HOWLAND — With state and federal permits in hand, developers are progressing a plan for a sprawling medical and residential center on the northern side of the Eastwood Mall Complex, which they claim could create about 2,200 jobs.
Cafaro Company’s proposed Enterprise Park at Eastwood is bound for more than 100 acres of forest and wetlands along the Mosquito Creek corridor that conservationists say help filter the Mahoning River downstream, mitigate flooding and are home to various flora and fauna.
Those conservationists, who have objected to the location and its far-reaching ecological impacts, say they want to continue the fight to move the campus elsewhere but they’re outweighed.
“It’s pretty much a David and Goliath fight,” said Pete Morabito, a board member of Friends of the Mahoning River, which in November challenged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ permit for the Enterprise Park project in federal court.
“They have the money, they have the resources. We have the knowledge and the data,” he said.
A GoFundMe campaign coordinated by the nonprofit raised only $2,580 of a $12,000 goal in the last five months to pay for attorneys to carry the case. An online petition to “Save the Mosquito Creek Wetlands” received just shy of 700 signatures.
After a busy public comment period, the Ohio EPA granted Cafaro Co. a permit to build on the Mosquito Creek wetlands in April. The Army Corps’ permit, required by the Clean Water Act, was finalized in September but on several conditions, chief of which is that the development include a new medical facility as initially proposed.
Mercy Health is “on-board” to conceptualize a new, full-service hospital at Enterprise Park — having now outgrown Warren’s St. Joseph Hospital along Eastland Avenue Southeast — said Cafaro Co. spokesman Joe Bell. He added the park would only utilize about half of the about 100-acre plot.
Various other healthcare, residential or retail enterprises — such as a medical education facility; an elder-care facility; medical offices; or other residential or office space — would be anchored by the Mercy facility, Bell said.
Enterprise Park is projected to create about 2,200 new jobs and generate millions of dollars in wage or property taxes from the park’s for-profit tenants, he added.
But a Mercy-Cafaro agreement has yet to be finalized. Jonathon Fauvie, Mercy Health spokesman, echoed the plan is still in the conceptual stage. He said the healthcare provider is still evaluating the project and didn’t offer further comment.
There’s no construction timeline for Enterprise Park, but Bell said the developer wants to have a plan in place “within the next couple months.”
Meanwhile, Friends of the Mahoning River continues to litigate the federal permit, while also seeking a second look at the state permit through the OEPA’s appeals commission.
Enterprise Park’s footprint would fill nearly 16 acres of “high quality and unique” urban wetlands in the Mosquito Creek watershed and impact about 1,600 feet of streams — land that’s important to bird migration and wintering and the natural habitat of several rare species of plants and creatures, including at least two birds designated in Ohio as “Species of Concern” by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, according to Friends of the Mahoning River’s injunction suit.
Permit research on flora and fauna in the area, however, showed no threats to vulnerable or rare species.
Colleen McLean, a Friends of the Mahoning River member and environmental sciences professor at Youngstown State University, said wetlands act as the “kidneys” of a watershed’s ecosystem, filtering out harmful material before it reaches the watershed’s destination river — in this case, the Mahoning, which leads to the Beaver then Ohio rivers.
“The Mahoning River — let’s face it — it’s been abused for a long time,” McLean said. “There are so many efforts to develop and rehabilitate our river and it’s going so well. I think it would be a shame to take a step back and damage the river in this way.”
Friends of the Mahoning River members also attest parts of the proposed development rest on a 100-year floodplain and that creation of more non-absorbent surfaces would only exacerbate flooding issues in the area.
Cafaro Co. has purchased credits to offset the ecological disturbance to the Mosquito Creek wetlands and streams. For every acre filled, the developer intends to create about two more, Bell said.
But Morabito said that's not how wetlands work.
“Wetlands cannot be replaced within a few months … or decades,” he said. “It takes centuries to replace wetlands.
“We think everybody can be better-served healthwise and ecologically by going to another location. … Why does it have to be on wetlands?”
The federal suit also claims the credits aren’t required to be targeted around Mosquito Creek.
Though the federal suit also claims developers weren’t diligent about surveying other sites, the permitting indicates 23 other sites were considered. Eastwood site was the only one that met all of Mercy Health’s criteria, Bell said.
“We went to great lengths to meet all the requirements of the EPA or the Army Corps of Engineers,” Bell said. “We want to do this right. We want to do this in a responsible way. Obviously our efforts were in the right direction and both agencies granted those permits.
“Those who tend to oppose it have their own particular agenda and it doesn’t always consider what’s best for human beings and the greater good of the community,” Bell said.
Attorneys in the federal suit are set for a mid-February conference on case scheduling with U.S. Judge Benita Pearson. OEPA’s appeals commission is soon expected to schedule a meeting on the state permit.