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Published: Wednesday, 5/5/2010

Ohio EPA seeks data on school Sylvania site

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

An Ohio Environmental Protection Agency request for more information about the Sylvania school district's proposal to fill wetlands to build a school in southwest Sylvania Township is "nothing out of the ordinary" for permit applications of that sort, an agency spokesman said last week.

But until the school district's application is officially complete, the clock will not start running for the EPA's deadlines to act on it, said Dina Pierce, the agency's northwest regional spokesman.

Exactly how much time that involves depends on how the Army Corps of Engineers rules concerning its jurisdiction over several of the wetlands on the property at 9336 and 9364 Wolfinger Rd., for which the school district holds an $800,000 purchase option.

An Army corps letter declaring its position is one of the elements missing from the permit application the school district filed March 25, Ms. Pierce said.

Depending on how the corps rules on one of several wetlands, the EPA could have either 30 days or 90 days to act on the school district's application, she said.

Because the latest site plans for the school do not affect some high-rated wetlands elsewhere on the property, the statutory 180-day response time should not come into play.

"It doesn't look like it will take long for us to make a decision," Ms. Pierce said.

The site is the district's preferred option for replacing Central Elementary School, although Jim Nusbaum, the board of education's president, said last week that officials are looking into several alternatives.

That's welcome news for Andy Walsh, a resident of the St. James Woods subdivision, who considers the Wolfinger site too far out in the country for most of the children Central serves.

After Mr. Nusbaum told him at the school board's April 26 meeting that new alternatives are under consideration, Mr. Walsh said the district should also inquire whether owners of other sites who weren't interested in selling three years ago might have changed their minds.

Mr. Nusbaum's answers "were better than most responses we've had so far," Mr. Walsh said in a subsequent interview.

The district now seems to be looking at all options "and not just pushing Wolfinger through," he said, although skeptics still would like to see a cost comparison for all available sites that takes site preparation expenses into consideration as well as purchase price.

Mr. Walsh criticized the incompleteness of the school district's environmental permit application, saying that getting a more-information request from Ohio EPA is normal "only if you don't complete it."

But Ms. Pierce backed up the school district's assertion that the EPA request was fairly routine, noting that with such applications, it's so common for something to be missing that the agency has a standard form to address such situations.

In Sylvania's case, the agency wants the Army Corps' "jurisdictional determination" letter, individual assessment forms for each of several low-grade, isolated wetlands the school district proposes to fill, and more detailed site-plan maps for the entire project.

The EPA's April 8 notice back to the school district about the March 25 application's shortcomings started a 60-day period during which the district must provide the requested information or risk rejection.

Brad Rieger, superintendent of schools, said the school district would not close on the Wolfinger site, which belongs to the estate of Melvin Lesinski, before it obtains the environmental permits.

Its option to buy the land expires Sept. 27, with a six-month extension having already been exercised, so any delay past that date would have to be negotiated.

"We need the EPA to say, 'Yes, you can build.' It would be imprudent for us to move forward without that," Mr. Rieger said.

While declining to identify any of the potential alternative sites, Mr. Nusbaum said he expected to have more to report to the public about those inquiries within a few weeks.

Mr. Walsh said that if the school district does proceed with the Wolfinger site, it will be years before Central's replacement is built, because opponents will fight it.

Mr. Walsh predicted a five-year legal battle before any such appeals are resolved.

Ms. Pierce said that any appeals of an Ohio EPA permit approval would first be heard by the Ohio Environmental Appeals Review Commission.

But the EPA, she said, is very deliberate about making sure that permits it grants don't have legal shortcomings to begin with.



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