Thursday, December 11, 2003

Antiterror team suggests spending

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A former psychiatric hospital in Bond Hill - empty for five years while Cincinnati and Hamilton County leaders fought over it - may soon be enlisted in the war on terrorism.

The Hamilton County commissioners' homeland security commission recommended millions of dollars in spending Wednesday to ensure county residents' safety. Among the ideas is a proposal to use the former Mill Creek Psychiatric Center for Children as a medical warehouse, lab and training center, and to quarantine large groups of people in case of a bioterrorist attack.

The panel also recommended that the county upgrade and install tornado sirens countywide and join with Cincinnati's plans to build a regional emergency operations center in the West End.

The commissioners could decide next week which - if any - of the recommendations to act upon. Commissioner Todd Portune, chairman of the homeland security commission, supports all of them and he may have a second vote for all but the sirens.

Commissioner John Dowlin said the recommendation for the Mill Creek site could be a solution to the impasse with the city over the property - if public health officials need the space and money is available to renovate it. The county wanted to put a juvenile jail there, but the city refused to change the zoning to allow it. A lawsuit over the zoning has been appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Alicia Reece, a Bond Hill resident, said she has to talk to neighbors before taking a position on the proposal.

Commissioner Phil Heimlich said he supports the commission's recommendation to help Cincinnati build a regional emergency operations center in the West End rather than upgrade a separate county center.

Both he and Dowlin are against sirens, however, and a committee member also opposed it.

"If airplanes had struck the Carew Tower, sirens would not have helped before or after," Joseph Julnes Dehner said.

Of the three recommendations, only the sirens have a price tag at this point: $5.5 million.


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