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Friday, April 20, 2018

Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy breaks ground on Allegheny Commons fountain project in North Side

Posted By on Fri, Apr 20, 2018 at 1:14 PM

Rendering of Allegheny Commons fountain project - IMAGE COURTESY OF PITTSBURGH PARKS CONSERVANCY
  • Image courtesy of Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
  • Rendering of Allegheny Commons fountain project
Allegheny Commons in the North Side is the oldest park in Pittsburgh, and understandably, it’s a bit worse for wear.

But things are looking up for the park. On April 19, the Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy broke ground on a new fountain project in the northeast corner of the park. According to a press release, “the new fountain will mirror its original 19th century design and will include a 50-foot circular stone basin, a one-foot rim of heavy cut stone, a large Grecian vase in the center, a tall principal [water] jet and 16 smaller [water] jets.”

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Environmentalists say Allegheny County’s air quality is a repellent to companies like Amazon

Posted By on Tue, Mar 20, 2018 at 5:15 PM

An attendee a March 20 environmental rally outside the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • An attendee a March 20 environmental rally outside the Allegheny County Courthouse in Pittsburgh
The Pittsburgh region has the 8th worst air quality of any region in the U.S., according to the American Lung Association. Of regions that are outside of California, with its fast population growth and geography that encourages the buildup of ozone, the Pittsburgh region has the worst air quality in the U.S.

On March 20, a group of environmental advocates and grassroots groups gathered in the courtyard of the Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh to point out the region’s poor air-quality. About 50 people braved the snow and called on local elected officials to do more to ensure that Allegheny County has cleaner air. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Allegheny County, in 2016, recorded a weighted annual average of particular matter at a rate of 12.8. This is the 10th highest for any county in the U.S. and the highest east of the Mississippi.

Zachary Barber of statewide environmental group, PennEnvironment, says that the region has made significant progress since the heyday of steel production, but he believes the county needs to do better.

“Despite all of the progress we have made, people in the region still can’t breath clean air,” said Barber to the crowd. “No reason in America’s most livable city should people have to put themselves at risk when going outside.”

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Thursday, February 1, 2018

Departing arts editor Bill O'Driscoll shares his favorite articles for City Paper

Posted By on Thu, Feb 1, 2018 at 12:14 PM

After nearly 21 years here, tomorrow's my last day at City Paper.

I'm heading to 90.5 WESA, where I'll be arts and culture reporter.

I'd like to thank all my colleagues over the years, our readers, and all the people and institutions I've written about, for making it such a memorable ride. It all started back in 1997, when nobody at CP had email yet and the whole office shared one dial-up internet connection.

If you'll indulge me, to cap things off, here are some of my own favorite articles from over the years, culled from some of the nearly 1,100 issues I've been part of here.

Many are long-form pieces, from the days when we had the time and newsprint to run such articles weekly; they were a challenge to report and write, but looking back, they're some of the most worthwhile things I did.

All but one of these 18 articles are from 2003 or later, because that's as far back as CP's online archive goes. (Too bad; I have some faves from the early years, too.)

In chronological order:

This 2002 piece on motorcycle road-racer Keith Reed is not in our archive, but was cut-and-pasted by an enterprising message-boarder. (I think a few drop-caps are missing, but like some text magically salvaged from the library of Alexandria, it's mostly there.)

An April 2004 profile of falconer and bird-of-prey expert Earl Schriver, whose life's mission is to disabuse the public of what he called "the Bambi complex."

Big ideas are fun. Here's "Muse You Can Use," a May 2005 piece on what art's good for or whether it needs to be good for anything at all.

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Pittsburgh’s frozen rivers will stick around despite warming temperatures

Posted By on Mon, Jan 8, 2018 at 2:21 PM

The frozen Allegheny River near PNC Park in Pittsburgh - CP PHOTO BY JAKE MYSLIWCZYK
  • CP photo by Jake Mysliwczyk
  • The frozen Allegheny River near PNC Park in Pittsburgh
It takes a lot of cold to freeze one river, let alone three. But the frigid temperatures that have hung over Pittsburgh for the last couple weeks have accomplished just that. Many sections of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers have accumulated inches of ice. (Check out this week's City Paper out Jan. 10 for more spectacular images of our iced-over rivers.)

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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Pittsburgh becomes first U.S. city with year-round UPS bike-delivery route

Posted By on Wed, Nov 8, 2017 at 10:20 AM

UPS's electric-assist bike-cart - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • UPS's electric-assist bike-cart
Bikes are a very contentious issue in Pittsburgh. So much so that Pittsburgh’s 2017 mayoral primary  had candidates run on anti bike-lane messaging. But bike proponents are moving ahead anyway. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, a champion of bike lanes, dominated his anti-bike challengers in the May primary elections and won re-election on Nov. 7. U.S. Census figures show the city’s bike commuters increased by more than 50 percent from 2015 to 2016.

And now delivery giant United Parcel Service (UPS), is getting in on the bike action. Starting Nov. 9, Downtown Pittsburgh will be home to UPS’s only year-round delivery route that utilizes an electric-assist bike-cart in the U.S.

The pedal-powered cart can hold up to 15-20 packages and up to 400 pounds of cargo. It comes equipped with all the lights and turn signals that cars have, but is pedal-powered  Drivers are given a boost from an electric motor, that recharges as the driver pedals. (The cart is only partially powered with electricity; drivers must pedal to keep it going.)

UPS spokesperson Deanna Cain says the bike-delivery carts have had success in the crowded cities of Europe, and UPS uses the carts on special occasions in Portland, Ore. UPS first started using the “eBike” in Hamburg, Germany, in 2012. Now, UPS utilize bike delivery in 12 European cities. Cain says Pittsburgh is the perfect place to start the company's first U.S. year-round route.

“It’s good for downtown areas with narrow streets like Pittsburgh,” says Cain of the electric-assist bike-cart. “It has zero emissions and no fuel consumption. As more cities move towards sustainability, we want to follow that model.”

Karina Ricks, Pittsburgh’s director of mobility and infrastructure, is “thrilled,” that UPS will be utilizing bike-powered delivery in Downtown.

“This aligns with our climate-change goals, we like progressive solutions like these,” says Ricks. “This will help with traffic congestion, given our narrow streets Downtown.”

UPS’s Three Rivers division manager Nick Passaro says the new bike cart will reduce carbon emissions, noise and congestion Downtown. “We want the world to view Pittsburgh as a progressive place, that cares about the environment.”

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Petition started for green infrastructure sewage project in Greenfield

Posted By on Wed, Aug 2, 2017 at 11:21 AM

A mock-up of the Four Mile Run green infrastructure project - IMAGE COURTESY OF PHRONESIS DESIGN AND PITTSBURGH PARKS CONSERVANCY
  • Image courtesy of Phronesis Design and Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy
  • A mock-up of the Four Mile Run green infrastructure project
The residents of Four Mile Run, an isolated neighborhood on the edge of Greenfield, have wanted one thing for a very long time: a major sewage infrastructure project to alleviate its flooding problems. The neighborhood nestled in a valley south of Oakland consistently sees flooding in heavy rains, including the overflowing of Saline Street in September 2016.

In December 2015, Pittsburgh officials  attempted to convince the neighborhood to support a transit project that would have shuttled autonomous vehicles through Four Mile Run (this was part of the city’s Smart Cities transit application that the city wasn’t awarded). Most Four Mile Run residents opposed the transit project, and many argued that if the city was going to invest in the neighborhood, an infrastructure project to solve the area’s flooding issues should be first on the list.

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Sierra Club files suit against the DEP over Cheswick power plant’s expired permit

Posted By on Mon, Jun 19, 2017 at 2:57 PM

Activists at the Department of Environment Protection - CP PHOTO BY HALEY FREDERICK
  • CP photo by Haley Frederick
  • Activists at the Department of Environment Protection
The Sierra Club and concerned local residents gathered last week at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to urge Gov. Tom Wolf and the DEP to take action by renewing the expired permits at Pennsylvania power plants, and to announce that the Sierra Club has filed suit against the DEP in commonwealth court. Speakers presented a jug of water from the Allegheny River, which they said is of particular concern due to the Cheswick plant, which is the subject of the lawsuit.

“I’m here on behalf of our 130,000 members and supporters in Pennsylvania to demand that Governor Wolf and the Department of Environmental Protection meet their legal obligation to protect Pennsylvania residents from toxic pollution entering our streams and rivers from coal-fired power plants,” said Patrick Grenter, senior campaign representative with the Beyond Coal campaign of the Sierra Club.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

Hundreds of Pittsburghers to attend environmental marches locally and in Washington, D.C.

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 12:15 PM

  • Image courtesy of People's Climate March, Pittsburgh
It’s no secret that President Donald Trump and many prominent Republican politicians deny the effects humans have on climate change. Trump has already rolled back many Obama-era environmental regulations, saying they are unnecessary and harm coal and oil businesses, to the applause of many Republican politicians.

But on Sat., April 29, people across the country will stand up for the environment with a series of marches known as the People’s Climate March. And hundreds of Pittsburghers are doing their part too.

Tom Hoffman is a Pittsburgh resident and organizer at Pennsylvania's chapter of the Sierra Club. He says that more than 200 people on four buses will be traveling from the Pittsburgh area to march in the Climate March in Washington, D.C., on April 29.

“This is a good way to get the environmental movement back to its roots,” says Hoffman. “It was a real mass movement for while, we got away from that. … We need to stand up and [defend the environment] in a loud way.”

Hoffman isn’t sure how large the crowds will be in D.C., but he hopes they will come close to the numbers of the Women’s March on Washington. Hoffman says that Pittsburghers, especially, should feel the need to stand up for the environment, given the region's industrial history.

“Having the history of our industrial city, I understand a lot money was made,” says Hoffman. “But it also created a lot of dirty air and dirty water, and when the steel industry died, people left town. We need to ensure green solutions that are sustainable.”

And it’s not just city residents who are fired up about the People’s Climate March. Hoffman says that one of their buses is leaving from Washington, Pa., and that some former coal miners from that area are attending the march in Washington, D.C.

Pittsburgh will also hold a march, and organizers expect hundreds to attend. A press release about the Pittsburgh march says “Western Pennsylvanians are uniquely aware of the ways in which the petrochemical industry is destroying our health, stealing our land, and poisoning our water.” The release also says marchers will demand that government react by protect access to clean water, soil and air. (Pittsburgh still has some of the country’s most polluted air, as City Paper reported this month.)

Hoffman believes that the climate march can pressure climate-change deniers to change their tune.

“I know it's not impossible. [Climate-change measures] need support from the federal government,” says Hoffman. “This march should pressure them.”

The Pittsburgh March for Climate, Jobs, and Justice will be held 10 a.m. Sat., April 29. The march will start at the Cathedral of Learning, in Oakland, and end at Flagstaff Hill in Schenley Park.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Report shows Pennsylvania fracking companies paying few fines for environmental infractions

Posted By on Tue, Mar 28, 2017 at 1:35 PM

Environmental advocates at a press conference in the Allegheny County Courthouse. - CP PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • CP photo by Ryan Deto
  • Environmental advocates at a press conference in the Allegheny County Courthouse.
A new report released March 28 by the statewide environmental group PennEnvironment shows that for the past eight years, fracking companies in Pennsylvania have together committed 4,351 environmental and public-health violations.

That amounts to 1.4 violations per day in the state. This number is pretty significant as is, but PennEnvironment also pointed out that only 17 percent of those violations were issued a fine. Additionally, that average fine was only $5,263.

Since many of the oil and gas companies that were administered fines, like Chesapeake Energy, pull in billions of dollars in revenue each year, Stephen Riccardi of PennEnvironment says this is akin to charging 10 cents for a parking ticket. “There would be illegally parked cars in every handicap spot and probably cars littering the sidewalk,” said Riccardi at a press conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse. “If the penalty isn’t high enough, it won’t stifle illegal polluters.”

Riccardi says these low and infrequent penalties can actually set up a toxic environment in the state. “Sadly, the message is clear: It pays to pollute if you are fracking in Pennsylvania,” said Riccardi. “These violations pose serious environmental and public-health threats.”

Raina Rippel, of the nonprofit Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, said doctors and health experts are just beginning to understand the health impacts fracking has on populations close to fracking well pads.

“Proximity to well pads has been associated with increases in a person’s risk for respiratory and neurological problems, as well as elevated risks of birth defects,” said Rippel.

The Pennsylvania Medical Society, a health-advocacy coalition, has recently called for a moratorium on fracking.

One example of a direct link between fracking and health issues is contaminated water. Riccardi cites Texas-based Range Resources which leaked pollutants into Brush Run in Washington County last year. He adds that Pennsylvania has identified 283 instances where drinking water has been contaminated due to fracking.

John Stolz, director of Duquesne University’s Center for Environmental Research and Education, said there have been 9,400 complaints filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection since 2004, and more than 4,000 have been related to water contamination, according to a report from Public Herald, a nonprofit investigative journalism organization out of Coudersport, Pa.

“There is something going on, and we need the DEP to step up and hold the industry responsible,” said Stolz. “We need the industry to admit that there are some [environmental] challenges to fracking.”

Riccardi said PennEnvironment is calling for the state to restore adequate funding levels to the DEP, which has seen cuts for many years. (In 2008, the DEP budget was $229 million; in 2016, it was $148 million.) He said this can create more positions which can enforce environmental laws more frequently. Riccardi also said fines need to be increased for repeat violators.

For those looking to see increasing in fracking, this report comes at an inopportune time. Recently released census figures for 2016 show the Pittsburgh region losing thousands of residents for the third straight year. Some believe if the fracking industry were to return to levels it saw in the early part of the decade, it could help build the population back up.

Riccardi said that in the long term, fracking isn’t a good idea for the region.

“We don’t see fracking as a long-term sustainable investment in communities in Pennsylvania,” said Riccardi. “Really, we see it as an existential threat to the health of Pennsylvanians and to the safety of our environment.”

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Pennsylvania Supreme Court rules parts of state fracking law unconstitutional, strikes down environmentally unfriendly rules

Posted By on Thu, Sep 29, 2016 at 4:00 PM

Anti-fracking protesters outside of Mars Area High School in Butler County in July 2015. - CP PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • CP photo by Ashley Murray
  • Anti-fracking protesters outside of Mars Area High School in Butler County in July 2015.
Anti-fracking advocates and environmentalists rejoice, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court just issued you a win.

On Sept. 28, in the state Supreme Court case of Robinson Township v. Commonwealth, judges struck down many provisions of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas law, Act 13. The law passed in 2012, during Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration, and established regulations and zoning rules on natural-gas drilling. But some rules drew ire from environmentalists, and the recent state Supreme Court ruling addresses some of them.

Drillers are no longer permitted to use eminent domain to seize private, subsurface land for storage of natural gas; private wells must now disclose hazardous spills; and doctors are now allowed to inform patients of side effects associated with fracking sites, overturning the "doctor gag order."

“The Supreme Court’s ruling will restore to all Pennsylvanians the power to regulate natural gas fracking in their own communities as they see fit,” wrote state Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery County) in a press release. “It lifts the senseless and unconstitutional restriction on physicians that barred them from discussing how proprietary fracking chemicals may be affecting patients’ health.”

Before the court decision, frackers didn’t have to disclose all the chemicals they used in their drilling process (chemicals that could make their way into groundwater). Doctors could gain access to a list of the chemicals only if they signed a confidentiality agreement preventing them from telling their patients. Fracking companies claimed that revealing all the chemicals would tip off competitors to their methods.

This led politicians including Leach to promote bills that would force frackers to publicly disclose all their chemicals. But those efforts were held up in committee, and never saw votes. State Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill) was among those who attempted to pass such legislation. He praised the court’s ruling in a statement made on Sept. 28.

"The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has protected patients and doctors by striking down the gag rule in Act 13,” wrote Frankel. "Patients trust that their doctor is telling them the truth, the whole truth, and that their health is the doctor’s primary concern. We should protect that trust.”

The fracking industry was not as thrilled with the decision.

“We’re disappointed in aspects of the court’s ruling,” wrote David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, in a Sept. 28 statement. “[It] will make investing and growing jobs in the Commonwealth more — not less — difficult without realizing any environmental or public safety benefits.”

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