A pitch for canals in Hazelwood

Gondola rides on the Mon? Bill Peduto wants to see green features at former LTV coke works to control stormwater runoff and spur development

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Could the former LTV coke works in Hazelwood become Venice on the Mon as part of a "green" solution to Allegheny County's sewage overflow problems?

Bill Peduto, the Democratic nominee for Pittsburgh mayor and favorite to win the general election, would like to think so.

The city councilman is pitching the idea of building canals and other environmentally friendly features at the Hazelwood site and others along the city's riverfronts to capture stormwater and reduce runoff into the region's aging, overtaxed sewer system.

Mr. Peduto views canals not only as part of an environmentally friendly solution to significantly cut wet weather sewage overflows into rivers and creeks, but also as a tool that could help spur the development of former industrial sites.

If done properly, canals could turn some of the city's least desirable properties along the Monongahela, Allegheny and Ohio rivers into some of its most attractive, he said. He envisions housing, office and commercial development being built around the green elements.

Mr. Peduto believes there's potential for canals and other green solutions such as shallows and parks to hold water at the 178-acre Hazelwood site, the Heppenstall property in Lawrenceville and former industrial areas on the North Shore west of Heinz Field.

So-called "daylighting" of rainwater through the use of canals and other green methods can help to reduce runoff into the local sewage system and lessen the need for costly improvements to conventional infrastructure, he said.

The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority is under a federal mandate to reduce the 9 billion gallons of storm-caused sewage overflows discharged into rivers and creeks to less than 1 billion gallons a year.

Alcosan submitted a $2.8 billion package of traditional sewer system improvements to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for approval last January. At the time, it also asked for an 18-month extension to explore the feasibility or adding or substituting green infrastructure components, such as green roofs, permeable pavement and rain barrels.

Mr. Peduto said he has talked to county Executive Rich Fitzgerald and federal, Alcosan and Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority officials about his ideas and the response has been "positive."

Potential green solutions are "something the county executive and I share. We can create a green solution to the overflow problem and save the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars," he said.

Mr. Fitzgerald said canals are worth considering as a way of tackling overflow issues and enhancing development. "You want to take a look at any alternative out there that would improve the development. I don't think you can rule anything out," he said.

Green features can help to make new developments more sustainable and environmentally friendly while helping to increase property values, he said.

"I do think that source reduction needs to be a big part of what we do as we develop parcels," Mr. Fitzgerald said. "I think that a green solution needs to be part of the planning."

Don Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corp., which is managing the former LTV property for owner Almono LP, said canals "are one of the many amenities that could be considered" for the site. "There's no question that people like water features. That's part of the attraction of riverfront sites," he said.

One potential obstacle is that the old coke works is a brownfield site. That means care must be taken in disturbing existing soil, Mr. Smith said. Any plan for canals probably would have to be approved by state environmental officials.

To help mitigate overflow issues, the RIDC is considering a plan to create a small stream through the development to handle stormwater that now runs into Panther Hollow Lake in Schenley Park and then is piped into the Alcosan system, Mr. Smith said.

City council will consider giving final approval today for up to $80 million in tax increment financing, the largest such plan in Pittsburgh's history, to help pay for the construction of roads, utilities, parking infrastructure and other improvements related to the LTV site. Total infrastructure costs are estimated at $133.1 million.

Under the TIF plan, 65 percent of real estate tax revenue generated by the development will be used to repay self-financed debt Almono plans to incur. Because of the self-financing, the city will not be at risk if the development doesn't generate enough tax revenue to pay off the TIF.

Almono is planning 2 million square feet of office and research and development space, more than 1,500 residential units and more than 26 acres of open space at the riverfront site.

Mr. Peduto said he wants the Hazelwood development to meet or exceed the top standards created for sustainability.

Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.

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