Parks are about being clean and green, but a plan for mining coal in South Park sounds down and dirty. Allegheny County Council should put the brakes on before it goes any further.
The former park fairground has been in a state of neglect and disrepair for some time, but the county can't afford to take on a massive renovation project. In an effort to find funds, County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said, some members of the community suggested there might be money to be made in a coal seam that runs under the site, now known as the Oval.
The Friends of South Park, a citizens group that advocates for park improvements, voted recently to advance the idea, and preliminary inquiries made by the county came up with an estimate that the coal might be worth $3 million. Mr. Fitzgerald told council last Monday that he'd proposed splitting any proceeds so that half would go to South Park and half to the rest of the county parks system.
If the county decides to dig out the coal, it could delay planned renovation of the Oval track and nearby ballfields by two years. In addition, Mr. Fitzgerald said a company that does the mining would have to restore the existing Oval.
Two county council members -- Democrats John Palmiere of Baldwin Township and Michael Finnerty of Scott -- voiced support for the idea, but a council majority would have to agree before the county could seek proposals from mining companies. For his part, Mr. Fitzgerald said he was pursuing the notion because the community wanted it, not because he's crazy about it himself.
We'd rather see active opposition from both council and Mr. Fitzgerald.
Having an active coal mining operation in the midst of a heavily utilized park would be noisy, dirty and disruptive, spoiling the experience of park visitors who use nearby picnic groves, trails and rental buildings. Residents already have said they are worried about the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling, which is being considered for Deer Lakes Park in Frazer and West Deer. The drilling, which would be done from outside the park and go under park land, would be far less intrusive than coal mining.
As difficult as it is to find money to fund park improvements, mining coal in South Park may not be worth the sooty dollars it brings in.