South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Margaret L. Smykla
Contributing Writer 

Mine subsidence discussion delays borough council


Before the July 15 meeting of Mount Oliver council began, the focus before a packed chambers was on 12 houses on Frederick St. that slid from their foundations days earlier due to an abandoned underground coal mine.

Borough ordinance officer Steve Wilharm, who condemned some of the homes as unsafe, said he will not let anyone return to them until he is assured the danger is gone.

The state Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been on site since the mine subsidence occurred. The American Red Cross has also been present, providing food and housing for those who were displaced.

Some homeowners in attendance said they believed last week’s heavy downpour played a factor. One resident said his ground did not begin to sink until after the July 10 deluge which caused water to pour out of the ground in front of his house.

Council President Billie Michener said the DEP ruled the cause as mine subsidence. However, the water company will be contacted to determine whether water was indeed a factor.

The DEP procedure will be: To put the damages on a scope of work and send to the federal government; once a response is received, the DEP will advertise for contractors; clearances will be obtained from utility companies; and, grouting and drilling will begin on July 29.

“Anything we can do to help you in the borough we will do it,” DEP appraiser Darryl Audia said.

Mrs. Michener echoed his sentiments on behalf of the borough. Mr. Audia praised council for their quick response.

Due to the gravity of the situation, the project was placed at the top of the DEP’s list for fast-tracking. The DEP will fund the filling of the mine and other stabilization expenses.

Mr. Audia said he needed the owners to sign authorization forms for the DEP to enter their property.

The DEP process will be to stabilize the property so residents can go in and retrieve their belongings. The borough will then decide when residents may return, which will occur after the borough engineer goes through each home and deems it safe.

After the stabilization, it will be up to the owners if they want to repair their homes, Mr. Audia said.

If an owner has mine subsidence insurance, the repairs will be covered. If not, they will not be covered.

Mrs. Michener said it is very cheap to purchase: about $32.50 a year for $50,000 worth of coverage. Homeowners can go to for more information or to apply for the insurance.

“This is a wake-up call to a lot of people who live in Allegheny County,” she said of the need for the insurance as so much of the area is built above mines.

Extra police patrols will be making rounds on Frederick St. to ensure security.

Neighbors should call the police if they spot suspicious activity; if additional houses are seen sliding, residents should contact the borough or DEP.

After the session concluded, and homeowners left to sign the authorization forms, the regular council meeting began.

Council members Corey McGough and Christine Brendel were absent.

In his report, borough intern Ricky Hopkinson said the borough’s new “block group,” which meets the second Wednesdays at 7 p.m. in the fire hall, is evolving into committees.

A beautification committee will be mulching, planting and more. Before and after photos will be posted on the borough website.

There are now enough volunteers to form a shade tree commission. Four residents are currently attending tree tender class.

A community must have a shade tree commission before it can receive free trees: 25 the first year, and more the second and third years.

Next, council voted on a series of resolutions, including one establishing a fee for door-to-door soliciting and peddling. The cost is $10 for one day, and $5 for each successive day. Every individual salesperson needs a license. If a company has six such workers in the borough, it needs six licenses.

Council also adopted a resolution establishing tobacco-free zones in the parks and playgrounds. There will be no designated smoking areas at those sites. The fine will be a maximum of $200.

Signs will be posted in the near future.

Council also passed a resolution adopting the borough’s first personnel policies and procedures manual for all borough employees. They also voted to give the DEP “right of entry consent” so it could go onto borough property at 128 Frederick St. for mine subsidence work.

In the mayor’s report, James Cassidy said new part-time police officer Tom McCarthy submitted his resignation, effective July 13. He has a full-time job elsewhere, and could not fit Mount Oliver into his schedule. Council voted to accept the resignation.

The borough has begun interviewing for a new part-time officer.

Council also voted to purchase a 2013 police vehicle from Day Ford for $35,842. Financing options will be explored.

In the planning report, Deana Wuenschel said there is interest in establishing a so-called “three-quarters” house on Amanda Ave. in an area zoned commercial. The prospective owner will speak before council on Aug. 19.

The home would house eight men and guardians. Mrs. Wuenschel was told the eight men would be former inmates who are rehabilitated and holding jobs.

In the public safety report, Councilman Darnell Sains said there were 460 dog bites in the state last year, with Allegheny County having the most. There were 166 attacks by pit bulls and Rottweilers.

Mrs. Michener said there were 13 dog bites in Mount Oliver. The police have been handling animal control duties since Triangle Pet Control Services’ operating license was suspended by the state for various violations.

In the police report for June, there were 682 calls, 66 domestics, three accident reports, six criminal mischief, 14 fights, six community oriented police details and 23 drug-related arrests, with many of the drug arrests in the 100-200 blocks of Brownsville Rd.

To view the complete report, visit the borough website:

Mr. Sains said the borough police assisted the Pittsburgh police 27 times, which shows a real effort to work together.

“They have the same problems we have,” he said of the city.

In the public works report, Mrs. Michener said the sole traffic light in the borough was struck by lightning. While it is working at this time, it will cost $3,500 to repair the damage.

In the recreation report, Mr. Sains said there is now organized basketball at Ormsby Park for girls and boys ages 13 to 18. Games, which began two weeks ago, are played Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5 to 7:30 p.m., weather permitting.

Residents and non-residents may simply show up to play. Of the 28 registered youngsters, 15 are from Mount Oliver and 13 are from nearby communities.

There have been no problems. The youths must clean up afterwards.

The Birmingham Foundation supplied the balls and nets.

The games end the first week of August, after which some other activity will likely be planned until school starts.

With football, the first game will be held on Aug. 17.

In the Waste Management report, Councilman Dave Lowe said garbage bills are now being sent to property owners instead of tenants.

In the code enforcement report read by Councilwoman Barbara Keener, there were 31 complaints, 65 violations, 20 borough citations, 11 legal citations, four occupancies, and 20 rental inspections.

Mrs. Michener said there are eight businesses which have not paid the annual $250 business privilege tax for 2013; some of the eight businesses have never paid the tax. The fee covers fire and police protection.

The next step is taking the businesses to the district justice to try to get them to pay what they owe.

The next council meeting will be on Aug. 19.


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