CLEVELAND, OH – Noble Road resident Harry Drummond called to tell me he did not want Cuyahoga County officials placing a jail at the site of the General Electric’s former lighting division manufacturing plant behind their homes. It’s the same location where county landbank officials once led by James Rokakis and Gus Frangos sent over 1000 demolished homes.
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish called in a response to a text I sent him expressing Drummonds’ concerns. He said 1740 Noble Road was one of 28 locations being recommended. It was not “the” only recommendation.
“I spoke up for East Cleveland because the development comes with 500 well-paying jobs,” Budish told EJBNEWS. “Out of all the cities in the county, East Cleveland needs help with its tax base.”
Budish said he is one of a panel of county officials discussing the location of a new county jail. They include the judges, prosecuting attorney and public defender.
Budish said the county council appropriated funds to hire attorney Jeffrey Applebaum (Thompson, Hines & Flory) to lead a search for a new site. Applebaum delivered 28 locations. Four are in East Cleveland. County committee officials are not releasing the 28 locations publicly, according to Budish, to avoid the inflation that comes with real estate speculators buying a property or obtaining an option on it to drive up the purchase price. He is not the “chair” of the site selection group.
Drummond said he and other residents might be supportive if their paid-up and tax-current homes were purchased at a price that allows them to move into a new paid-up home with relocation expenses covered. At 70 Drummond said no Noble Road resident with a paid-up home has the work-life left to start a new mortgage.
“I’m too old to start over,” Drummond said.
During my administration as East Cleveland’s mayor from January 1, 2006 through December 31, 2009, I met and attended sessions with officials of the Cuyahoga County Port Authority about building a “duty-free zone” because of its proximity to the Norfolk Southern and CSX’s railroad lines. I negotiated East Cleveland’s $6.2 million agreement with the railroad lines as Emmanuel Onunwor’s chief of staff in 1998.
The property had been used by General Electric (GE) to manufacture lights and is heavily-contaminated with mercury, lead and other toxins associated with manufacturing the products. The railroad lines were the lifeblood of John D. Rockefeller’s ability to transport his oil products from Cleveland to his domestic markets.
The soil is even further contaminated as a result of the illegal construction and demolition debris dump George Michael Riley and Christine Beynon created after ex-mayor Gary Norton, Brandon King, Thomas Wheeler, Mansell Baker and Barbara Thomas voted to give them the property to redevelop. Norton transferred title of the property to Beynon and Riley without a resolution of council. The city was supposed to recapture the GE property after the environmental mass murderering couple disregarded the ordinance for profit; and Riley starting paying off Norton and others in cash.
A General Electric vice president told me in 2017 the world’s 5th largest publicly-traded corporation had a “cradle to grave” duty to clean up their mess; but only if ordered to do so pursuant to the Resource Conservation Recovery Act of 1974. Without the environmental clean-up the site should not be used for a “human” development in an area where factories and the toxins they left proliferated.
If Budish and the county council enforced RCRA and asked Kurt Princic and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency to order GE to clean-up the site; it would be ready for future development and eliminate immune-depleting toxins from the environment. The clean-up costs would be borne by GE instead of the county and state’s taxpayer’s.
Budish and I discussed our shared roles in getting the Arco site closed and cleaned. He thanked me for obtaining the environmental report from Auburn Environmental’s Jim Riffle that pressured the Ohio EPA’s former director, Craig Butler, to act. I thanked him for his quick “clean-up” response. I’ve asked him to forward a copy of Applebaum’s contract and the associative public records that approved it.
I think that site’s location has challenges because of its proximity to CSX and Norfolk Southern’s railroad lines. My recollection of the 1998 negotiations I was assigned to handle as chief of staff was the rail traffic would include 35 to 40 train crossings daily. My negotiations included noise barriers CSX and Norfolk Southern had duties to maintain. They haven’t. The building would have to made sound-proof so that no outside noise from the daily parade of trains would keep American citizens locked up from sleeping.
There’s also the issue with the hazardous waste and hazardous materials the railroads are transporting through the city. Derailments do occur even though rarely. Ten times more hazardous materials are released by trucks than trains. If railroad cars carrying ammonia derailed near the jail site, the fumes from the gas would kill the workers before they could release the prisoners. I recall records CSX and Norfolk Southern delivering to the Surface Transportation Board identifying over 145,000 cars that would carry hazardous waste and materials through East Cleveland annually.
Currently, Ohio’s municipal income tax laws allows cities to collect from workers working inside their borders. The benefit of the county jail is that its workforce will be present and in a city on three shifts. 500 jobs. State Senator Bill Seitz and others are introducing legislation to cure what they see is the unconstitutionality of Ohioans working remotely from home and paying taxes to cities where they are neither residents nor working.
The word “jail” for this county’s bedroom communities always brings drama. Budish said nothing is set in stone for “any” of the 28 sites. Who knows, a competing community’s politicians, some who may want it, could have tossed out the East Cleveland story to let residents against it act predictably and remove themselves from the running. Some mayors and councils have the attitude “more for me.”