Foiled by lawmakers in his attempts to strip mine an area of South Park, Nello Fiore filed a lawsuit yesterday demanding that Allegheny County allow him to mine his coal -- or pay him for it.
Mr. Fiore, founder of Green Vue Systems LLC, has mineral rights to the coal under nearly 100 acres of woodlands in the Sleepy Hollow section of South Park. In the lawsuit, Mr. Fiore states that if the county, which owns the surface rights to the land, doesn't let him mine there, he should be reimbursed for the value of the coal, estimated at more than $102 million.
Mr. Fiore, of Whitehall, inherited the coal from his brother, who got it from Consolidation Coal Co. The lawsuit alleges that the deed gives Mr. Fiore the right to mine the coal at any time, no matter who owns the surface rights.
Mr. Fiore proposed a strip mining plan earlier this year, and Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato attended a community meeting in South Park in June to discuss the issue. About 300 people showed up to express concern about tearing up parkland that was shown to be environmentally sensitive.
A 2001 study of the county's parks called Sleepy Hollow "an important biological zone" and recommended that the mostly wooded area be designated an open space reserve.
At the meeting, Mr. Onorato declared that the project would not go forward, and a letter to Mr. Fiore in July stated likewise. Mr. Fiore claims that to deny his mining rights equates to the county exercising eminent domain on his coal, so he should be reimbursed.
"If Allegheny County will continue to tell us we can't mine the coal, Mr. Fiore, under the Pennsylvania Constitution, has a right to be paid for it," said Mr. Fiore's attorney, Thomas W. King.
He said Mr. Fiore offered the county more than $1 million in royalties if he's allowed to mine. Mr. Fiore also said he would build baseball diamonds, soccer fields and picnic structures on the land after the mining is finished.
But county officials have remained firm against the plan, mirroring their stance from when Mr. Fiore, former manager of the Allegheny County Airport, proposed mining the area in 1998.
"The county will defend its position in court," said Kevin Evanto, Mr. Onorato's spokesman. "This is park land. It's very unique; it's very wooded; and we believe that any sort of strip mining operation would disturb the park and impact neighboring residential areas. We will fight to stop this from moving forward."
Mr. Evanto claimed that public parks should be "held to a little higher standard in terms of access, and certainly strip mining." He said the county is not taking away Mr. Fiore's right to his coal, because he can still access it through underground mining.
"He has access to his coal," Mr. Evanto said. "[Mr. Onorato is] just saying that we're not willing to let you destroy 91 acres of park land to get at it."
In 1998, Mr. Fiore left the door open to pursue underground mining, but the lawsuit states that "the coal cannot be recovered by the deep mining process," leaving strip mining as the only option.
Daniel Malloy can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1731.