Friday, August 8, 2003

Developer balks at lead deal

EPA seeking consent decree for cleanup

By Jennifer Edwards
The Cincinnati Enquirer

LIBERTY TWP. - Federal authorities said Thursday that the developer of a lead- and arsenic-contaminated subdivision built on an old skeet shooting range won't sign a consent decree for its cleanup.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials won't say why Lexington Manor Inc. won't sign the agreement. A lawyer for Lexington Manor said the developer did nothing wrong.

At this point, homebuilder Ryland Homesis shouldering the entire cleanup of Lexington Manor off Millikin Road

"We will continue to step up to the plate. Our main objective here is to do what's right for our customers," said Winfield Ziegenfuss Jr., a Ryland vice president of land operations.

The U.S. EPA wants both companies to pay for the cleanup because they are the past and present owners of the land.

Despite just one responsible party signing the consent decree, the cleanup will proceed as scheduled, according to the EPA.

The cleanup will begin the last week of August with 8,000 to 10,000 soil samples taken of the entire 26-acre subdivision to determine the full extent of the contamination. Dirt excavation likely will occur in October and could include ripping up streets and driveways; the cleanup's cost still isn't determined.

An EPA attorney conceded Thursday the agency was disappointed the developer won't sign the agreement, and praised Ryland officials for quickly taking responsibility.

"I am extremely ecstatic Ryland has stepped up to the plate and is doing all the work," said Susan Prout, associate regional counsel for the U.S. EPA's Chicago office. "Lexington Manor has worked with us...but the details of a settlement could not be worked out. Obviously, since they haven't signed the work plan, (negotiations) weren't as successful as we had hoped."

There is a possibility, she said, the EPA still will enter into other settlement discussions with the developer.

She also noted that lawsuits from 20 families about the lead contamination still are pending against Lexington Manor Inc. Its agent, according to state records, is Butler County developer Harry Thomas Jr., of HT Investments Inc. of Fairfield.

Lexington Manor's attorney, Joe Reidy of Columbus, previously has said Thomas did everything right regarding Lexington Manor and relied on the advice of an environmental consulting firm, The Payne Firm of Blue Ash, for recommendations on how to remediate the lead in 2000 before homes were built.

The remediation efforts included rototilling the lead-tainted soil with clean soil to reduce its high lead levels; when that didn't work, the lead-tainted soil was treated with lime to render it nonhazardous and then buried.

"Lexington Manor believes they did nothing wrong in its selection of an environmental contractor and its efforts to develop the property and therefore believes it's inappropriate for them to be in this lawsuit," Reidy said, declining further comment on the pending lawsuits.

A call to The Payne Firm was not returned Thursday.

Ryland purchased home lots from Lexington Manor after both parties received written assurance from the Payne Firm that the land was safe for homes.

Lead exposure damages the brain, nervous system, kidneys and other tissues. So far, there are no indications that anyone at Lexington Manor has suffered health problems from exposure to soil.

Ryland recently settled lawsuits with all Lexington Manor families who sued over the lead; the terms are confidential. But the company has offered to buy back most of the homes in the neighborhood at the original cost, pay $15,000 in additional costs and give $10,000 off another Ryland home, if the families want one. Homes in Lexington Manor range from $190,000 to $330,000.

Ryland officials say they feel they did everything right in the situation and did not create the problem.

The company has purchased most of homes in Lexington Manor - 28 and a third of those homeowners have purchased a new home in another Ryland subdivision, Ziegenfuss said.


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