By John Kiesewetter
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LIBERTY TWP. - As remedial work began at the lead-tainted Lexington Manor subdivision Monday, Butler County commissioners considered a plan to prevent hazardous sites from being developed for residential use.
A backhoe operator Monday began digging up the backyard of 5910 Furlong Way, marked off with yellow tape and orange cones, at Greater Cincinnati's largest residential lead contamination site.
What was once the backyard of Craig and Janet Higgins will become the staging area for lead-tainted dirt to be excavated later this week, said Steve Renninger, on-scene coordinator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The U.S. EPA declared the 26-acre subdivision a Superfund cleanup site last May. Soil samples last year showed hazardous lead levels - up to 10,000 parts per million - far above the federal standard of 400 parts per million as toxic.
Ryland Homes has agreed to remove up to 25 million tons of contaminated dirt from around 32 of the 42 homes built since 2001. The cleanup is expected to cost Ryland $2.5 million and take 16-20 weeks.
Until 1969, the Hamilton Sportsman's Association operated a skeet-shooting range on the property along Millikin Road. The revelation of a second Butler County subdivision built on an old shooting range - a mile west along Millikin Road, in Fairfield Township - has prompted commissioners to talk about requiring environmental assessments by residential developers.
Many banks make residential and commercial developers do such studies before financing projects, said Dave Fehr, assistant Butler County planning director. Fehr was asked to research environmental assessments this month, after the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found nontoxic levels of lead in Brentwood Estates subdivision, built in the late 1970s next to Butler Tech.
The review costs $2,000 to $5,000, Fehr said.
Commissioners on Monday told Fehr to check with the Butler County Prosecutor's Office to see if the county has the authority to mandate the land report as a condition for approving development.
However, such a regulation may not have prevented Ryland Homes from building on the old Liberty Township shooting range.
The site developer - H.T. Investments - knew about the lead, and had the contaminated soil mixed with clean dirt, then treated with lime and buried.
The Payne Firm Inc., a Blue Ash consultant, said in a 2000 letter to Ryland that "the property is suitable for residential development."
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