On Wednesday, February 19th, a presentation and community discussion on the future of the old Shenango Coke Works site on Neville Island was held at the RMU Sports Center. Community organizations such as Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN) and local government officials represented the Shenango Reimagined Advisory Council, and presented on a range of ideas to prevent dirty industry from coming back to the area. The ideas ranged from a commercial bakery, to a marijuana farm, to a recycling center, to small industry like electronics assembly. The proposal also allowed for the land to be cleaned up to create a large green space and a road with a bike lane.
7 key principles were included to guide development of the site. One principle was that the site should not be used to support fracking in any way, shape, or form, which generated attention and applause. The other principles called for community involvement in the process, creating good jobs and increasing tax revenue while also protecting clean air and water and opposing any further dirty development on the island.
During a question and answer period, Garret stood in support of the overall guiding principles and the design concepts, and particularly called attention to the need to oppose fracking and petrochemical development, not just on Neville Island but anywhere in the region and state. Garret then turned to the state representatives Anita Kulik (Democrat, 45th district incumbent, Garret’s opponent in the general election) and Adam Ravenstahl (Democrat, 20th district) who were in the audience, and asked why they voted for House Bill 1100 that gives over $500 million dollars in subsidies and bailouts to EACH fracking and petrochemical project – adding up to potentially billions over a decade – when clearly the people of the region don’t want it. Garret’s comments received loud applause and support. The moderator asked if the state representatives had any responses; Kulik remained silent, while Ravenstahl did not answer the question and only objected that the comments were irrelevant because Garret was running for office. Ravenstahl suggested the conversation focus instead on the project proposal that he was “there to support”, yet any such support feels hypocritical when he and Kulik are voting to fund the petrochemical and fracking expansion that the community clearly does not want.
Garret is in full support of the basic principles guiding the site development. The Pennsylvania Constitution guarantees clean water and air to every citizen, under Article 1 Section 27, so it should be obvious that future development must put our health and environment as a top priority. The Shenango Reimagined proposal should serve as a regional and even statewide model for a community-run process to replace old, dirty industry with good jobs in renewable energy and sustainable industries. Garret believes the billions of dollars in state funding offered to petrochemicals should instead go to renewable energy projects like this as part of a broader Green New Deal strategy across the state.
Speakers included a number of statistics, such that asthma rates among children in the region near Shenango have drastically improved since the site was shut down. Lung and heart related health problems have also improved. The residents of the region were clear that their health, and protecting clean water and air, needed to be a top priority in any future development of the site.
Residents in the region were encouraged to contact the Delta Foundation and their local elected officials with comments, and urge support of the plan. The site is currently owned by DTE Energy, and so the community does not have direct say at this time over the land and is hoping to pressure DTE to allow renewable development. Garret is concerned however about DTE’s seeming interest in developing gas pipelines in the region, and suggests that eminent domain or other legal tools may be used to protect the site should DTE be uncooperative with the proposal and attempt sale to a fracking or petrochemical related business.
Garret encourages residents to reach out to local municipal officials as well as Kulik’s office and Ravenstahl’s office to demand that local and state investment go to a Green New Deal, NOT fracking and petrochemicals.