We wish to comment on your May 13 editorial “After the Landslide.” You wrote correctly that we at Communities First! opposed Wal-Mart’s plan to erect a Supercenter along a hillside in Kilbuck. As you stated, we did argue against the project, fearing traffic congestion and a killer effect on local businesses.
What was not mentioned, however, was that, from the beginning, we predicted a landslide. Our concern was based on the history of landslides in our area, mud and rock slides documented as far back as the 1850s. Our attempts to warn government of our local geology were ignored. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Kilbuck Township and PennDOT all turned a deaf ear to the heightened possibility of a Kilbuck landslide.
As for the courts, they rejected our pleas to block construction of the Supercenter by issuing successive lack-of-standing judgments. One judge did acknowledge that Communities First! was no “nefarious interloper,” but that was of little help.
And so it happened: The land cascaded onto Ohio River Boulevard and closed Norfolk & Southern’s main rail line. We at Communities First! were relieved that no one was hurt. We felt we had won.
The landslide turned out to be a hollow victory. To our amazement, the giant retailer continued developing the site. Undeterred by the landslide, Wal-Mart next proposed the construction of several retaining walls along the hillside. PennDOT took seriously Wal-Mart’s horribly flawed plan.
Still, we didn’t quit. We engaged Chris Ryan from Fox Chapel and an internationally recognized civil engineer. Chris studied the Kilbuck site and Wal-Mart’s retainer plan. His report and our subsequent arm-twisting did the trick. Finally, we persuaded PennDOT, DEP and Wal-Mart to walk away from a potential disaster.
Lessons were learned from this experience, maybe not learned by our surrounding townships and villages, but certainly by us. The lesson we learned was that dogged community focus can trump shoddy planning. The landslide certainly helped. But our band of neighbors never quit, to the benefit of us all.
MARY LOUISE FOWKES
The writers are co-chairs of Communities First!