South Park fairgrounds coal mining plan killed

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Plans to mine coal from beneath a section of South Park have been discarded.

A coal seam thought to run 5 feet beneath the old fairgrounds at South Park is actually 12 times deeper, county officials say, making it economically unfeasible to extract.

"We decided the costs exceeded the benefits," county manager William McKain said.

Testing revealed about 63,000 tons of coal buried beneath the site, which is now known as the Oval. If extracted, it would bring the county about $380,000.

The unexpected depth meant miners would have to tear up an elaborate drainage system installed underneath the site, an expense that could put the total operation at a loss.

The news came as a relief to some members of the Friends of South Park, whose decision to give Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald the go-ahead to investigate further quickly sparked a backlash among concerned residents.

"I think when he gave us a proposal, it was, 'Hey, let's look and see how much is there,' " said Sue Means, a member of the Friends of South Park council and soon-to-be-sworn-in member of county council. "But when you think about it, you say, 'Maybe this isn't such a good idea.' "

The proposal came as the executive pursues drilling for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park, a separate issue that has seen its share of controversy.

The county will move forward with a $1 million renovation project adding bleachers and renovating fields near the oval, the county manager said. The project should be finished by October.

That's likely a far more palatable project to Ms. Means, who expressed doubts about turning that part of South Park into a mining operation.

Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.

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