Journalism Collaborative Launches Project on Witness Safety

The press conference in October followed a well-worn script. 

Community leaders and police gathered on the sturdy stone steps of City Hall, taking turns at a microphone, pleading with Clevelanders to abandon a code of silence. Once again, a child had been gunned down. This time, it was a first grader, who’d been sleeping when a torrent of bullets tore into a South Collinwood home. Six-year-old Lyric-Melodi Lawson’s life was cut short, senselessly, her blood spattered on the faces of other children sleeping around her. The community needed to step up and cast aside a “no snitch” rule, and work with the police.

Fighting for the Ohio River watershed’s mussels: Experts are working to get to the bottom of their mysterious disappearances

“Will one of these fit?” Wendell R. Haag asks, holding out a couple pairs of well-worn creeking shoes he’s pulled from the back of his pickup. Haag is going to see an aquatic wonder, and even tall waterproof rubber boots are sure to fill with water in the sometimes knee-deep stretch of the Licking River. Haag grew up near here, in Kentucky. He tells of his fascination with the bottom feeder he’s about to show. As a child, he began collecting opalescent nacre shells in shades of pink, purple and peach near his home.

Ohio River Flooding Crosses Boundaries

Anthony Wolkiewicz had his picture taken with Fred Rogers while working at WQED in 1977. 

Rogers made a special point to ask about Wolkiewicz’s youngest son. “Who is this? I don’t remember him in my neighborhood,” Wolkiewicz remembers him saying in the same voice he used on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s sheer luck that Wolkiewicz still has that photo: he lost many of his cherished photographs when his basement flooded in June 2017. More than 2 inches of rain fell in an hour, he said, and Saw Mill Run Creek behind his house “became a raging rapids.”

“It crested over its banks, and I got 4 feet of water in my basement,” Wolkiewicz, 65, recalled.

Toxic Mercury Remediation in the Ohio River Hampered by Complicated Cleanup

Mercury flows through industrial wastewater into the Ohio River, and damages young brains. But the multi-state agency tasked with keeping the waterway clean hasn’t tightened controls on this pollution because it doesn’t have the authority to do so. While coal-fired power plants, chemical manufacturers and other facilities along the Ohio River are piping mercury directly into the river and there’s a permitting process to regulate that, the more significant source appears to be mercury blown into the atmosphere from smokestacks — both locally and across the globe from mining, energy and other industries. The mercury eventually settles on land and flows into water. Figuring out how much of the toxin is coming from local industries or wind currents remains a challenge.

Analysis of state contracts to plug orphaned wells reveals that cleanup costs might creep into the billions

Plugging the myriad orphaned oil and gas wells around Ohio costs, on average, more than $110,000 per well, according to a new analysis of Department of Natural Resources data. The research was pulled from contracts the state awarded in 2019 by the ARO Working Group, a network that studies the decommissioning of oil assets and is affiliated with environmental group Earthworks. Compared with Ohio’s actual cleanup costs, operators are only required to put up a fund, called a bond, of $5,000 per well or $15,000 for all of their wells. This money, a fraction of the true price tag, is returned to operators once they plug their wells, which is meant as an incentive to do so. “My big concern is that the business models here in Ohio are premised on cheap water, cheap waste and cheap landscape change,” said Ted Auch, the Great Lakes program coordinator at environmental group FracTracker Alliance.

Ohio River rises: The minds behind Louisville’s riverfront revival

In Louisville, Kentucky, the Ohio River has something of an image problem. It seems like everything imaginable has ended up in the river at one time or another. There are the usual suspects like plastic bottles, Styrofoam coolers and tires. There are the byproducts of cities and industries: sewage, landfill juice and industrial waste. And then there are the things that seem almost uniquely Kentucky like coal ash and bourbon.

Bipartisan Group of Representatives Introduce Bill After Eye on Ohio Investigation into Property Tax Loophole

This story was funded by a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting. 

Ohio lawmakers reached across the aisle to introduce a new bill that would close a property tax loophole on commercial property sales in the state. 

Reps. Mike Skindell (D-13) and Doug Green (R-66) co-sponsored HB449 in late December. The proposed law would not allow businesses to avoid conveyance taxes by spinning off commercial properties into shell companies. 

“We have been seeing a loss of revenue because of companies being placed in these LLCs. So when the property is transferred, it’s in the LLC and that [conveyance] fee is avoided. So what you have is a situation where the counties have less revenue on these, then they have to raise it on other people,” Skindell said.