September 09, 2021

Where have we come from? What are we? Where are we going? With apologies to Paul Gauguin

Posted on September 9, 2021 by Tommy Lavender

As we know, the serious foray into federal environmental protection began in the early 1970’s, before which even my own capital city, Columbia, South Carolina, was collecting and discharging untreated wastewater directly into the Congaree River.  Now the City sports an expandable and well-maintained 60 MGD wastewater treatment plant.  Today, the Congaree River separating the Cities of Columbia and West Columbia hosts swimmers, kayakers, with the prospect of an expansive riverfront park and greenway in the not too distant future.

South Carolina’s brownfields/voluntary cleanup program has also encouraged reuse of infill properties within urban communities and beyond, with many former textile mills now multiuse buildings.  While this program does not offer any direct grant assistance, there are income and property tax incentives.  More importantly for prospective purchasers of brownfield properties are the statutory liability protections, which include a covenant not to sue, contribution and third party claims.  Accomplished through a contract with the State, these protections can be in place during a reasonable due diligence period such that the buyer know what response actions might be required which are usually limited to a baseline environmental assessment.

Clearly, Columbia and South Carolina are not unique in this progress as many other cities and states have seen nearby polluted waterways become attractive amenities and once abandoned buildings become vibrant living and working spaces.  So, what’s the point?  This is not about the facts or politics of climate change, or a pandemic, but merely the reality of a lifetime.  It is simply to say, to our collective credit, or not, our generation has experienced an amazing environmental transition from where we came, where we are, and where we can go.  Let’s not blow it!