How Publicly Funded Demolitions Fed An East Cleveland Dump

Watch our video on Arco Recycling above. Read our full story about the dump here.

Last March, workers carted away the final remains of a mountain of demolition debris from a 9.9-acre former industrial site in East Cleveland.

For nearly three years, neighbors on Noble Road had watched as the pile at Arco Recycling grew bigger and bigger, finally covering more than five football fields and rising higher than their homes.

“Living beside this has been more than just a nightmare,” one neighbor, Willie Morrow, told ideastream in early 2017. “There’s no peace no more. You can’t sleep, you wake up all hours of the night, morning, you hear all the noise coming from the trucks. It’s bad.”

Even after cleanup finally began in July 2017, the indignities continued. The debris heap caught fire that fall and burned for days.

The cleanup cost Ohio taxpayers $9.1 million. But that’s not the only way the public was caught up with the dump.

An examination of contracts, court filings and other records shows that public dollars and public agencies enabled the mess that was Arco Recycling.

East Cleveland sold Arco the land for half its assessed value.

The people accused of running the dump secured $4 million in public funding through the Cuyahoga Land Bank to demolish around 480 properties in the Cleveland area. Debris from more than 330 of those demolitions ended up at Arco, which the Cuyahoga County Board of Health later declared a public nuisance.

The Ohio EPA monitored the site, but maintains it did not have the legal authority at the time to regulate debris recyclers.

At the center of all this was a demolition contractor with a record of financial crimes who, for nearly three years, navigated the holes and silos in the system.

Although multiple public bodies knew of Arco, the dump was allowed to operate from the spring of 2014 until the Ohio EPA shut it down in January 2017.

“This site showed all the signs of a sham facility that was going to take in material, claim to be recycling it, make money off of having the material dumped there, and pocket the money and then abandon the site,” Diane Bickett, the director of the Cuyahoga County Solid Waste District, said in an interview. “We knew, day one, the minute we saw the site.”

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