Author: Connie Merriman
On December 21, 2006 the State Department of Environmental Protection denied the Pittsburgh Development Group II a permit to strip mine Hays Woods, stating that the application was not “environmentally sound”. The proposed mining was to precede the development of the privately owned forest into a horse race track, retail and housing complex. If sustained, the DEP action will help protect Pittsburgh’s 635 acre urban forest located on a hilltop overlooking the Monongahela River between the communities of Southside and Homestead. The woodland contains more than 250 acres of mature interior forest patches, unique in an urban setting. It supports diverse plant and animal communities that include fox, bear and an albino red tailed hawk. Hays Woods cleans and cools the city’s air and also acts to mitigate storm water runoff to the Streets Run Watershed, which is prone to severe and devastating flooding. The woodland has also served as a de-facto recreational green space for the residents of the surrounding communities for more than 40 years. It’s network of trails support hiking, bird watching, trail biking, cross country skiing, and hunting.
The mining permit denial is good news for the “Save Hays Woods” Coalition, which was formed in 2003 and includes representatives of Clean Water Action, Friends of Hays Woods, Ground Zero Action Network Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), PennFuture, STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at CMU, and the Allegheny Group of the Sierra Club. Each organization has contributed significant expertise and resources to the effort and in 2006 the Coalition received a Huplits Wildlife Grant from the Sierra Club. In addition, hundreds of citizens, many of them active members of the Sierra Club, have participated in public hearings and actions, and submitted comments to the decision making agencies. Together, the public and the “Save Hays Woods” Coalition have been able to raise public awareness of the value of this unique urban forest.
On January 19 the developer appealed the DEP’s decision to deny the mining permit. That appeal was made to the Environmental Hearing Board, and it may take up to a year for a final determination. However, it is clear that the developer has experienced a significant setback, and the urban forest remains undisturbed.