Avoid liability

At some point, someone may have to pay to clean up chemicals used in a Bellaire dry cleaning shop that has been closed for about 20 years. That “someone” should not be taxpayers in the village.

During their meeting last week, Bellaire Village Council members discussed the old building.

It was discovered during the process of drilling a new water well that trace amounts of a chemical used in the dry-cleaning process were present in the soil near the structure on Guernsey Street. Some chemicals once used extensively in that industry are hazardous to human health.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency officials ruled that new well could not be used by the village water system.

In addition, the OEPA conducted more testing. It traced the chemical back to the old dry cleaner’s building – and determined unacceptable levels of the chemical remain in the structure.

During last week’s meeting, Councilman Michael Doyle said the OEPA has inquired about the village taking ownership of the building.

“It’s a liability,” Doyle commented, and no action was taken on the OEPA proposal.

Calling the structure – and the soil underneath it – a liability may be the understatement of the month in Bellaire. Such sites are classic cases of contamination that occurred many years ago, before the effects of some chemicals on humans were understood.

Now, however, it is known some levels of some contamination pose serious threats to humans and animals. Tens of billions of dollars have been spent by the federal government and private industry to clean up such sites.

It appears ownership of the building in question is uncertain. Even if it can be determined, there is an excellent chance the owner(s) – perhaps descendants of the dry cleaning shop’s owner – cannot afford to pay an enormous environmental cleanup bill.

Neither can Bellaire taxpayers. That is why village officials are right to steer away from the OEPA proposal.

They may want to reconsider if the state agency can provide assurances the village will not be held liable for any cleanup costs. If an ironclad guarantee, coupled with a cleanup plan funded by state and/or federal government, can be obtained, Bellaire officials may want to take another look at the idea.

Accepting the OEPA proposal now would risk – yes, we’ll put it this way – taking Bellaire taxpayers to the cleaners’.