board and American Scrap in court filings say the industrial use is reasonable and that concerns about stormwater runoff and nearby Gills Creek fall under the purview of state regulators, superseding city regulations.
The company filed initial documents required for a stormwater permit in May 2021, the SC Department of Health and Environmental Control said. Authorities said the permit had not yet been granted.
Dickensheets told The Post and Courier that the appeal has discouraged him from investing in hiring staff and improving the property’s aesthetics for those traveling in and out of the capital. The auto parts operation fits in with other industrial uses in the area and meets zoning requirements and environmental considerations, he said.
“In the long term, recycling is actually (more) an environmental benefit than harm,” said Dickensheets, who leases the property.
Stangler said environmental allegations from Richland County against Dickensheets and its Midlands affiliates are evidence 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 that Dickensheets was subpoenaed and fined in May 2019, December 2020, and March 2021 for hazardous waste handling violations.
Dickensheets also faces criminal charges under a recent state law designed to address catalytic converter theft after he was arrested by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department in September on charges that he had proof of ownership for 47 catalytic converters not performed at his Fairfield Road facility. Also in February, he was charged by the Lexington County Sheriff with possession of a stolen vehicle and related charges at American Scrap’s Cayce location.
Columbia Attorney Todd Rutherford, who is defending Dickensheets on the charges and is the senior SC House Democrat, said the catalyst charges were the result of flawed filing by another employee and that none of the 47 catalysts were stolen.
Dickensheets was only charged in the Lexington County case for operating a crane that moved a vehicle that had been reported stolen, Rutherford said. Dickensheets was unaware the car was stolen and had no criminal intent, the attorney said.