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South Park strip mine a no-go, court agrees

A Whitehall businessman plans to appeal a court ruling denying his right to strip-mine 93 acres in the Sleepy Hollow section of South Park.

Commonwealth Court on Tuesday sided, 3-2, with Allegheny County against Nello Fiore, who owns mineral rights under the county-owned park. Fiore, 76, contends his rights amount to 700,000 tons of coal worth $100 million. Fiore sued when the county denied his requests to mine the coal.

"Our intention is to ask the (state) Supreme Court to review it. This issue is of great importance in Pennsylvania," said Fiore's attorney, Thomas King. "The issue is, can people who own mineral rights extract them?"

The appeals court upheld a ruling from a Common Pleas judge. Kevin Evanto, a spokesman for county Executive Dan Onorato, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

"It is clear from an examination of the deed in this case and the facts found by Common Pleas that Fiore does not have a right to strip-mine in South Park," Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter wrote for the majority.

As part of the post-mining reclamation, Fiore proposed soccer, football, baseball and softball fields for the land, offering the county royalties that could top $1 million.

County officials rejected Fiore's proposal in 2008 after hosting a town hall meeting on the issue. More than 250 people attended, mostly to speak against strip-mining.

Fiore acquired the mineral rights when his brother died in 1996. The mineral rights were separated from the surface rights in 1902, before the county owned the land.

The Sleepy Hollow section of the park is the southern tip of the 2,000-acre park. South Park's master plan, developed in 2001, designates the section as an important biological zone.

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