Since taking office in 2012, we continue to do our best to promote cooperation with other political subdivisions and cultivate a collaborative approach to local government. The community as a whole benefits when we work together. So why does it appear that the Urbana City Schools construction project, particularly the Pre K-8 building at the Community Drive site, is such a difficult situation?
Transparency and open communication is vitally important, especially regarding a project that affects everyone in our community. From our first discussion with Mr. Thiel in March, 2014 and a follow-up discussion in July, 2014, the City has been pro-active in attempting to provide information to community members and decision makers. Unfortunately it appears that as the City supplies facts and figures, we are accused of “stone-walling the process.”
Recently Mr. Thiel posted, via social media, “The State won’t let the district build on the Community Drive site, until the City addresses the methane issue at their closed landfill”, but to date there has been no release to the public by the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC) or the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA) to back up his claim. The City communicated directly with OEPA personnel regarding that allegation, and they disclaimed any such prohibition. The OFCC has yet to complete their response to a public records request made by the City more than a month ago. When Mr. Brugger asked this question when he met with the executive director of the OFCC on June 8th, the director stated the OFCC had not issued a ‘stop order’ on the site, but rather advised the District it needed to complete due diligence, to comply with OEPA guidelines, before moving forward with plans for the Community Drive location.
There is no question that the staff at the City and Urbana City Schools want what is best for the community, which is why the letter to the editor from former board members Dan Walter and Robert Cawley printed by the UDC on June 8, 2016, is such a shame! Although “an opinion”, the letter is riddled with factual inaccuracy.
The City has shared multiple invitations to the press, to relay corrective information regarding innuendo and false statements made. These opportunities were not entertained – the latest effort was a submitted joint press release from the OEPA and the City’s environmental consulting firm Hull and Associates regarding the landfill. This release was not published, being viewed as “not maintaining necessary balance” by the UDC editor. The newspaper staff decided instead to summarize the submission, attribute incorrectly, and infuse their opinions, even though it has previously printed countless other “submitted by the City” press releases without such modification. The release in its original version can be viewed on the City’s website at www.urbanaohio.com under press releases.
The following is a brief overview of the most blatant misconceptions being circulated; we, as City officials, would be doing a disservice to the residents we represent if we did not address them now. We are also compiling a frequently-asked-questions list (FAQ) regarding this project which will also be accessible on the City’s website as more information becomes available.
Landfill – methane migration issues
It was never a “secret” that the proposed school building site was next to a closed landfill. The former Urbana school superintendent and school board members were fully aware in 2004 when they purchased the Community Drive property. Two environmental assessments, conducted a decade apart, documented the potential for possible methane migration. On Page 13 of the Phase I assessment from 2014, consultant CTL Engineering of Wapakoneta expressly noted, “only the former landfill facility located adjacent north of the site appears to have a potential for adverse environmental impact to the subject site.” On page 23 of the 2014 Phase I assessment, CTL noted that when sampling methane from three test wells in 2004, the gas was found at the lower explosive limit in one of the wells on November 30, 2004, but measured zero percent on a follow-up test on December 7, 2004. It also measured zero on February 27, 2014 as documented in the Phase II assessment by CTL.
In contrast to the District’s reliance on just a few days’ worth of data, the City has been monitoring the landfill since closure in 1988. As a public record, that data was available from the City and the OEPA during the purchase of the property adjacent to the landfill in 2004. As mandated and governed by the OEPA, the City continues to follow the stringent testing, reporting and suggested mitigation. Inspection reports the City submitted to the OEPA are available at http://edocpub.epa.ohio.gov/publicportal/. That site also has instructions on how to obtain older reports that may not be in the OEPA database.
Landfill – EPA involvement and notice
Mr. Cawley and Mr. Walter claim in their editorial that the “city planning commission declined to give final approval to the project.” Quite simply, the school has yet to submit a final site plan. A preliminary site plan, which was approved with conditions by both the planning commission and the board of zoning appeals – is the ONLY plan the City received! It is important to note that one of the conditions of approval was a requirement that the school district or its project manager apply to the OEPA for a permit as required by Ohio Administrative Code Section 3725-27-13 (“no person shall, without authorization from the Director, engage in filling, grading, excavating, building, drilling, or mining” within 300 feet of a current or closed landfill).
Not only did the school district fail to apply for a permit, it failed to notify the OEPA of its construction timeline. On January 27, 2016, during a regular meeting to discuss the routine landfill monitoring, the OEPA requested a meeting with the City, to discuss the District’s construction plan. The OEPA submitted letters to both the City and school district on February 4, 2016, advising of the need for site plan modification while the City continues to monitor and maintain its mitigation plan, and reminding the school district of its obligation to apply for a permit if it intended to begin construction of any sort.
The letter from Bonnie Buthker, Chief of the OEPA Southwest District Office stated: “Ohio EPA is extremely concerned about the construction of a school in such close proximity to the landfill, especially since there are known methane gas migration and ground water contamination issues associated with the landfill. However, Ohio EPA believes that there are actions that can be taken to help ensure the landfill does not create health and safety issues.” In that letter, the OEPA clearly outlined the steps the district would need to take prior to construction.
It would appear that Mr. Cawley and Mr. Walter obviously haven’t seen that letter, or else they chose to ignore it. Their suggestion of “simply poking a few more holes” in the landfill cap or “drilling additional wells to complete the natural decomposition process” is dreadfully flawed. The City follows the guidance of the OEPA and professional geologists based on scientific best practices; but it doesn’t take a scientist to recognize that compromising the structural integrity of the landfill cap would be disastrous to the gas and groundwater remediation efforts.
To remind our residents, the City held public hearings and published legal notices in August of 2004, September of 2004, August of 2007, February of 2009 and September of 2009 prior to making the improvements to the landfill cap. The Urbana Daily Citizen interviewed Terry Liette of Fanning and Howey about the issue and also quoted then-superintendent Dr. Donald Hare in the same article: “We will make sure that the property is suitable to build our schools prior to purchase.” (UDC, “Hearing slated for old city landfill,” Sept. 10, 2004, by Kathleen Fox).
In conclusion, there are numerous misstatements being shared through various sources that only fuel the fire within the community. Apparently, the District wants to avoid “jumping through city hoops,” when all they are being asked to comply with are the ordinances and engineering standards that every other entity must to build. What we cannot do and will not do is make individual agreements that are contradictory to these standards, and from our first joint meetings, in late 2014 and early 2015, we have been consistent in this message; “No one at the table can modify any of the City’s standards and regulations, but if there is genuine need to deviate from them based on undue hardship, submit the proposal with the plan and let the process drive the results.”
When completed, the City will post an FAQ’s document on www.urbanaohio.com and encourage everyone to view the list periodically for updates related to facts of the ongoing process for both the High School and the Pre-K-8 portions of the construction project.This list will be updated on a regular basis as questions continue. Let’s stop the rumor mill, work together and move this project forward to the best interest of our children, families and businesses, not for the next five years, but for the next five decades and beyond!
This op-ed written by Mr. Bean and Mr. Brugger has been printed exactly as it was submitted. To read an earlier op-ed by Dan Walter and Bob Cawley printed June 8, log on to http://www.urbanacitizen.com/opinion/op-ed/20185/former-board-members-city-school-should-work-together-better-on-building-project. The Urbana Daily Citizen editorial printed May 24 about the school project can be found at http://www.urbanacitizen.com/opinion/editorials/20340/our-view-editorial-urbana-school-project-becoming-a-fumble/