Monday, February 12, 2001

Sayler Park residents oppose cement plant

They say it will blemish historic neighborhood

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The battle cry in Sayler Park has gone out on a small yellow flier.

        “Help build the war chest,” the paper says in bold capital type. “Defeat Lone Star Industries' bid for a cement plant on the river.”

        What residents say is at stake is printed at the bottom of the page: “Thank you for helping save Sayler Park.”

        One of Cincinnati's most secluded neighborhoods, this small pocket of homes sits on the periphery of the city and is largely unseen by those who don't live there.

[photo] Sayler Park residents say a planned cement plant would foul their neighborhood, which includes stately homes such as these on Gracely Drive.
(Gary Landers photos)
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        With a park marking the center of the village, blocks of stately Victorians and a tiny business district, it is idyllic enough for Currier and Ives.

        But on the other side of River Road, where traffic hums steadily in both directions, across the railroad tracks and the perpetual clash of iron and steel is another part of Sayler Park that harkens to its industrial beginnings before the turn of the 20th century.

        “The area we're building in is the industrial corridor along the Ohio River,” said Barbara Sinclair, spokeswoman for Lone Star Indus tries of Indianapolis. “If we polled our neighbors, they would be a sewer plant, a junk yard and a chemical plant.”
    • Headquarters: Indianapolis.
    • Operates: In 12 states.
    • Owns: Five cement manufacturing plants, one slag manufacturing plant, 15 distribution terminals. Operates two other distribution terminals.
    • Sayler Park site: 6381 River Road, about 12 miles west of downtown Cincinnati. The only distribution center planned in Cincinnati.
    Annexed into Cincinnati about 1911.
    A combination of several former communities, including Fernbank, Sayler Park, Delhi (not the same as the township) and the City of Industry
    1.5 square miles.
    1997 population: 3,605
    Has one of Cincinnati's highest home-ownership rates at 70 percent.
    36 homes were sold in 1998 at an average price of $89,807.
    95 percent of the population is white, 4.2 percent black.
    Source: City of Cincinnati. Population figures are from 1990 U.S. Census.

Hope lies with corps

        Sayler Park residents say it is not that simple — that by building a transportation terminal for cement, any plans for saving the riverfront will be scrapped and that industry will move from the area's flanks in a direct frontal assault.

        They say the cement plant will put noxious dust into the air, send 2,000 trucks a year rumbling into the neighborhood and erect two 100-foot silos between the river and their homes.

        “Every one of the homes you see here will be able to see the silos. They are 11-stories high,” said resident Hale Newman, who is enlisting friends and neighbors in the fight. “We should have been asked if we wanted this. We never had a chance.”

        Recruitment so far hasn't been difficult.

        Hundreds of residents have shown up for village council meetings, they have petitioned City Council members with their concerns, they have pleaded for help and lobbied for change.

        While their strategies have been systematically defeated, residents are now hoping a history lesson will give them a victory.

        “Our best hope is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers,” Mr. Newman said. “By federal law, the corps can reject any project because it will have an adverse effect on a historic community or on any historical structure.”

Historical research

        Before construction on the cement plant can begin, the corps must approve Lone Star's plans to build a barge terminal on the river.

        So some of Sayler Park's newest residents are researching the neighborhood's oldest.

        “Sayler Park goes back to some of Cincinnati's founding fathers,” Mr. Newman said. “At one time ... it was thought this could be the heart of the city. Some of the city's biggest employers were here: a cotton mill, a flour mill and others. One burned, one flooded, one fizzled out.”

        Residents note the old lockmaster's home at Fernbank Park, which was abandoned in the early 1960s after decades of use. The park is one of only a few riverfront parks in the city and will be downwind from the plant.

        Among homes owned by early city pioneers are some designed by Samuel Hannaford, the 19th- century architect who drew the plans for Cincinnati City Hall and Music Hall.

        “Nobody gains anything except for that company,” resident Tracy Hoffecker said. “That's it. It really is.”

[photo] Hale Newman, seen near his Sayler Park home, says the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the best hope to stop the plant.
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        Residents complained that the company moved into their back yards without notification before anyone in Sayler Park could protest.

        “It slipped through the cracks,” said Cathy Clayton, the city's air-quality manager. “But tools have been put in place so that won't happen again.”

        Although residents had hoped local environmental officials would crush Lone Star's plan, Ms. Clayton says that the company has agreed to higher levels of monitoring and that dust from the plant meets acceptable standards.

        She also said Lone Star has already gotten permits from the state, the area is zoned for industry and the company owns the land.

        Ms. Sinclair objects to claims that the company sneaked into Sayler Park. She said Lone Star worked with city officials to find its location and issues of community concern were not raised.

        “We've never had any problem like this,” she said.

        She said the facility — Lone Star's first in Cincinnati — is for transporting cement that will be brought in and out on trucks, trains and river barges. The 20-acre site will go mostly undeveloped, and Ms. Sinclair said there are no plans for expansion.

        It will never be used as a manufacturing plant to make cement, she said.

"First brown speck'

        While Cincinnati's lawmakers say the negatives outweigh the benefits, their hands are tied. Councilwoman Minette Cooper summed it up this month at the end of an emotional hearing.

        “We don't think we can stop this,” she said. “Maybe Lone Star will be convinced and move down the river. But we should be honest about what the possibilities are.”

        Lone Star is giving no indication that it will move. Ms. Sinclair said this is the only site with port, rail and road access. In an effort to be “a good, corporate citizen,” she said, the company is preparing digital pictures of what the site will look like once the plant is built.

        She said most residents won't even notice it.

        Mr. Newman disagreed.

        “It's like the first brown speck on a banana,” he said. “It doesn't mean you can't eat the banana, but it does mean a lot more specks are about to show up.”


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