NewsLocal NewsCleveland Metro

Actions

Committee moves forward with exploring possible site of new jail but with important caveats

new jail site 1.jpg
Posted at 5:18 PM, Apr 21, 2022

CLEVELAND — After yet another marathon session of the Cuyahoga County Justice Center Steering Committee, members took a substantive step forward on Thursday in the selection process needed to determine an acceptable site for a possible new county jail. Although committee members voted to move forward with the proposed location in the industrial valley, the proposal now contains multiple important caveats.

The oftentimes contentious and cantankerous meeting, which eclipse five hours in length, ultimately ended in the committee’s approval to further explore the proposed jail site located at 2700 Transport Road. After multiple amendments to the initial proposal, the committee voted to determine the site at 2700 as an “acceptable site” if multiple conditions are met: an extensive environmental assessment provides “reasonable assurance” that the property can ultimately be deemed safe for residential use; the committee’s satisfaction with the environmental review; the reasonableness of the agreement to purchase the property as well as the committee’s satisfaction with the determination of the viability of renovating the existing jail. Additionally, the committee also agreed to an independent third-party review of its previous determination on renovating the existing jail.

new jail site 2.jpg

The tract of land located at 2700 Transport Road, which is currently being used as a storage facility for shipping containers, was previously used as an oil refinery and asphalt manufacturing facility. A years-old environmental review of the site previously found elevated levels of petroleum hydrocarbons and benzene, which serve as evidence of the property’s prior use as an oil refinery. However, the contamination present at the site is par for the course in cities like Cleveland which have an extensive industrial history. Officials noted prior remediation projects that were necessary for the construction of notable developments in Cleveland, including East Bank Flats and Battery Park.

“We have remediated hundreds of sites in Ohio and hundreds of sites across the country that are far more problematic than this site,” said Jeff Appelbaum, the county’s consultant overseeing the process of potentially building a new jail. “We will never build a jail there until the confirmatory testing is done but we also need to make a decision as to whether to pursue this site and whether it is an acceptable site.”

Given the age of the prior environmental assessment as well as advancements in environmental remediation processes, the committee committed to a new environmental assessment to be conducted at the property.

new jail site 3.jpg

“A precondition for any new jail would have to be that the property in question both improves the quality of justice that we can provide and protects the safety of the corrections officers and the detainees so they are not contaminated by any environmental issues,” said Mark Griffin, a steering committee member representing the City of Cleveland. “We can explore the possibility of having a new, modernized and humane jail but only if that can be done on a piece of land that can be remediated up to residential use.”

Many of the amendments came as a result of vociferous opposition to the proposal to build a new jail. More than a dozen community members either critiqued the selection process, the idea of building a new jail, to begin with, or the potential cost of such a project.

new jail site 1.jpg

“Spending this insane amount of taxpayer dollars on building a jail is inhumane and backward,” said community member Ross DiBello.

Early estimates have pegged the cost of the new jail to be around $500 million, easily the largest project in county history.