July 10, 2012 [The Plain Dealer]
As Cuyahoga County prepares to move forward on an unprecedented razing of blighted properties, the last thing it needs is a nonsensical interpretation of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules to make foreclosure-related demolitions exponentially more expensive and time-consuming.
But that is just what the EPA is doing by classifying such home demolitions as large-scale urban renewal projects, subject to its toughest asbestos-removal rules. The EPA needs to rethink that standard — immediately. Otherwise, scarce demolition dollars will vanish for no good reason as land banks and municipalities are forced to hire expensive consultants and analyze samples.
The EPA has long exempted homes and buildings with no more than four apartments from its most onerous asbestos abatement requirements. However, when the Ohio EPA sought clarification for urban demolition projects, a December 2010 letter from a U.S. EPA compliance official appeared to reinforce that such projects were subject to the tougher, more expensive urban-renewal standard.
Residential demolitions still require asbestos abatement, but not on that scale.
“We visually evaluate every property we acquire for asbestos, and we abate it,” says Gus Frangos, who heads the Cuyahoga Land Bank. Frangos thinks the EPA mandate will eat up at least 25 percent of more than $23 million the county now has for demolitions, thanks to a state grant and local matching funds.
Land bank guru Jim Rokakis, director of the Thriving Communities Institute, said a statewide coalition of land banks and municipalities may ask a federal court for a declaratory judgment. Republican U.S. Rep. Steve LaTourette of Bainbridge Township is trying to deny the U.S. EPA the money to enforce the rule.
There’s a much better solution: The EPA should apply a little common sense, lest unnecessary rigidity doom efforts by cities nationwide to rid their neighborhoods of foreclosed eyesores.