Firm again seeks OK to mine Mayview coal in South Fayette

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A plan to mine coal and build a business park would be the first reuse in more than 100 years at the former Mayview State Hospital property in South Fayette.

From the late 1800s until its closure in 2008, the hospital housed severely mentally ill patients who needed permission to leave their locked buildings.

In 2011, private developers bought the hospital's remaining property with plans to build a business park. Now, they also want to mine coal.

Ruth Bailey, who has lived near Mayview in Upper St. Clair for 41 years, said her neighborhood has always been quiet, except for the occasional Mayview patient showing up on her doorstep asking her to call a cab. (Instead she would call the police, who would return the patient to the hospital.)

Now, Mrs. Bailey is worried about potential noise, blasting, messy roads and other issues associated with coal mining.

"Even Mayview [Hospital] didn't bother me," she said.

Mrs. Bailey and dozens of others attended a four-hour hearing Sept. 25, in which South Fayette zoning officials heard testimony in support of Aloe Brothers LLC's proposal to remove 330,000 tons of coal from 37 acres east of Mayview Road. Strip mining would occur for about three years, prior to building a business park.

The zoning hearing board unanimously rejected the proposal in February.

Last week, Aloe Brothers representatives returned with a lawyer.

Attorney William Sittig Jr. said his client's proposal was the same, but the legal grounds for the mining request had changed in a new application filed Aug. 16.

The zoning hearing board was scheduled to continue the hearing Wednesday night, with attorney Jonathan Kamin presenting the township's opposing case.

Once the zoning board makes a decision, sides will have 30 days to appeal to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Mr. Sittig requested a special exception to allow development-related coal removal on the Mayview site, which sits in a business, or B-1, zoning district. He argued that coal mining is a "comparable use" to oil and gas development, which is permitted in the business zone as a conditional use.

He also challenged the validity of the business district section of the township zoning code, saying that unlike other zones, the business district does not allow incidental mineral removal.

"The ordinance is irrational and discriminatory from a planning perspective," Mr. Sittig said.

South Fayette's zoning code defines "incidental mineral removal" as "surface mining restricted to an area encompassed in a grading permit issued for an approved subdivision or land development [in] which mineral removal is incidental to the development of the site."

Mr. Kamin called for the recusal of zoning board chairman John Alan Kosky due to his involvement in "significant litigation" with the township in other matters.

Mr. Kosky -- who had not voted on the first mining application in February -- acknowledged the request and moved on with the meeting.

Blasting would occur about twice a week, but no explosives would be stored onsite, said Sean Isgan of CME Engineering LP in Somerset.

Coal would be transported either on trucks -- an average of 25 round trips a day -- or via the railroad adjacent to the Mayview property -- if permission could be gained, Mr. Isgan said.

One train would carry the equivalent of about 500 truckloads of coal, he said.

In February, a proposed6-mile truck route from the mining site involved Mayview Road, Boyce Road and Route 50/Washington Pike/Morganza Road to Interstate 79 near Hendersonville in Washington County.

Boyce Road residents weren't happy with the prospect of additional traffic on their heavily traveled street.

"It should be stated that they have to keep [the coal] on the railroad, not on the roads and ruin the roads," said Ed McClure of Boyce Road.

Nick Jarina of Boyce Road didn't want more coal trucks or passenger vehicles on the road. "I oppose the development of the business park and the mining," he said.

Christopher W. Cahillane, an attorney for Upper St. Clair, has requested to intervene in the mining application. The zoning board will decide whether to allow his involvement, board attorney Thomas Ayoob said.

Upper St. Clair residents and members of the volunteer group USC Citizens for Land Stewardship have expressed environmental concerns, including potential effects on Chartiers Creek and nearby parkland.

The Mayview property is adjacent to 474-acre Boyce-Mayview Park in Upper St. Clair, 125-acre Fairview Park in South Fayette and 80-acre Wingfield Pines, a land trust that spans both townships.

In addition to local approvals, coal mining requires a permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Brothers David and Mark Aloe -- who have a background in the coal business -- purchased the 152-acre Mayview property in March 2011 for $505,505 and later bought eight adjacent acres for $29,000, according to Allegheny County real estate records.

Mayview project manager Dennis Regan has said that selling the coal would "help offset the cost to build" a business park.

Mr. Sittig declined to estimate the value of the coal, but he said mining was expected to yield 330,000 tons of coal.

Landscape architect Steven Victor said he has designed a master plan for an eventual business park geared toward office and research-and-development tenants. The plan shows 23 building pads.

Mr. Victor said that in a "very unique situation of a Pittsburgh coal seam," a 12-foot-thick coal bed at Mayview has never been mined. Although the property could be developed into a business park without coal mining, he said, the coal is "an extremely valuable asset and resource."

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Andrea Iglar, freelance writer:


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