Unlikely Northeast Ohio site gets state grant for hazardous waste cleanup

The State of Ohio has awarded grants to clean up contamination at the former Walton Hills Ford Stamping plant, Ford’s Brook Park plant, and the BFGoodrich Power Plant in Akron. These are part of a $350 million effort this year to remediate contaminated brownfields for future uses. One of those brownfield sites may come as a surprise.

A group of state and local officials stood outside the former Brandywine Golf Course in Peninsula Wednesday, looking out over rolling green hills with a mixture of mature trees. The Conservancy for Cuyahoga Valley National Park owns this 215-acre site with an agreement to sell it to the park. But first the property needs some work. The president of HZW Environmental Consultants in Mentor, Matt Knecht, has golfed here. But he’s also studied it and found contaminants.

“Unfortunately, historically golf greens were sprayed with mercury,” Knecht said. “It’s a fungicide. Essentially when you cut grass that short it’s susceptible to fungus. And so all the greens and some of the fairways out here have mercury contamination that would otherwise erode into the river.”

And the river is less than a half-mile away.

 Matt Knecht (L) speaking with CVNP Superintendent Lisa Petit in the shadow of the clubhouse. [Mark Urycki]

Knecht says the areas with mercury are the tees and greens although some of the metal may have leaked downhill into some of the fairways. He estimates the top one to two feet of soil will have to be removed from those areas.

“I don’t think we’re going to backfill a whole lot – probably just grade out what’s here so we don’t import any material to the site. So it’ll be mainly getting the mercury-contaminated stuff gone. We’ll take down this clubhouse here too. There’s a little bit of asbestos in it so we got to get that out. But that’s a drop in the bucket compared to the greens and tees,” Knecht said.

When the nonprofit Conservancy purchased the property, Peninsula Village officials were upset, arguing that taking the land off the tax rolls and putting it into park hands would hurt the community. The groups are now working together. A camping site is one likely use for the land, but park Superintendent Lisa Petit says it’s not been decided.

“We’ve got some wonderful ideas, nothing set in stone yet, still a lot of brainstorming. But there’s so much potential here. It’s going to be really something special,” Petit said.

The former par 3 golf course will include boating access to the Cuyahoga River and serve as an event site. The log cabin clubhouse may not have a future. [Mark Urycki]

She says all those plans may have evaporated without this state grant to clean out contaminants.

“This remediation... when I say it’s a game changer, this was in the way for us proceeding with this picture because we can’t purchase it from the Conservancy until it is remediated,” Petit said.

Every county in Ohio can get at least $1 million from the Ohio Brownfield Remediation fund. Last week, the state announced $162 million in grants.

Stacey Rusher, project manager for the Conservancy, says they jumped at the chance in January knowing it was a first-come first-serve program. And it may be the only time the state makes this money available.

It’s unusual that the grants came from the Department of Development rather than the Ohio EPA. But Matt Knecht of HZW says it got done in a hurry.

The “Clean Ohio [program of the EPA] put $400 million on the street in 10 years. This program put $350 million on the street in eight months. So that puts it in perspective. From an environmental perspective this administration has done something that is unprecedented. And this is probably a once in a lifetime opportunity right now,” Knecht said.

Ohio Director of Development Lydia Mihalik says the program may not last, but the state will continue to invest in brownfield sites and blighted areas.

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