Cleveland’s foreclosure crisis comes back to haunt a small village in the Valley

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The fallout from the mortgage foreclosure crisis that started in 2007 is larger, it turns out, than the 7,000 homes that were abandoned and eventually demolished in Cleveland and its inner-ring suburbs. All of that material had to go somewhere. Some of it was illegally dumped in East Cleveland at the now-infamous Arco site that caught the attention of local authorities when the pile of demolition debris grew to be 40 feet tall and caught fire. The Arco site material has been relocated to the Village of Brooklyn Heights, a tiny burg of 1.8 square miles nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley where 1,600 residents and a whopping 16% of its landmass are surrounded by four large landfills. 

Because the Arco material and the 7,000 homes from Cleveland and Cuyahoga County ended up at its company’s 26-acre RKFD landfill in Brooklyn Heights, Kurtz Bros. Inc. President Rick Costello says it needs to build another 13-acre dump next door. At a public hearing for The Valley Belt Construction & Demolition Debris landfill this week, Costello pinned the need for it on the real estate market’s rebound and Cuyahoga County’s recent statement that it planned to demolish an additional 3,000 to 5,000 abandoned properties.

The permit hearing took place in Parma at a special board meeting for the Cuyahoga County Board of Health attended by a large group of Brooklyn Heights residents, many of whom spoke in opposition to the plan. Before residents had their say, Brooklyn Heights Mayor Michael Procuk had some choice words for the company, which contributes $25,000 annually to the city in payroll taxes. Procuk accused the company of not caring about the health and safety of residents, especially those on nearby Schaaf Road where a resident described “trucks that thunder past the house and the stench of diesel hangs in the air and the shrill noise of back loaders is heard all day.” To which an exasperated Procuk added, “there’s no end to these dumps. Move it somewhere else.”

Where is an open question, since concrete and housing material is heavy, making it costly to move out of the county to one of the other Construction & Demolition Debris landfills that Kurtz Bros. operates in Ohio. On top of that, the company received Ohio EPA approval to place it in Brooklyn Heights. If the County Board of Health denies the permit, the company could decide to fight it out in court, unless OEPA subsequently withdraws its permit.

The Village’s legal counsel, Anthony Coyne, suggested that the company’s application is on shaky legal ground. Coyne testified at the hearing that a site stabilization study in the application puts the company’s proposed new site within 500 feet of the houses on Schaaf Road, a violation of state law. Also, an access road that would be needed would raise dust and noise within 100 feet of residents, he said, a violation of the state laws that the EPA based its decision on.  

“This is a matter of environmental justice when you look at the objection the residents have for this landfill,” Coyne added. 

Procuk was incredulous that the company is willing to raze a large stand of mature trees that buffers the property from the residents.

“You are talking about destroying an ecosystem when we are seeing, daily, code red,” he said, “the planet is burning up.”

Cuyahoga County Sustainability Director Mike Foley agreed. In a letter opposing the dump site, Foley cited the hypocrisy if the county allows a dump that would diminish Brooklyn Heights tree canopy coverage by 3.6% while it was spending $5 million on its Healthy Urban Tree Canopy Grant program. 

“Unfortunately, our efforts are not enough as the new plantings and initiatives cannot keep up with the loss of mature trees from clearcutting and disease,” Foley wrote.

Costello countered that Kurtz Brothers is known for its recycling practices. At their dump sites, they separate out 90% of concrete and 60% of the material from homes, he said. Still, it is not enough to keep the current dump from filling up. He estimates it could be a matter of two years before the current dump is full, especially if homes continue to be demolished at the current pace.

Residents like Mr. Sedlak expressed skepticism with the company’s timeframe. “I take exception to it lasting 2 or 3 years. (The existing) facility is going to be there a long time. Look into it a little deeper.”

The six members of the County Board of Health will take the public testimony and the two sides represented by the Village and Kurtz Brothers, Inc. into account before making a decision on whether to approve or deny the application, said County Health Commissioner, Terry Allen. 

“Today is not a decision point for the Board,” he said, “but a chance for you to be heard.”

The Cuyahoga County Board of Health’s next regularly scheduled meeting is on August 25th at 9 a.m.

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