South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Tom Smith 

Developer outlines plans for 40 Acres to Pgh. City Council members


Plans to develop “40 acres” near East Carson Street and Becks Run Road continued when developers of the site had a hearing before Pittsburgh City Council last week on the excavation, grading and fill needed to prepare the land.

City council was the next stop after the Pittsburgh Planning Commission approved plans to re-mine the land in preparation for a planned racetrack/casino, retail and residential development. The developer, Charles Betters, has proposed spending $600 million on the development.

Site preparation includes stripping and saving the topsoil on the site before beginning the re-mining process to extract the remaining coal from abandoned mines throughout the property. According to the developer, the old mines used the roof and pillar method and are filling in with water causing mine acid runoff. They maintain there has also been an existing coal fire burning in one of the mines on the property since at least the 1970s.

By re-mining the property they say they will be able to remedy mine subsidence problems on the site in addition to preventing future landslides and eliminating existing coal spoil piles.

In approving the plan, the planning commission imposed 25 conditions on the developer. Among the conditions were several aimed at protecting the rights and property of Baldwin Borough property owners near the site.

No work will be permitted between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. within 500 feet of any structure or within 1,000 feet of any residential structure in Baldwin Borough.

Another condition prevents construction vehicles from accessing the site from residential streets, specifically Agnew Street. Construction vehicles will be limited to using Becks Run Road and Glass Run Road to enter and exit the site. Construction workers are also excluded from parking on residential streets in the area.

The planning commission also mandated that trucks must use a specified route when hauling materials off the site. They will be required to take Glass Run Road to E. Carson Street to the Hot Metal Bridge and Second Avenue through Downtown to the Parkway West.

Donald Graham, attorney for the development group, said there has been confusion over the amount of coal to be removed from the site. He explained that Betters had said at a previous community meeting that there could be “up to 700 million tons of coal” on site, but he didn't know. Graham said the actual total of remaining coal to be mined would be in the 800,000 to 1.2 million tons range and would take approximately 18 months to extract.

They expect to realize about $20 million or approximately $20 per ton of coal selling it to a local power plant. Using a median number of 1 million tons, Council President Gene Ricciardi estimated that 40,000 truckloads of coal will be removed from the site.

“If this were a mining operation, we would be under water,” Graham said. The company expects to spend as much as $27 million to engineer the surface for the development.

Of great concern to many in attendance at the meeting, most from Baldwin Borough, was the prospect of using explosives in the mining operation so close to their homes.

According to the developer's attorney, blasting would occur no more than six times a day for less than one second per blast. He said all explosions would be subterranean with most of the force directed downward. The blasts would actually raise the ground and drop it back down.

The other alternative would be to use a hoe ram pounding the rock or a wrecking ball dropping all day long Graham said. He also emphasized there would be no danger of accidental detonation of the explosives from cell phones. The contractor is expected to use a “spark through a hollow tube” to set off the explosives.

“We will be blasting on top of the mine we want to take the coal out of,” Graham added.

He also noted that the company has sent out 2,650 letters offering a pre-blast survey to homeowners in the surrounding area. The survey involves checking and photographing the property to compare with any future damage claims. About 800 property owners responded to the letter asking for the survey.

However, when pressed, the attorney said the property owners weren't notified of their right to seek reparations for any damages caused by the blasting.

Throughout his presentation Graham maintained the project wasn't going to be strictly a mining operation, that it would be a site preparation operation.

“If there was not one ounce of coal on the site we would be going through the exact same procedures,” he said.

Calling it a “classic infill site,” Graham said a Master Plan has been developed with three phases: residential, retail and the racetrack. “We will move forward with or without the racetrack,” he added.

The excavation and grading of the site will result in the lowering of the top of the hill by 80 feet. Although Graham said there will be very little impact to the hillsides on the Becks Run and East Carson Street sides.

Some of the valleys on the property will be filled in with a series of “benches” with the biggest valley having approximately 150 feet of fill.

Opposition to the project was voiced by Baldwin Borough resident Alexander Denmarsh. Among his concerns were the impact of blasting on the neighborhood, the use of Glass Run Road as an access point, the environmental damage that could be caused by mining and developing the property and the proposed green space on the site.

Although the developers say they plan to leave 191 acres on the site completely undisturbed, Denmarsh used their drawings to illustrate the majority of the undisturbed land is hillside. “You can't walk on it, but you can fall down it,” he said.


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