Racetrack hopefuls weighing options after state denies strip-mining permit

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Developers hoping to build a thoroughbred racetrack and several thousand units of housing in Hays say they're considering their options after the state Department of Environmental Protection rejected a permit that would have allowed them to first strip mine the area.

Charles J. Betters, a Beaver County developer, submitted the application three years ago to surface mine 453 acres of a 613-acre site in the neighborhood. The development is to be called Pittsburgh Palisades Park.

"The application the company submitted is not environmentally sound," said Mike Terretti, DEP district mining operations director.

Helen Humphreys, a DEP spokeswoman, said the plan's major defect was the lack of a post-development plan to deal with storm water.

Yesterday's rejection of a mining permit would not rule out development of the track and housing, Ms. Humphreys said.

"The property can be developed. He simply cannot mine the property with the plan he had," she said.

Michael Moidel, a spokesman for C.J. Betters Developers, said the firm has yet to receive a letter from DEP about the rejection, but said the project remains ongoing.

"The development is absolutely still planned," Mr. Moidel said. "It seems like just some housekeeping issues from what I heard."

He said the company likely will continue pursuing a permit to surface mine.

The Hays property was extensively mined in the preceding century and the developers would like to strip away the surface and remove the coal pillars that supported the mine roof. The land would then be filled in.

DEP said the proposal to mine also was rejected because the company had not provided convincing engineering data to show that the fill would support the structures to be built atop it. The department also said that development maps were "inconsistent with conceptual designs" for the project.

Widespread opposition to the proposal brought more than 500 people to comment at a public hearing on the proposal.

One group, Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, yesterday praised the decision to deny the strip mining permit for the undeveloped site.

"Despite the developer's attempts to portray the land as degraded, local residents and government officials all agreed that Hays Woods is a true oasis of green in the heart of the city and home to abundant and healthy wildlife," said Heather Sage, PennFuture director of outreach.

Dennis Roddy can be reached at droddy@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1965.


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