Ohio was considered Cuyahoga’s favorite prison site for his men’s prison in the 1980s, until environmental concerns surfaced
CLEVELAND, Ohio — In the 1980s, Ohio officials once considered an industrial site along the Cuyahoga River their preferred location for a state prison — until concerns about the cost and scale of the cleaning up the environment send them elsewhere.
Four decades later, it’s now up to Cuyahoga County to decide if environmental cleanup at that same location is worth it to provide the best location for a new 1,900-bed jail.
A 12-member steering committee overseeing construction plans for the county facility will vote on Tuesday whether it finds the site, at 2700 Transport Road in Cleveland, to be an acceptable location for the future jail, “provided it can be obtained on commercially reasonable terms, and subject to environmental analysis required to provide reasonable assurance that current environmental restrictions can be removed,” according to the meeting agenda.
The committee meets Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the county administration building.
While committee members say they understood that any site they considered would likely require some level of remediation, given they want to stay close to downtown Cleveland, an area known for its industrial past. , they were unaware of its already-studied history as a potential former state prison.
“In no committee meeting that I’ve ever attended was this ever discussed,” said county attorney and committee member Michael O’Malley. “Nobody knows it.”
Plain Dealer records show the site was a former Standard Oil refinery found riddled with potentially dangerous chemicals. There was tetraethyl lead, used in the manufacture of gasoline, sludge, asphalt, hydrocarbon liquids and vapors, solvents like kerosene, acid residues and asbestos.
There was also the possible presence of PCBs, a highly toxic industrial compound that can cause developmental and neurological problems in children, a November 5, 1982 article reported.
All would need to be removed or remediated before the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections can begin building its 1,250-bed facility. But officials decided that the estimated $4 million and three to five years it would take to clean up the contamination made the site unfeasible. The state moved its $76 million reformatory to Grafton, County Lorain, where its men’s prison is located.
The property manager, at the time, argued the state knew about the chemical problem when it began negotiating to buy the land for $3 million, but city and town officials State later said they were never informed of the extent of the contamination until just before the sale was to be finalized.
Members of the committee today do not want to face the same dilemma.
O’Malley said he was advocating for more environmental testing on the property, as well as county joint pleas Judge Brendan Sheehan and public defender Cullen Sweeney, who also sit on the committee. He said he would need to understand the level of repair required and how much it would cost before he felt comfortable moving forward.
“What the county needs to do is get it right, not just get it right,” O’Malley said. “If it takes another year and means doing it right, I think that does our job.”
County Councilor Mike Gallagher, who is the council’s representative on the steering committee, said the county has already taken preliminary soil samples from the property and is awaiting results. Tuesday’s vote does not lock the county into a deal, he said, noting that the county council must ultimately approve any decisions made by the committee.
All of the sites the county has considered are “contaminated sites,” he previously told cleveland.com. If the cost proves prohibitive, after study, they can then move on to other locations, he said, but remedial action may have already taken place over the past 40 years.
“There is no cost to pursue ownership,” he said. “We can get the study later.”
But even proper testing is expensive, and county jail project leader Jeff Appelbaum has previously said it wouldn’t be viable or cost-effective to test many sites and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per site. in testing.
As it stands, the shipping container yard located between Cleveland’s Tremont and Central neighborhoods is prohibited from non-commercial, non-industrial use, due to a 2005 pact with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, according to an agency spokesperson and property records obtained by cleveland.com.
It would require remediation and reclassification for “residential” purposes before it could be used. A prison is considered a residential use.
As part of Tuesday’s ownership vote, the steering committee would also continue to investigate alternative sites, the agenda says.