Xerxes battle tiring neighbors of plant

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Thurs., July 29, 1999

By SARAH FENSKE, Morning Journal Writer

NORTH RIDGEVILLE -- Residents say they are tired of fighting about chemical emissions from the Xerxes Corp. plant, as legal developments seem to be heading the dispute toward official arbitration.

The residents, as well as the cities of North Ridgeville and Avon and Carnegie Development, are jointly appealing the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency decision that allowed Xerxes to increase emissions of the chemical styrene, despite years of local protest.

After last week's pre-hearing conference, Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission officials believe they may have to rule on the appeal rather than expect the dissenting parties to work out a solution.

''This is a step'' toward a hearing with the commission, said Linda Bice, a clerk with the commission. ''But it's possible they could settle it on their own. It's never over.''

Those living in the shadow of Xerxes' towers say they are simply tired.

''We've been fighting this for years,'' said Lisa Keenan, a Jade Circle resident. ''It's very frustrating. We've been ready for it to end for such a long time.''

Although attorney Gerald Phillips, who represents one group of residents, was inexplicably absent, the attorneys at last week's pre-conference hearing agreed to take the dispute to the next level, deciding on a ''joint case management schedule.''

That usually means the parties are ready for the three-member Ohio Environmental Review Appeals Commission to solve the dispute, Ms. Bice said.

The management schedule, due in September, can include anything from briefs to witness lists to a date for another pre-hearing conference, Ms. Bice said.

Avon Law Director Dan Stringer expressed hope that the two sides could still come to an agreement before the final hearing ...

Xerxes spokeswoman Pennie Shapiro agreed ...

But even the nine months of discussions following the appeal are recent history in the long war residents have waged against the Mills Road plant.

Mrs. Keenan said that complications in a 1992 pregnancy, which she endured alongside three neighbors, alerted her to the issue.

''I'm a nurse,'' she said. ''And I knew it wasn't a common thing to see four women taking the same medication in the same neighborhood. A lot of other health problems were just too coincidental as well.''

Not only does styrene have the potential for such illness, Mrs. Keenan said, but it smells.

Some residents say it's an odor like nail polish remover. Mrs. Keenan describes it as ''plasticky.''

Some now say that rather than cutting emissions, Xerxes simply ought to leave.

''You just can't trust them any more,'' Mrs. Keenan said. ''I wouldn't have a problem seeing them move to another location.''

Xerxes is not considering a move, Ms. Shapiro said, citing the company's 34-year history in the area.

''The land is zoned for this type of manufacturing,'' she said, noting that the area's homes were built after the plant was already making its underground storage tanks.

Indeed, records show that Xerxes officials wrote a letter to the city in 1997 urging that industrial parcels in the area not be rezoned to allow construction of Red Tail's homes, noting ''odor complaints'' from residents already in the area.

But the costly Red Tail homes just miles from Xerxes have given the old neighborhood hope, Mrs. Keenan said.

''That's big bucks they've put in there,'' she said. ''Sometimes it takes that for people to listen."

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