Update on the Hays Strip Mine and Racetrack

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Hotline, Winter 2004

by Kate St. John, GASP Board Member

Since last summer’s Hotline, much has happened concerning the Hays strip mine and racetrack — the project in which developer Charles Betters proposes to strip mine, excavate and valley fill a 613+ acre site in the City of Pittsburgh in order to build a racetrack and casino. The latest news is:

  • The developer applied to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for a surface mining permit but the application is missing some vital information including research on the extent of the underground fire. DEP is awaiting for answers from the developer. The best hope for preventing destruction of the Hays site is for DEP to reject the remedial mining permit.
  • The Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) is reviewing the plan to valley fill and divert half the watershed from Becks Run and the Monogahela River into Glass and Streets Runs. Their key decision will be whether to review the application under “Nationwide 21” rules (a blanket, less exacting rule) or review it on an “Individual” per-stream basis.
  • The PA Game Commission (PGC) issued a strongly worded statement in September 2003: “This isolated area, surrounded by highly urbanized areas, serves as critical and unique habitat for terrestrial species… and neotropical migrant bird species…. This 613.5 acre parcel of continuous habitat diversity is the only existing undeveloped area within a radius of roughly 7000 feet.” PGC is now reviewing the proposal using more stringent guidelines than the developer originally anticipated.
  • The City Planning Commission and City Council kept the project alive by passing the zoning changes the developer requested. Praise goes to Councilmen Bill Peduto and Gene Riccardi who argued and voted against the environmental damage.
  • Meanwhile, the developer still needs both a racetrack license and legalized slot machines to make his project feasible. There is fierce competition for the racetrack license and slots are still not legal in Pennsylvania.

The Hays hilltop destruction is not a “done deal,” but it will still take a lot of effort to prevent it.