At yesterday’s TC Land Bank board meeting the topic of environmental regulations relating to the demolitions program was a major topic, as it was in last week’s City Council strat planning meeting.
This is one of those issues that – regardless of which side you are on – just makes people crazy. At the very least it is making me crazy.
The city/county will spend something close to $1.5 million over the next year or so demolishing vacant, unsalvageable houses in Warren. At $3500 per house, about the cash cost when no asbestos is present in a house, that would eliminate 428 houses. But we are not going to reach that number because Federal and Ohio EPA rules mandate that these houses all be tested for asbestos, which costs $500 per house, and that when found, the asbestos be removed in a highly specific and very expensive manner that can cost a couple thousand or tens of thousands; there is a house now on Willard S.E. that will cost over $25,000 to bring down because of the asbestos.
My own unofficial guesstimate is that we will spend closer to $5000 per house, on average, which means a total of 300 houses down. Put another way, there will be 128 condemned houses still standing because of the inability of several government agencies to work together to solve a major problem impacting the entire community.
This is not to say that no one is trying. The Director of the Ohio EPA, Scott Nally, was here this week meeting with TC Treasurer Sam Lamancusa and Warren Safety and Service Director Enzo Cantalamesa to strategize on solutions, there are limits to what the State can do, since Federal laws and EPA take precedence.
Two avenues Nally is exploring are to allow “sampling” rather than testing of every house on the demo list, and the possibly suspension of the “one house” rule. This rule comes out of the Clean Air Act that mandates testing all houses for asbestos unless the city limits its demolitions to “one house per year per block.” Since the demo funds coming from the AG’s bank settlement mandates the city use a “cluster” approach in its strategy it cannot meet both the AG’s demands and the EPA’s.
Another rule that seems arbitrary to me is that which requires the city to remove each piece of asbestos-infected material, wrap it in plastic and dispose of it in a special site – all of these steps add expense. Warren Health Director Bob Pinti told me he felt that it is actually more effective and much less expensive to perform “wet demos” in which a constant stream of water is sprayed as the demo takes place, which keeps the asbestos fibers out of the air. Unfortunately, the EPA will not allow this.
The blight of vacant houses is the biggest issue facing many American communities – including Warren — and it is not necessary to ignore the environmental issues related to ridding our community of them. Reasonable compromises can be found and it is very frustrating to be so close to the point-of-no-return without a solution in sight.
At this point I can only suggest writing to your state and federal elected officials and demanding their action.