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There's Coal in Them Thar Hill ... District

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Hill District residents are gearing up to face something rare for an urban neighborhood: coal mining.

In clearing the land of the defunct Bedford Dwellings housing project, contractors for the Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh this fall discovered coal where new houses are planned.

Denys Candy of Find the Rivers, a group attempting to reconnect the Hill to city waterfronts, displayed photographs of a single deep excavation and other visible evidence that assessment of this coal deposit is already well underway. He spoke during a Dec. 8 meeting of the Hill District Consensus Group, a collective of dozens of nonprofits with neighborhood interests.

"Let's just stop and ask the question," Candy said: "Should this be going on?"

Thomas E. Kovalchuk, permits chief of the Greensburg district mining office of the state Department of Environmental Protection, told the group that mining wasn't going on -- yet. While the city had contacted Butler's Amerikohl Mining Company to take samples and excavate one hole to assess the extent of the coal deposit, no one had yet applied for a mining permit.

"They're looking at the economics," Kovalchuk explained.

Amerikohl Vice President Jerry Baroffio said that his company will only be advising the mining firm chosen by the city, Mistick Construction, and deferred specific questions about any future surface mining operation to them. Mistick official Bob Mistick did not return a call for comment by press time.

Kovalchuk distributed maps indicating coal deposits throughout the Hill, but noted that all other local mining had ended there long ago.

"This site is very unique, because it is surrounded by the city," he told the Hill group.

Which is exactly what has members worried. In a week, the neighborhood will know whether it will have another unique challenge -- a casino in its midst (see "Follow That Story"). As group leader Carl Redwood mused about the neighborhood's lack of control over local development and its benefits: "They're going to strike oil next."

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