Friday, February 12, 1999

Residents get pushed out by trash

Some resigned to inevitable; others will wait

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Expansion of the Rumpke landfill (background) would overtake the houses here on Struble Road.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        The mountain is coming. And they are going.

        They don't know where. Or when.

        But people living in the path of the planned expansion of Mount Rumpke, the towering landfill run by Rumpke Consolidated Companies in Colerain Township, are certain the end is near.

        “The homes around here are goners,” George Buescher told me. He's lived across the street from the dump for 58 years. “We'll have to wait and see. It'll be a few years before it's a done deal. But we're going. The signs are everywhere.”

        House appraisers have been seen walking from door to door. “Dear Neighbor” letters from Rumpke have appeared in mailboxes to announce next week's series of informational meetings for people living in the path of the company's progress.

Map of proposed addition
        Neighbors talk over fences and across dining room tables. Some are sad. Some angry. All would like to fight for their right to stay put. But many believe this is a fight they cannot win.

        “Rumpke is too big,” George Buescher said. “The township and the county want this to happen. It can't be stopped.”

        Mount Rumpke is the landfill where most of our garbage goes. To add 15 years to its life and keep down the cost of garbage collection in much of the region, the dump must expand. A complex of stores and offices as well as light industry is also planned.

        Twenty-two homes and one church along Hughes and Struble roads and Locharbour Lane would have to go. All gone in the name of progress. In their wake, broken dreams and cherished memories will be left behind.

        “Look at this picture,” the Rev. Michael Hannah said, beckoning me into the tiny library of the Bevis Baptist Church.

        A man and two teens, the church's first pastor and his sons, stand straight and proud in the fading black-and-white photo.

        “Somebody snapped this in 1961 right after they finished pouring the mortar with their own hands for the church's pillars,” the Rev. Mr. Hannah explained.

        Trees occupy an otherwise empty horizon at the rear of the photo. Today the trees have a neighbor, Mount Rumpke. And the church stands on the edge of the proposed industrial park.

        “In my seven years here, the dump has been a good neighbor,” the Rev. Mr. Hannah said as we walked outside to view the mountain that garbage built. As he spoke, what looked to be Matchbox-size garbage trucks and bulldozers crawled over the highest point in Hamilton County.

        “Sometimes you can hear the rattle of the dozer treads. Sometimes the ground shakes when they do some blasting at the dump.”

        And sometimes it stinks.

        “When the wind shifts, what you smell is not an odor. It's a dire stench.”

        I didn't want to insult a man of the cloth. But I had to ask: Why stay in such a smelly place?

        “Lots of blood, sweat and tears went into this church,” he noted. “And the people

        here are like oak trees. They grow deep roots. They can bend. But it takes a huge force to make them move.”

        He acknowledged that Rumpke could be that huge force. But he refused to worry about a move that may be years away.

        “The Bible says let all things be done decently and in order. So we'll have to wait and see.”

        Beverly Noah's not waiting. The retired pipe fitter has had his house appraised and is waiting for Rumpke to make an offer.

        “Might as well get ready for what you know is going to happen,” he said. He looked down his street, Locharbour Lane. “The mountain's growing. It's not going to go away.”

        Beverly and his wife raised three children in the 20 years they have lived in their ranch-style house. He taught his grandchildren how to swim in the pool out back.

        “We have lots of memories here,” he said. “Wonder what Rumpke will pay us for them?”

        Jack and Kristi Burbrink had hoped to share a lifetime of memories at their Struble Road house.

        “We bought it in December of '97. Looked at it one day. Bought it the next,” Jack told me as he eased out of his truck. He was tired from a day of nailing shingles to a roof.

        “We figured we'd raise our two boys here,” he said as he stretched. “We had big dreams for this place.”

        Kristi and their two sons, Jesse and Brian, came out to meet the roofer.

        “This is our first home. This is where we were going to put down roots and grow,” Kristi said.

        “Now, when I pull into the driveway,” Jack added, “I just wonder how many more nights I am going to be able to call this place home.”

        Down the street, Sue Reitenbach can't wait until she looks in her rear-view mirror and sees her family's English-style cottage for the last time. She's watched Mount Rumpke grow since 1989.

        “Over the years, the road noise from the Rumpke trucks has become worse than the stench,” she said. “Now with the planned expansion, we have to go. We can't live next to a dump anymore.”

        George Buescher has lived on Struble Road so long he can remember when Mount Rumpke was a hole in the ground.

        “When my dad brought us out here in 1941, you couldn't see the dump,” he said as he stood on the threshold of the house he helped his father build.

        “Back then, the Bigney place across the street was the highest point in Hamilton County. Now it's second to the mountain.”

        The Bigneys are long gone. Their old house still stands. But Mount Rumpke looms above it. Plans call for the house to be replaced by an industrial park.

        If Rumpke's plans are approved, the industrial park will also occupy the 12 acres that have been in George Buescher's family for 58 years.

        “Remember,” he said, pointing to the mountain of garbage, “this is progress.”

        Leaving his house and walking down his driveway, he pointed to his back yard. Where corn once grew next to an orchard of fruit trees and a garden of tomatoes, butter beans and watermelons, Interstate 275 slices his yard in two.

        “That highway,” he noted, “is progress.”

        Walking back to his house, he stopped to take a closer look at an ancient plum tree. Purple buds on a gnarled branch stood ready for spring.

        “That's progress, too,” George whispered.

        His voice mixed tones of regret and wistfulness. And I could not help but wonder how many more springs that plum tree would see.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.