Monday, October 5, 2009

Lower Price Hill junkyard on hold for now

Residents of Lower Price Hill have won a temporary victory against a proposed scrap metal yard, getting a stay on building permits for River Metals Recycling's planned operation at 1951 State Avenue.

One major factor in the stay was a September 2 letter from Lower Price Hill Community Council (LPHCC) president Dr. Jack Degano to the City of Cincinnati's chief building official Amit Ghosh and zoning hearing examiner Steven Kurtz, the result of community concerns that arose during an August 26 meeting with City department officials and the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services.
"Given the contradictions of River Metals Company; the dubious record of its parent David J. Joseph Company, and the uncertainties and wrong information from city and county departments, I repeat my request of August 26 that the permit process be suspended until each department examines the accuracy of its beliefs about a junkyard at 1951 State Avenue; collaborates with all other involved departments to ensure that no loopholes are provided for River Metals/David J. Joseph Companies and legal counsel Taft, Stettinius & Hollister, and that a junkyard's impact on citizens be the primary concern for public officials," Degano said.

Further assessment needed

One week prior to the August 26 meeting, LPHCC officers and neighborhood residents led a tour of the State Avenue, Ernst Street, and the junkyard property, which included health commissioner Dr. Noble Maseru.

At the meeting, the biggest concern was over the need for a pre-permit Health Impact Assessment (HIA), a question repeatedly raised by Maseru.

His repeated questions were met with silence.

In a separate letter to Maseru and Jones, Degano requested a comprehensive, independent HIA and said that the neighborhood was mobilized to work with the department to get it done.

"You were right about the need for a HIA," he said. "Lower Price Hill's fragile environment, coupled with other health and social issues create an imperative to safeguard residents from multiple problems created by a junkyard surrounded by homes."

An unstable site

In the letter, Degano said that the LPHCC didn't agree with plans by River Metals for fencing off only two sides of the 7.8-acre site, and disagreed with certain statements from Rich Pohana of the City's Department of Transportation and Engineering.

Degano said that, although the department was concerned with right-of-way access to the site, they felt that the hillside was stable.

"There are multiple right-of-way problems on narrow, poorly-maintained State Avenue," Degano said. "But that hillside is unstable. There are landslides, and regular movement of the hill. Mr. Pohana was wrong. Residents of Lower Price Hill are knowledgeable about the perilous condition of that hill, as is River Metals Company, whose geotechnical consultant, Thelan Associates, Inc., documented on November 5, 2008, the instability of the hill."

Degano also worried about stormwater runoff, despite assurances from the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati (MSD) that the site meets all stormwater retention requirements.

According to Degano, nothing has changed at the site – cascades of water still pour down the hillside following heavy rains, covering the sidewalks and street on State Avenue and Ernst Street.

"What revolutionary stormwater retention idea did River Metals propose that made the MSD/SMU [Stormwater Management Utility] decide that the egregious lack of control of massive water runoff would somehow be legally, totally and permanently resolved?" he said. "What about MSD's need to fulfill the requirements of its federal consent decree?"

Potential pollution

Of greater concern to the community is the runoff from an abundance of junked cars.

At the August 26 meeting, Chris Hall of MSD's Division of Industrial Waste said that fluids would not be allowed to leak out of the vehicles, and that "businesses are required to have a response plan to remove fuel tanks".

"Whose job is it to tell the fluids they are not 'allowed to leak out?'" Degano said. "River Metals spokesmen said that only batteries and gasoline would be removed from junkers."

According to Degano, that means that oil, brake and steering fluids, radiator coolant, transmission fluid, transfer case lubricant, toxins, and freon from old appliances – causing quicker oxidation of the metals – would flood the sidewalks and the streets.

"No city or county department representative present at the August 26, meeting refuted the facts," he said. "Our Council has neither seen nor heard of a River Metals' emergency response plan for the flammable, explosive multiple fluids left in junkers, or for stored batteries."

Neighborhood invested

Although they have temporarily stopped the junkyard, Degano said the LPHCC and the neighborhood's residents would continue the 14-month-long fight.

"The people of Lower Price Hill strenuously reject the contention of the River Metals Company that the zoning of 1951 State Avenue grants it a preeminent right to a junkyard that supercedes the rights of residents to the safe, peaceful enjoyment of their homes," Degano said.

Junked cars photo by katybate, courtesy of Flickr, through Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

Previous reading on BC:
Lower Price Hill's 'Great Junkyard Debate' enters permit stage (8/10/09)
'Even larger junkyard' proposed for Lower Price Hill (6/16/09)
Health Department replies to LPH concerns about junkyard licensing (2/24/09)
Lower Price Hill seeks Cole's help in stopping junkyard (2/17/09)
River Metals to apply for junkyard use (11/13/08)