Scout construction halted, mitigation increased as county awaits wetlands permit

This drone view of the northern portion of the Scout site in the Blythewood Industrial Park shows some of the graded areas adjacent to wetlands. Approximately 500 acres of the site is currently being grassed over, a statutory requirement when a project of this magnitude is expected to stop work for more than 15 days. | Contributed

BLYTHEWOOD – On Monday, Aug. 28, construction was suspended on the Scout Motors site in the Blythewood Industrial Park. Richland County Economic Development officials told The Voice that the work stoppage is only temporary as the company awaits the issuance of a wetlands permit, and it is not known how long the work stoppage will last. In addition, last week, the county substantially ramped up its acquisition of more mitigation sites.

Approximately 500 acres of the Scout site in Blythewood is currently being grassed over, a statutory requirement when a project of this magnitude is expected to stop work for more than 15 days.

Sources in the Richland County Office of Economic Development said the work stoppage was not ordered by any agency, but was agreed to with the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers.

An earlier letter from the EPA referenced that a couple of culverts over existing streams had been graveled over. In both cases, a county source said, the culverts were already there, and we were just trying to make it possible for pickup trucks and a tractor to cross into other areas of the site.

Drone photos show excavation adjacent to wetlands on the site that raised concerns with DHEC and other environmental agencies. A source with the Richland County Office of Economic Development said no excavation work has been done within the wetlands, other than placing the gravel.

They were grading on the high points of the site until we can get the wetlands permit, and we had pretty much come to the end of the road of how much we could grade on the dry side, anyway, the source said.

In an email statement to The Voice, Richland County Economic Development Director Jeff Ruble and S.C. Secretary of Commerce Harry Lightsey wrote, “Construction work at the Scout Motors site is not ending; this is a pause in activity while permitting moves forward, including the period for public comment. As we look forward to the opportunities Scout Motors’ tremendous investment will bring, we value the people who call Blythewood home and want to make sure they stay informed about the project’s progress – especially as construction efforts will ebb and flow until completion.”

In a 7-page letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – dated June 29 – the Southern Environmental Law Center, on behalf of the Congaree Riverkeeper, strongly suggested that, “this project warrants the preparation of an EIS (Environmental Impact Study).”  Such studies can take a year or more to complete.

County and state officials have been meeting with the regulatory agencies in charge of oversight of the Scout project to discuss the project’s issues and concerns and to find solutions.

County sources said Scout and Commerce are confident in a general path forward.

The county’s Office of Economic Development said that in addition to the work stoppage, state and county officials have recently been exploring increases in its mitigation plan. Those increases have been substantial.

In addition to the 5,000-acre Bidler Tract mitigation site the county is purchasing off Bluff Road and the Sheldon Island in the Broad River, the county now plans to restore approximately 91,450 linear feet of streams in the Sumter National Forest, generating approximately 335,000 stream restoration credits.

Those streams are mostly owned by the Federal Government and the county would not normally earn mitigation credits from them since the Sumter National Forest mitigation is out of the eco-region and service area of the Scout impact site. A spokesperson for the county explained that if the availability of like-kind streams in need of restoration in proximity to the site are minimal or non-existent, the Corps could take the Sumter mitigation site into consideration as they are confirming credits.

In its June 7, 2023, letter to the Corps, the Southern Environmental Law Firm pointed out, however, that there are opportunities to mitigate impacts within the same watershed – such as Crane Creek or another suitable mitigation site – and questioned why the county had rejected such opportunities.

“We understand that this site would not only provide mitigation in the same watershed, but would also provide benefits to downstream environmental justice communities who will be impacted by the project,” the letter stated.

According to the county’s Office of Economic Development, the total linear feet of stream on the combined, revised mitigation tracts is approximately 256,279, of which approximately 92,700 linear feet will be restoration/enhancement. The remainder will be preservation.

The sites will also be preserving 1,649 acres of wetlands and enhancing an additional 810 acres of wetlands. The total revised credit generation is still being calculated, but county officials said it will be more than 500,000 stream credits and approximately 3,293 wetlands credits, which they explained is more than is actually needed.

In addition, the applicants will be applying 42,510 stream credits from the Mill Creek mitigation bank, of which 9,255 credits are preservation and 33,255 credits are restoration.

An official with the Office of Economic Development said the county is confident that the wetlands permit will be acquired, but that it may take some time.

He also said he did not believe an environmental impact study is warranted for the project.

Contact us: (803) 767-5711 | P.O. Box 675, Blythewood, SC 29016 | [email protected]