January 9, 2003
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Polluted property—
YSI purchases neighbors’ house

In its effort to work with neighbors who are affected by contaminated groundwater, YSI Incorporated recently purchased the home of neighbors who wanted to move and feared the loss of property value.

“It seemed like the right thing to do,” said Lisa Abel, YSI Incorporated leader of sustainability strategies. “We’ve been saying to neighbors that we’re willing to work with individual property owners to try to find resolution. This was something we could do to help them out.”

The home, formerly owned by Michael and Drusilla Henry, is located adjacent to the YSI property at 650 Golden Willow, in the Willow Field subdivision on the south edge of town. The company paid $225,000 for the four-bedroom house, which the Henrys built five years ago. The sale was closed on Oct. 8.

The Henrys, who moved to Springfield Township in November, feel positive about their relationship with YSI and the process involved in selling the house.

“YSI should be applauded for their efforts,” Michael Henry said. “It was a wonderful company to work with. They treated us very well and we feel satisfied.”

In the spring of 2001, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency found pollution in the wells of several YSI neighbors, including that of the Henrys, and in unused wells on the company property. That discovery sparked a year-and-a-half long investigation by YSI and the Ohio EPA, as well as the filing of a lawsuit by three neighbors. Although the company initially did not know the source of the contamination, YSI officials discovered last year that several employees had improperly disposed of hazardous wastes on the company’s property.

Since the pollution was discovered, YSI officials have sought to address the problem openly, former YSI CEO Malte vonMatthiessen said in a recent interview. Along with providing information on the investigation to the public, the company sponsored a collaborative process, facilitated by The ARIA Group, which sought a solution with community input, he said. That process continues.

The company also paid the Village $250,000 to connect 18 of its neighbors, who are outside village limits, with Village water. The neighbors’ homes were connected to Village water lines in December, Abel said.

The Henrys were a part of the collaborative process until last June, when they talked to Jay Rothman of The ARIA Group about their desire to sell their house, and their fears that they would be unable to do so due to the groundwater contamination, Abel said. The couple had discussed selling their house before the contamination became known, said Henry, but the pollution contributed to their desire to move.

“It was an interesting process,” Abel said of the discussions that followed. After the company offered to buy the house, both YSI and the Henrys hired an appraiser to determine the home’s value, and a third appraiser was chosen by The ARIA group. The three appraisers met and agreed on a market value price of $225,000.

The negotiations took place last summer, said Abel.

Henry worked primarily with Abel and met occasionally with vonMatthiessen. Both were fair and professional, Henry said.

“It was a rather painful process but she did a marvelous job,” Henry said of Abel.

Henry said he and his wife initially considered filing a lawsuit against the company due to the contamination but decided against that action.

“We didn’t feel it was in the best interest of the community” to sue YSI, said Henry, who said he and his wife were concerned about the financial ramifications on YSI of a lawsuit. “We wanted to do the right thing.”

YSI plans to hold on to the house now, and will probably put it up for sale in the spring, said Abel.

—Diane Chiddister