Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Residents of Portsmouth may be eating chicken wings, drinking milk shakes, and watching movies on a toxic site without realizing it. Rumors began circulating about seven years ago that the ground under the Route 23 Viaduct site was toxic. Even though Portsmouth Mayor Bauer was among those circulating the rumors of contamination, the Ohio EPA (OEPA) did not test the soil or make any study of the Viaduct site. Portsmouth police chief Charles Horner conducted an investigation of the sale of the Viaduct property. In his report, he wrote, “On June 10, 2004, I contacted Chris Osborne, with the Ohio EPA, and she indicated they have no record of any environmental studies completed on the Chillicothe Street Viaduct property and after checking all available databases, determined they have no record of any mandate EPA Cleanup of the property.”

On January 30, 2008, Ken Dewey, who is the Manager of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s Division of Emergency and Remedial Response in the Southeast District Office, confirmed for me that the Ohio EPA had never done an analysis of the soil at what is now called the Route 23 Viaduct area. (It used to be called the Chillicothe St. Viaduct.) What Chris Osborne of the staff of the Southeast District office did do was investigate the rumors that contaminated soil from the Coke Plant had been dumped at the Viaduct. Dewey told me her investigation proved that those rumors of contamination were without foundation.

But Wally Leedom, a Portsmouth resident and an editor of the Shawnee Sentinel, has been saying for years that the Viaduct is possibly toxic because he followed trucks that had been taking soil from the toxic New Boston Coke plant site and dumping it in the Viaduct area. “Can you remember about where the soil was dumped?” I asked him on Jan. 26, 2008. “About where the Dairy Queen and Buffalo Wild Wings are now located,” he told me. I double-checked with him on Jan. 31 about his having seen trucks dumping on the Viaduct site. He repeated what he had told me previously, and added that he thought he knew whose trucks they were. Because he wasn’t positive in identifying the trucks, I won’t mention any names. I asked Chris Osborne on Jan. 31, 2008, if she had ever talked to or heard of someone who claimed to have seen trucks dumping soil from the Coke Plant onto the Viaduct site. I was thinking of Wally Leedom. She said she had not. So her investigation of the rumors, no matter how thorough it might have been, had not included someone who claimed to have witnessed dumping on the Viaduct site.

In view of the controversy over the Viaduct site and the potentially harmful long range consequences of toxic soil on humans, I am surprised that OEPA didn’t do at least a soil analysis of the Viaduct. Before theaters and restaurants were built and before many thousands of customers frequented the Viaduct, hundreds of them employees on a daily basis, OEPA could have put the rumors about contamination to rest by doing a soil analysis.

In my unprofessional opinion, it is not likely the Viaduct is contaminated, but considering the stakes involved, is “not likely” good enough? No one can say positively as of this date that the Viaduct property is not contaminated. Because of the rumors about toxicity that had circulated six or seven years ago and continue to circulate, I have avoided going on the Viaduct property ever since it was developed. I went to the movie theater for the first time last month, but until a soil analysis is done, I will continue to avoid it. Harmful effects of toxic chemicals often take years to reveal themselves in humans. Because of frequent exposure, longtime employees at the Viaduct will, unfortunately, probably be the first to discover if the area is toxic.

I think the Ohio EPA should rethink its previous decision not to test the soil, though now that most of the area is covered with asphalt it will not be easy to get a good sample. On Jan. 31, I emailed a letter to the office of Chris Korleski, the head of the Ohio EPA, requesting the soil at Route 23 Viaduct be tested.

The Portsmouth Daily Times is not doing any investigation of the Viaduct, as far as I know. That could be because Daily Times reporters risk their jobs investigating controversies and scandals that the over-privileged of Portsmouth want suppressed. The two most experienced reporters in Portsmouth, Mike Deaterla and Jeff Barron, were recently fired by the Daily Times. Why? I believe because they know too much. Which leaves it up to part-time bloggers like myself to do the investigating.

Whether or not the Viaduct is toxic chemically, and I repeat that I think it probably is not, it certainly is politically and financially toxic. Chief Horner concluded in his report, which is available on Teresa Mollette’s invaluable website (under "Investigations") the sale of the Viaduct property by the city to the developer Elmer Mullins was fraudulent. Horner thought there was probable cause that Mayor Bauer and Mullins had spread the toxicity rumor to discourage other bidders, making it possible for Mullins to obtain the property dirt cheap, at the minimum mandated price of $60,000. Very little has been done or written about the Viaduct Scam, which got lost in the shadow of the Marting Scam, but I will have more to say in blogs to follow.