CLEVELAND, Ohio — The preferred site for a new Cuyahoga County jail is the former site of a Standard Oil refinery and would require environmental cleanup before the county could begin construction, according to the Ohio EPA and property records. County.
A 12-member steering committee, made up of county and city officials, is set to vote Tuesday on whether it considers the 44-acre site at 2700 Transport Road in Cleveland an acceptable location for the future prison “provided it can be obtained on commercially reasonable terms and subject to the environmental analysis required to provide reasonable assurance that current environmental restrictions can be removed,” according to a revised Friday agenda.
But ultimately, the Cuyahoga County Board will have the final say on whether to acquire the land.
County Councilman Mike Gallagher, who is the council’s representative on the steering committee, said in an interview on Friday that the council would consider the combined costs of property and environmental cleanup when making a final decision in the future.
“If the cost exceeds the limits of reality, we will move on,” he said.
“All of these sites that we have reviewed are brownfield sites,” Gallagher said, adding that cleaning up the site is an “expected step” in the county’s process to determine which location is best for the new jail, and that he would also be required at other sites the county has considered, including one near the Slavic Village.
Jeff Appelbaum, the consultant who guided the steering committee’s planning for a new prison, echoed Gallagher’s point on Friday, saying that “it’s always been understood that to find an urban site, in the kinds of areas that we looking for, there is always a likelihood of certain environmental conditions that need to be addressed.
The steering committee has been considering various sites somewhat close to downtown Cleveland for months. This is because the committee previously determined that the future prison should be located relatively close to the courts, which are downtown.
Sites close to downtown and large enough to house the future prison are rare, and Cleveland’s industrial past means that many of these locations would likely require clearing.
“No site will be perfect,” Appelbaum said. “The question is: what is the extent of these [environmental] conditions? How much time and effort is spent remediating the site? It is an assessment that must be made.
As things stand, the prison’s favorite property – a container yard located between Cleveland’s Tremont and Central neighborhoods – cannot be used for non-commercial, non-industrial purposes, due to an ongoing engagement with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, according to an agency spokesperson and property records obtained by cleveland.com.
To place a jail on the site, Cuyahoga County would have to conduct tests to understand the extent of the environmental contamination and take steps to clean it up, according to Dave Lambert, head of the district attorney’s civil division, who hired an environmental consultant to advise the county on the cleanup process.
The EPA would then have to approve permission to use the property for “residential” purposes, EPA spokesman Anthony Chenault said in an email. A jail is considered “residential” use, he said.
There are two ways to get EPA approval, according to Chenault: the current covenant could be changed, or the property owner could seek a new one that would allow the site to be used for “residential” purposes. “.
The county does not own the Transport Road site.
He can negotiate with the current owner and attempt to purchase it, which the county hopes to do, or the county could seize the property through eminent domain, Lambert said.
The county has already begun preliminary testing at the site but has not yet begun the full process that would be required to remediate the site and gain EPA approval for use as a jail, according to Gallagher and Lambert.
This process will require an unknown amount of money. Lambert, citing information from environmental consultants in his office, said: “Any site can be cleaned up if you’re willing to spend enough money.”
A county spokeswoman did not respond to questions from cleveland.com about the potential award.
But Appelbaum said it would not be viable or cost-effective to test many sites and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per site on testing.
“You just can’t afford to do this until you answer the more fundamental question of which site will be acceptable,” he said.
Lambert said, “I don’t know if we want to conduct these studies until we get to the point where we’re absolutely sure we’re going to take this property.”
Journalist Kaitlin Durbin contributed to this story.