CLEVELAND — The steering committee leading Cuyahoga County’s effort in identifying a location for a new county jail delayed a vote on a preferred site on Tuesday even after a two-hour-long executive session. The decision to delay the vote came after more than a dozen people lambasted the jail proposal, citing its estimated half-billion-dollar price tag as well as the presence of possible environmental contamination present at the site that’s being considered.
The Justice Center Steering Committee had previously identified three parcels of land near 2700 Transport Road as a location that met the necessary criteria to be considered for the new county jail. The properties sit in Cleveland’s industrial valley, wedged between Broadway Road and the Cuyahoga River.
According to county property records, the three parcels under consideration, which are collectively appraised at over $2 million, were once home to a Standard Oil refining facility as well as a truck wash. Given its industrial past, it is believed that the site contains some level of environmental contamination, but the degree of which will need to be studied. The property is currently restricted for commercial and industrial uses only.
On Tuesday’s steering committee agenda, the panel was to be voted on as “an acceptable site” to build the new jail, which is estimated to cost $550 million. Ten ‘yes’ votes are required to move it forward.
A group of around two dozen opponents to the plan, collectively called the Cuyahoga County Jail Commission, protested outside the county’s administrative headquarters building before the meeting. Many members spoke in opposition to the proposal during the public comment period.
“What's the reason to rush into this proposal?” said Larry Heller, a member of the Northern Ohio Recovery Association. “Evidence-based best-practice standards indicate treatment is more effective than incarceration… does anyone in this room believe that a sales tax will pass on our ballot?”
The estimated price tag of constructing a new jail was a non-starter for many of those that spoke in opposition to it.
“We know that every dollar that is invested in education will save $4 in incarceration,” said Azzurra Crispino, a member of the Cuyahoga County Jail Coalition. “For those of you who are fiscal conservatives, obviously, you should be concerned that this is a large expenditure that is unnecessary and the community doesn’t want. For those of you that are liberal or folks that are into the environment, this is potentially an environmental disaster.”
If the steering committee were to approve the site and the county was to acquire it, an environmental study would be required and any remediation plan would require Ohio EPA approval.
The steering committee said a decision is expected to come at its next meeting, which has not been scheduled yet.