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One Year Later: What We Know About How the U.S. Steel Community Trust Money is Being Spent

The landmark 2019 settlement agreement between the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) and U.S. Steel mandated more than just a fine and air pollution mitigation improvement at the Clairton Coke Works: It also established the U.S. Steel Community Benefit Trust.

The $2.7 million trust benefits five Mon Valley communities – Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln, and Port Vue, and is governed by a Community Advisory Panel composed of one representative from each of those municipalities.

The Panel must meet regularly – at least once every six months – and is empowered to consider and approve funding for community improvement projects proposed by the municipalities. While the trust was a result of repeated air quality violations at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, the projects submitted to the Community Advisory Panel for funding are not required to be related to air quality.

Panel members include:

  • Lincoln Borough Secretary Tammy Firda (president)
  • Glassport Councilwoman Elaina Skiba (vice president)
  • Clairton Mayor Richard Lattanzi (treasurer)
  • Liberty Borough Councilwoman Janice Matyasovsky and 
  • Port Vue Councilwoman Deborah Thomas

The settlement indicates that the money can go toward physical infrastructure improvements (think the construction of a playground or the renovation of a green space) or projects that foster “the creation or expansion of programs that are aimed at directly improving the well-being of residents.”

GASP didn’t want the one-year anniversary of the settlement agreement that established the trust to pass without taking a look at how that money has been spent. 

While neither the Allegheny County Health Department nor U.S. Steel are required by the agreement to prepare and distribute a report for public consumption detailing the various proposed projects – which were approved, which were rejected – it does require publication of semi-annual account summaries.

Account summaries are to be posted to the website of each of the five communities benefiting from the trust. Only limited information on the disbursements is provided.

“GASP expressed concern over the lack of transparency when it came to the trust,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “That remains a concern.”

According to that report, just more than a million dollars was distributed in 2020 – money that was distributed in four disbursements in three of the communities:

  • $534,500 was distributed to Port Vue Borough on Sept. 2
  • $229,830 was distributed to Glassport Borough on Oct. 14
  • $315,500 was distributed to Lincoln Borough on Sept. 2 and $20,023 on Oct. 14

That means the communities of Clairton and Liberty either did not seek funding or did not receive approval for funding of any projects in 2020.

As of the end of 2020, the trust had $2.37 million in cash on hand, according to the report.

What else do we know about the projects that have been funded through the U.S. Steel Benefit Trust? Just what we could glean by scouring municipal websites and media reports.

According to Glassport Borough Council meeting minutes, there were four projects funded through the trust in 2020:

  • $93,618 for a line item that read “emergency operations center and apparatus”;
  • $90,228 for a sewer line camera system;
  • $24,720 for blighted property removal; and
  • $21,263 for Glassport Honor Roll Park beautification.

According to Port Vue Borough Council meeting minutes from 2020, several projects were funded through the trust:

  • $55,000 for “a generator and construction” of a new recreation facility – one that broke ground in 2019
  • $20,960 for paving of Veterans Way, Seeds Way, Pitt Alley, Smith Street Ext. and Dunn Alley
  • $20,000 for a rescue boat
  • $19,543 for camera monitoring of the interior and exterior of the municipal area
  • $15,000 for 10 Motorola radios for the McKeesport Ambulance Rescue
  • $14,002 for seven radios for the Port Vue Police Department
  • $13,590 for Romine Park landscaping
  • $13,250 for the replacement of fending and a gate at Romine Park
  • $10,640 for a new back stop at Romine Park
  • $9,690 for new railing at Romine Park
  • $9,950 for concrete bleacher removal at Romine Park
  • $9,905 for the removal of trees at Romine Park, as well as tree trimming and crowning
  • $8,000 to pave the American Legion parking lot
  • $7,950 to pave Port Vue Athletic Association’s walkway
  • $2,991 for police body cameras and $2,226 for two Tasers

That accounts for $219,831 in project funding for Port Vue from the U.S. Steel Benefit Trust that GASP staff could identify using available public records. It was not immediately clear what the remaining $314,669 funded or will fund.

Community Advisory Panel meeting minutes posted on the Lincoln Borough website provide the only additional information we could find about Port Vue’s projects. The meeting minutes read:

“Application submitted for environmental, public health and overall community benefit. (Mobile speed safety sign, police body cameras, breathing pressure equipment, replace sidewalk/crosswalks, railings, demolition and asbestos studies and a rescue boat – totaling $130,000)

Application submitted for recreational, rehabilitation and capital improvement. (Landscaping, replace backstop at the recreational area, replace backstop at the ballfield, redo concrete on bleachers, the outdoor shed at the recreational building, kitchen for the recreational center, cameras for the recreational and storage areas, paint recreational center and garage, pressure wash and sandblast the basketball hoop polls, seal, coat and paint lines on all three courts, roller and sweeper for bathroom areas, replace sidewalks and repair the building at PVAA, pave roads leading up to the accessibility of the new recreational building – totaling $404,500)

As for Lincoln? Borough Council meeting minutes indicate the community submitted an application for the modernization and upgrade of Lincoln Park and recreational facilities located at Breznay Field, Dorothy Vay Park, and Bellbridge playground. Work there was expected to include paving, new signage, fencing, picnic tables, bleachers, and playground equipment total $377,868.

The second application submitted was for the purchase of two hybrid police vehicles – a 2021 Ford Interceptor “utility model K8A All Wheel Drive, with all the equipment police packaged details, evidence gun volt mounted in the rear vehicle, Martel digital body camera system, Martel digital DC6 camera system with night vision rear camera, exterior mirrors LEDs, double weapons rack.” The purchase price was listed as $115,404

It was not immediately clear what specific projects have been approved or what the $335,000 distributed to the municipality this past fall funded.

“GASP staff cobbled together this information by scanning months of meeting minutes and municipal websites,” Filippini said. “Bottom line: It shouldn’t be this difficult for members of the public to glean basic information on what this controversial, high-profile trust has paid for – specifically – in each of the communities. We again are calling on ACHD to do a better job helping Mon Valley residents understand how the funds allotted to their communities are being utilized so they can weigh in.”

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  1. Jessica says:

    Spending that money on violent fascist republican police who will use it to attempt to overthrow local governments and promote fracking and air, water and land pollution through O&G concrete and steel factory bribes is unconscionable.

  2. Ruth Fauman-Fichman says:

    Keep up the good work! Make them be accountable! We rely on your great efforts. Thank you for your diligence.

  3. Ann S. Harris says:

    I support the statement above from Ruth Fauman-Fichman. It must have taken hours and hours of volunteer time to report what you did.

  4. Jim fabisiak says:

    This “investigative reporting” rivals that of many high-quality journalists. The apparent lack of accountability, transparency, and true community engagement is a shame. One should also hold the named members of the Community Advisory Board and other administrators of the funds bidding/application process as parties ultimately responsible for effectively communicating and conducting a process that truly and broadly represents the needs and wishes of community residents and stakeholders.

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