Thursday, June 19, 2003

Ryland ordered to stop moving dirt in lead area



By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - A Butler County judge on Wednesday ordered Ryland Homes to cease construction and to halt movement of dirt in the lead-contaminated Lexington Manor subdivision.

An exception will be made for construction that is wrapping up on one lot, but federal officials must approve what kind of work is done and residents must be notified 48 hours in advance, Common Pleas Judge Matthew J. Crehan ruled.

Lexington Manor, off Millikin Road in Liberty Township, is contaminated with hazardous levels of lead and arsenic and has been declared a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Superfund site.

Cleanup is expected to begin this summer.

Wednesday's ruling came after Chris Finney, a Hyde Park attorney representing 18 subdivision families that have sued Ryland Homes and others over the lead, filed motions earlier in the day requesting construction and dirt movement stop.

"We see it as a big win," Finney said. "We have had repeated promises from Ryland that they would stop all exterior construction. Yet even as of last week, they were doing grading on the property. Now for the first time, we have a court order preventing them from doing that."

Ryland officials recently had said they planned to halt construction at the 46-lot subdivision, where homes range in value from $190,000 to $330,000.

Though Ryland officials and their attorneys deny it, Finney said he and the residents suspect some dirt has been taken into other Ryland developments under construction near Lexington Manor.

Anne Madison, a Ryland spokeswoman, recently denied the allegation, telling the Enquirer the company hasn't "ever" taken dirt out.

"We have not done anything at Lexington Manor without the permission or the direction of the EPA," Madison said Tuesday.

Attorneys for Ryland reiterated that in court Wednesday and produced a sworn statement from John Adams, Ryland's Ohio Valley president, stating that dirt hasn't been moved out of the subdivision since April 17, when the U.S. EPA became involved with the site.

In an interview this week, Todd Schunk, owner of Schunk Trucking, Inc., of Cleves, said his company was hired by a Ryland contractor earlier this year to move dirt around the subdivision during construction. He, too, insisted no dirt left Lexington Manor, at least in his trucks.

Steven Renninger, an on-scene coordinator in the Superfund division of the U.S. EPA's Cincinnati office, said Tuesday he is not investigating the allegation at this point, calling it "speculation." For now, he said he is focused on a cleanup of the subdivision.

Hazardous lead levels at the Lexington Manor subdivision in Liberty Township have been found in 13 yards. Arsenic also has been detected.

The subdivision was built in 2000 on 26 acres that used to hold a skeet shooting range.

A cleanup of the lead was attempted before homes were built, through rototilling, lime treatment, then burial.

The builder, Ryland Homes, said it was assured the property was safe for homes. Ryland now has offered all families at Lexington Manor buy-back deals on their homes.

A federal consent decree outlining the cleanup work plan and schedule is expected to be signed soon by Ryland Homes and Lexington Manor Inc., the subdivision's developer.

E-mail jedwards@enquirer.com.




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