Hearts and Mines | News | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Hearts and Mines

Council votes to improve Hays site by strip-mining it

The concept of environmental clean-up through strip mining took another step from absurdity to reality Aug. 4, when Pittsburgh City Council approved plans to dig up 635 acres of wooded hills in the Hays neighborhood. Beaver County developer Charles Betters has argued that only by removing the leftover coal from old mines can he stop an underground fire and subsidence, and proceed to build a horse racing track and housing on the hilltops. Prior to council's vote, about a dozen environmentalists and nearby residents spoke in opposition to the plan, most expressing concern about blasting, the destruction of streams and the loss of greenspace.

Councilor Alan Hertzberg turned those objections on their head. "I consider myself to be as much of an environmentalist as anybody in this room," he told council. "Frankly, I think this is something that will benefit our environment." Removing the coal would stop the fire, and eliminate acid mine drainage that is poisoning streams, Hertzberg said. The sounds of blasting would be less obnoxious than the alternative -- use of a machine called a "bang hoe" that relentlessly pounds rock into rubble, he said. And Betters' plan calls for preserving one-third of the site's greenspace -- though much of that greenery would be on steep slopes.

Calling the strip mine an environmental plus is "putting lipstick on a pig," countered Councilor Bill Peduto. "I would like to see no development in that area," said Council President Gene Ricciardi.

The 7-2 vote for the mining -- with Peduto and Ricciardi voting no -- came amidst rumors of deals between pro-mining Mayor Tom Murphy and various councilors, and mentions by anti-mining forces of campaign contributions by Betters. (For instance, the developer has given $2,650 to the campaign coffers of Hertzberg, who is running for Court of Common Pleas judge, since 2001.) "It's government for hire," said Alex Denmarsh, who lives in Baldwin Borough, across the city line from the proposed mine, after the vote. "I think it's a breach of the public trust." Denmarsh said mining opponents still plan to oppose Betters before the state Department of Environmental Protection, and may go to court to stop the project.

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