The Broad River Community will soon be home to yet another gas station that is currently under construction at the corner of Broad River Road and Bush River Road.
The Backhand from City of Columbia Zoning and Appeals
June 09, 2021
by Javar Juarez
The Board of Zoning and Appeals, made up of 7 appointees by the City of Columbia Council approved the application for a "Special Exception" to allow Murphy USA oil company to build a gasoline service station and convenience store at 1501 Broad River Road 29210.
Broad River residents and this alliance, have scoured hundreds of pages of meeting agendas and minutes produced by the Board of Zoning;- currently under the direction of Rachel Bailey; trying to understand how Murphy's USA oil company, got around directly informing the community of their intent to build a service station without hearing from the public. The peculiar nature by which the many boards; like that of the City of Columbia Zoning and Appeals operate; has left many Broad River residents frustrated and feeling left out.
Broad River Road is a densely populated urban center staked between unincorporated Richland County and the City of Columbia "Donut Hole," which are areas that have been annexed by the City of Columbia. With a population of about 22,000 African American residents, black leaders are calling foul on the approval of the service station in an area the USDA has designated a food desert. There is currently just one grocery outlet on the south end of Broad River Road closest to the City of Columbia. Recently, Walmart located on Bush River Road shuttered its doors citing concerns over the SCDOT Crossroads project and low-profit margins. Broad River Residents must now travel to Harbison Blvd to shop. There are roughly 14,000 households that have been impacted by the closing of the Walmart on Bush River leaving the parents of about 9,000 children without many healthy and fresh options to choose from.
Many residents along the Broad River Corridor currently receive SNAP/Food stamp benefits but are unable to use the EBT function on hot foods from places like fast food restaurants that dominate Broad River Road. Residents that use EBT have been forced to supplement their nutritional needs from places like Family Dollar, Dollar tree, and the many convenient stores like the one that is under construction by Murphy USA. Residents say they are forced to pay higher prices at quickie marts for SNAP-eligible foods due to their "Convenient" availability. These foods tend to be high in sodium, heavily processed, and full of sugar.
Why the big uproar you ask?
Broad River residents have been pushing for the indemnification of Broad River road for a number of years; including by long-time resident and former county councilwoman Joyce Dickerson. It is no secret that many residents of Broad River feel that the neglect of the area is politically motivated. The approval of Murphy USA is a prime example of how corporations are able to find backdoors into predominantly African American communities, despite their unwillingness to allow it. These corporations tend to establish themselves in areas that are already on the decline to capture the disposable incomes of disenfranchised communities.
There are many environmental factors too that residents are concerned with and for good reason. Benzene is the gasoline constituent most harmful to human health. Adverse health effects of benzene include nausea, cancer, anemia, increased susceptibility to infections, and low birth weight. According to the World Health Organization Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality, there is no safe level for benzene.
The application submitted by Murphy USA oil company by Keck and Wood, Inc. states "The site will not have a substantial adverse impact on adjoining properties regarding environmental factors. The proposed fueling pumps will not have speakers, thereby providing a more pleasant environment for the customers and adjacent properties. Murphy meets all State and Federal air quality regulations and gasoline delivery trucks are fitted with systems that capture vapors when fueling and return these vapors to the terminal."
Despite Murphy USA safety claims, a number of compounds injurious to human health are released from gas stations during vehicle fueling and from underground storage tank vents. These compounds include benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, and xylene (BTEX). Measures to reliably resolve these adverse health effects are not employed at new gas stations.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency echoed concerns about the health risk associated with gas station emissions in their School Siting Guidelines. The USEPA recommended screening school sites for potential health risks when located within 1,000 feet of a gas station. This Murphy Express will be located across the street from St. Andrews Middle school and HB Rhame Elementary School.
Needless to say that whomever the Board of Zoning and Appeals consists of; did not have enough information about this project to "greenlight" its progression; or did they? Could this project be just another example of how undercover and less well-known boards authorize the corporate machine to build at the cost of the community for the sake of economic development? No one really knows the intent behind the decision to allow Murphy USA on Broad River Rd except those that approved it. However, based on the limited information available; this is a textbook case of a big corporation with little community.
Never mind the limited number of resources that are available to support this gas station; the lack of pedestrian infrastructure including sidewalks and bike lanes that have been rejected by Richland County Council and the City of Columbia. The area also boasts a limited number of law enforcement officers, including Richland County Deputies who will not have jurisdiction in the area known as the "Donut Hole."
Cause and Effect
While outside groups and elected officials see this as an opportunity for economic development, the larger community sees this kind of development as an act of systemic oppression that further seeks to disenfranchise and poison our community.
Covid-19 has created an even larger wealth gap in America that has allowed the wealthiest 1% to see profits increase in excess of 1 trillion dollars. Meanwhile, communities like that of Broad River Road have seen a significant decline in wages and job opportunities. Broad River Road is home to one of the few areas with the largest number of affordable surplus housing, mostly 1 and 2-bedroom apartments for rent under 1,000 per month. Even with its affordable price tag residents are facing eviction for back due rent. A CDC moratorium has not stopped some landlords from being able to successfully evict tenants from their housing with the help of some Richland County magistrates.
The City of Columbia appears to be on the rise with its many luxury developments, the gentrifying of North Main Street, and the Downtown Bull Street District. Soon only rich white people and wealthy USC students will be able to afford a downtown experience and accommodations. Low-Income minorities have been forced to pick up and move to areas like Broad River Road to gain access to affordable housing. This includes families that have been uprooted by the dangerous conditions that they encountered at Allen-Benedict Court and Gonzales Gardens. Those communities were inundated with crime and poverty that didn't mysteriously disappear, it relocated to Broad River Road.
Broad River is also home to a fairly consistent transient and the homeless population that can regularly be seen panhandling from Greystone to Harbison Blvd. At times Broad River Road can be covered in trash, cups, and single-use packaging from the numerous fast food restaurants that motorists have thrown out of car windows.
Residents have a contentious relationship with the current gas stations and convenience stores already along Broad River Road. Residents have also said that they know how important it is to have gas stations in the community but based on the way that the community uses them;- loitering, and grocery shopping; the ramification of this is to the detriment of the people.
Loitering, littering, domestic violence, gun shots, loud music, and fumes are synonymous with Broad River road gas stations and hole-in-the-wall businesses. Many are concerned that this will be the likely case at Murphy Express at some point or another if continued development plans and protective ordinances are not established in the area soon and for the long-term benefit of Broad River Road.
The Broad River Business Alliance will be meeting with representatives from Murphy USA Oil Company to discuss the project further.
Harrison, Roy, et al. “Benzene.” WHO Guidelines for Indoor Air Quality: Selected Pollutants., U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2010, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK138708/.
Hilpert M;Mora BA;Ni J;Rule AM;Nachman KE; “Hydrocarbon Release During Fuel Storage and Transfer at Gas Stations: Environmental and Health Effects.” Current Environmental Health Reports, U.S. National Library of Medicine, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26435043/.
“Gasstation.” Community & Environmental Defense Services, 23 Apr. 2021, ceds.org/gasstation/.