SCE&G to unveil new plan to rid Congaree River of nine acres of coal tar

Published: Mar. 8, 2019 at 7:25 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - After nearly 100 years of sticky black tar coating the riverbed of the Congaree River, it could soon be removed.

SCE&G will unveil its newest plan to rid the river of pollution regulators said it caused a century ago at a public meeting on April 2.

The pollution was first identified by regulators in 2010 and determined to be a byproduct of a coal gasification plant on Huger Street near the State Museum.

"That tar was disposed of by dumping it in a creek behind their (SCE&G) facility for years," Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said. "That went on for many years in the early to mid-1900s."

About ten years ago, Stangler said a local river guide discovered the tar, unaware at the time of what it might be.

"He got out of the river and stepped on some stuff and thought there was something off about it," he said. "He called DHEC and then he called WIS and ya'll came down and started reporting on it and we started learning more about this coal tar issue, where it came from and what was out there."

Since then, SCE&G has developed a couple of plans to clean up the pollution, but nothing has come to fruition, according to Stangler.

According to Stangler, SCE&G plans to remove 70 percent of the coal tar by placing temporary coffer dams along the east bank of the river between the Gervais Street bridge and the Blossom Street Bridge. In doing so, officials will be able to access the riverbed and dig out the tar.

"I think we'd all like to 100 percent come out but we have to realistic about what we can do, what's feasible here, what can be permitted," he said.

Cleanup crews will also need to be mindful of potential civil war artifacts within the riverbed.

The section of the river in question lies within Representative Seth Rose's district.

"For someone to say well it's got a layer of mud over it and it's fine, that's not going to be suffice," Rose said. "This was found because someone was wading in the water and he came out and it was all over his foot."

Rose said development along the river is a goal of both the city and county, but before that can happen, he believes the tar needs to be cleaned up.

"This was put in by (SCE&G) corporation and it needs to be cleaned up by the corporation, not the taxpayers," Rose said.

SCE&G could not estimate how much the clean-up project would cost, but Stangler said previous proposals were valued in the tens of millions of dollars. This proposal is smaller in scale, which he says makes some of the feasibility and permitting process easier.

Stangler estimates nine acres of coal tar coats the bottom of the river, working out to tens of thousands of pounds.

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