South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith
South Pittsburgh Reporter Editor 

Mount landslide appears to be stable, ED may be hired soon


Nearly three dozen Mount Washington residents came out last week to the Mount Washington Community Development Corporation’s (MWCDC) April Community Forum.

The three major topics discussed during the evening included: an update on the landslide below the LeMont Restaurant; the MWCDC’s search for a new executive director; and, news concerning Emerald View Park including trail crew projects and the national park signage updates.

MWCDC Board President Jon Lusin began the evening by introducing Pat Hassett, assistant director for the City of Pittsburgh Department of Public Works, to talk about the recent landslide.

“We have visually surveyed the crown of the hill and don’t find anything abnormal up there,” he said. “In terms of what we can tell from viewing the foundations and walking along the hillside, the top of the hillside seems to be secured.”

He said the city’s Bureau of Building Inspection still wanted to have an engineer inspect the buildings to make sure everything was okay. Building owners were notified to submit an engineer’s report to BBI. The city was particularly interested in the condition of the decks and catwalks because they tend to have less of a foundation structure.

Mr. Hassett said they spent the last week observing the hillside and haven’t been able to detect any current or ongoing movement.

City engineers and staff are also looking at previous geological studies done on the hillside to become familiar with what they have been showing over the years.

He said the slide emanated from city property. The railroad owns about 70 feet up the hillside and the city owns the rest up to about 20 to 30 feet from the top where private property owners take over.

Mr. Hassett explained the railroad will be constructing a wall or a rock catch fence he believes will be similar to what PennDOT put up along Rt. 51 at the bottom of the hillside. The wall or fence won’t be very tall, and only large enough to catch rocks coming down the hillside.

The structure will cover at least the area of the slide and 20 to 30 feet on either side. He said the railroad may extend the wall further up river, toward the Fort Pitt Tunnels.

“Everything seems to have settled down out there. The sleeping giant has gone back to sleep from as far as we can tell,” he said.

He noted the Duquesne Incline wasn’t affected. He said the incline has its own monitoring equipment and is able to assess the situation quickly in the event of any local impact on the incline.

“Were doing our due diligence and dotting our i’s and crossing our t’s in terms of getting some sort of structural engineer out there to look at the buildings at the top of the hill. We’re not seeing anything on the hillside itself,” Mr. Hassett said.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith questioned Mr. Hassett on when the most recent geological study was performed. The last one she knew of was in 2007.

He replied the last one was in 2007, but the most comprehensive study was done by the Port Authority in the mid-90s.

“Given the geological timeframe, things don’t move that fast up there,” he said.

Mr. Hassett added the studies have been good at telling what the hillside was made of, but they aren’t as good at predicting where the problems will be. As an example, he said the Port Authority study said the site of the recent landslide was a low risk area while other high risk areas haven’t had any problems in the 20 years since the study was completed.

Rick Belloli, interim executive director of the MWCDC, asked if as the weather warms up if the area would be more prone to more landslides.

“No, I wouldn’t suspect that,” Mr. Hassett replied. “You typically are most vulnerable when the freeze recesses, when the ice melts away and that’s pretty much happened by now. The cause of this slide, from what I think we determined, was the heavy rains and the weathering of the stone provided that rain an opportunity to get in and soak those red clays and the weight was just too heavy and gave away.”

Moving on to the next topic, Mr. Lusin said the MWCDC has been proceeding with the executive director search and has been interviewing during the last month. The search committee has narrowed down the field to two final candidates and in the process of conducting second interviews.

The goal is to be able to name a new executive director by May 1. Once a candidate is identified and approved by the board, an offer will be made.

“Our hope is, when next we meet in May we’ll actually be introducing a new executive director,” Mr. Lusin said.

He was questioned if either of the candidates was from Mount Washington. Mr. Lusin declined to reveal where they are from, citing the need to provide the candidates some degree of confidentiality.

A member of the audience asked in what direction the new executive director will move the MWCDC and the community. She said there are questions in the community what the goals and objectives of the CDC are moving forward.

“We always fall back on the mission and vision statement. We want to be the number one neighborhood in Pittsburgh for the residents, visitors and businesses. So we’re obviously looking for people, not only at the executive director level, but our staff, volunteers and everybody else that want to help us achieve that vision,” Mr. Lusin replied.

“The candidates that we have are both highly qualified candidates to move this organization in the right direction and ultimately move the community in the right direction as well.”

He said the way the board looked at the candidates is through the MWCDC’ Strategic Plan which carries through until 2017 and is available for the public to review. The things contained in the plan, along with the 10-year housing study, are very important to the organization.

A Mount Washington resident said she though the process of naming the new director was “hidden” because Mr. Lusin wouldn’t even say if the final candidates were from the area.

Mr. Lusin replied they are trying to find the best candidates and reiterated about protecting the candidates’ confidentiality.

“The executive director does not set the vision or the direction of the organization. The executive director executes the vision and direction that is determined by the board of directors,” board member Peter Karlovich added. “The board of directors takes input from the community in forums such as this one and every one of our board meetings is open and people are invited, encouraged to attend and provide feedback.

“Plus there are committees people can join and provide input to the board which then ends up in things like strategic plans and housing plans and the like. The executive director is simply a technician that executes the plans and the direction put together by the board of directors.”

Moving on in the meeting, MWCDC Park Director Ilyssa Manspeizer talked about how the trails define Emerald View Park and how it was created out of three existing parks, a greenway and some hillside land that was owned (but not managed) by the City of Pittsburgh.

To physically connect all the land, they came up with a trail plan.

“It makes it possible you can have a park in Mount Washington that is 257 acres and the scope and the size of it is impressive,” she said.

Ms. Manspeizer said the trails have taken up a lot of time during the last couple of years because they are an important part of the park. In the next year or two they should be done with the woodland trails.

Things they are going to work on this year include a pedestrian connection from the trailhead on Sycamore Street, under the McArdle overpass out to McArdle Roadway. She said it will allow pedestrian commuters to stay off of Sycamore Street on their way down to or back from work.

Another project is some rerouting in Mount Washington Park where they know they have muddy sections. The trail crew will be around to fix them up.

They have been requested to put a trail connection on Oneida Street to connect to the loop behind Olympia Park. She said they may or may not get to it this year, but will try.

Ms. Manspeizer said they are in the process of hiring their 2014 trail crew, which will include low income and veteran members.

Because of the success the trail crew has experienced in Mount Washington, they have been hired to work in two other neighborhood parks: South Side Park and McKinley Park. Other neighborhood organizations have done the fundraising required for the work in their parks.

The MWCDC will be paid enough to cover the cost of the crews needed for the work, plus an administrative fee.

“It doesn’t cost us anything and in fact helps support the organization,” Ms. Manspeizer said.

Peggy Pings, an outdoor recreation planner from the National Park Service Rivers and Trails Program, was at the meeting to make a short presentation on a project to create signage for Emerald View Park along with a committee of community volunteers.

“I think you’ll be getting more national attention because of all of the work you’re doing to pull all of the parks together,” she said.

Ms. Pings and the volunteers are working on a signage project to identify where signs are needed, how to improve the signage, which stories to tell out there while people are at the park and on the trails, what to name the trails, and the sign standards.

Members of the committee are associated with the neighborhoods and groups associated with the individual parks making up Emerald View Park. Ms. Pings said as they move forward, more volunteers are welcome to join in with the group.


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