COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — An environmental group said Tuesday it plans to sue a South Carolina utility that insists there is no way to remove coal tar that has settled at the bottom of a river.
The tar sits on about a dozen acres of the Congaree River in downtown Columbia, the byproduct of a plant that burned coal to make gas for cooking in the first half of the 1900s.
South Carolina Electric & Gas initially promised to remove the coal tar after some of the material emerged from under sediment in 2010.
But the company could not find a removal solution that would also meet the permit requirements of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies, said Ginny Jones, a spokeswoman for SCANA, the parent company of SCE&G.
"Cost was not a factor in the recent determination to move forward with the capping," Jones said in an email Tuesday.
Instead, SCE&G will cover the tar with a special fabric and hold that in place with stone or sediment.
But Congaree Riverkeeper said SCE&G intentionally skewed its research into whether the tar could be removed and that's why it could not get a permit.
In a statement about their intention to sue, the group and the Southern Environmental Law Center produced a report from a different engineering group that said SCE&G's solution will cost about $7.6 million, but the tar could be removed by building temporary dams around the coal tar and digging it up at a cost of about $18 million.
"This cover-up plan means the tar will remain in the river forever, with the very real risk that it will continue contaminating more of the river in perpetuity," Congaree Riverkeeper Bill Stangler said. "We deserve better from SCE&G and our regulators."
State environmental officials have done repeated testing of water quality and found the river safe for recreational use, Jones said.
SCE&G's capping process has been used many times before and the site would be closely monitored, Jones said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved SCE&G's plan last month.