Thursday, April 26, 2007

Filling in the gaps

Last week, I attended a public meeting with County Councilmen Dave Faucett and Jim Burn for them to present their plan for Allegheny County to have a riverfront park along all of its waterfront. This $100 million project would produce 100 miles of park along Pittsburgh's three rivers and would include trails and other amenities. The councilmen talked about the economic development that this would bring and, unlike a lot of other promised development from other projects (ie, the stadiums), this has actually already happened. Jim Burn, having been mayor of Millvale, talked about the development of his municipality when, after the devastation of Hurricane Ivan, their section of riverfront went from light industrial and abandoned, garbage strewn properties to park.

That was all well and good but I'll admit that I was specifically concerned with the Great Allegheny Passage and the last 9 miles connecting the end of the trail in McKeesport to Pittsburgh. I asked specifically about getting past Sandcastle, Kennywood and Duquesne. They didn't have any news about the Duquesne section but indicated that Sandcastle was still resisting allowing the trail past or through their property but that County Chief Executive Dan Onorato was "going to make it happen" as part of his plan to have the Passage complete in time for Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary

That's next year so they are running out of time.

Yesterday, the Trib broke the story that US Steel was donating a 2 mile piece of property behind Kennywood for the trail. This all sounds very generous but I'm curious how much it really cost. The way I heard the story from several years back was that the property has an abandoned coke gas pipeline on it that the EPA is requiring be cleaned up. US Steel was always willing to give up the property to the trail so long as someone else also took care of the mandated EPA cleanup. The trail groups didn't have the millions of dollars necessary to clean up that mess so negotiations were at an impasse.

I wondered what sort of deal the city made to finally clinch this. Was the county going to foot the cleanup bill? At last weeks meeting, Dave Faucett was asked about some property owners holding out for more money and he seemed inclined to just pay them. Faucett and Burn seem so passionate about making this linear park happen that they're willing to fork out some extra money. Money I'm not sure the city really has. On the other hand, $280 million for Heinz Field, $260 million for PNC Park, $130 million for the new Penguin's arena, $145 million for the convention center, there's a lot of money being spent on these so-called regional assets, a few million to finalize the trail connecting Pittsburgh to Washington DC is a bargain.

The trail corridor is already attracting $14 million dollars a year to the communities along the way and that number is expected to triple now that it's contiguous with the C&O Canal Towpath. Pittsburgh, as the northern terminus of the trail, is due to get a good piece of this pie. That is, if they make the investment and complete the connection.

Later in the day, the headlines changed from saying that US Steel had donated the property to that the County had bought the property.

The official photo-op announcement of the County/US Steel deal was today at 2pm. I watched the new websites but didn't get any additional details.

After work, I attended a trail meeting in McKeesport with Mayor James Brewster (who pretty much ducked out after introducing himeslf), representatives of the Mon-Yough Trail Council, the National Park Service Rivers & Trails Program, the Regional Trail Corp., Steel Valley Trail Council and the Youth Earn & Learn Program. Most of it was about the McKeesport part of the trail and the development in that area but I was able to learn about the US Steel deal and other pieces of the trail.

US Steel cleaned up the pipeline and graded the surface, spending over a million dollars to do it. In "donating" this cleanup they are going to be able to leverage a nifty tax deduction on work that had already been mandated by the EPA. Pretty sweet, huh? The county is paying $500,000 to acquire the property.

I heard details about the trail behind the former tube works, across the Riverton RR bridge, about options through Duquesne and connecting to the Waterfront. There are still the ongoing issues with Sandcastle to contend with.

Dan Onorato is pledged to have the trail connected by Pittsburgh's 250th anniversary in 2008. Using my politico-speak translator it sounds more like their pledging to have it done by the end of 2008. And I'm wondering if they have enough time to resolve all the property disputes and alignment issues AND actually build the trail.

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