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Investigative Reporting

The blight of 'blight', chicken doo-doo and PAT

| Sunday, Aug. 4, 2002

WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. - Hello from the road, ladies and gentlemen.

Photographer Steve Adams and I spent much of the past week on a nearly 1,000-mile trek across Pennsylvania. The words and pictures from our journey will follow in a few weeks. But I couldn't resist taking the time to pull off Pa. 220, rent a room at the Holiday Inn here and file a quick dispatch on a few outrageous items I've come across along the way:


The Altoona Planning Commission soon might declare a mostly vacant tract of land in its 5th Ward as "blighted" and target it for urban "renewal." Such a declaration "could mean the buyout and demolition of an auto-glass store and nine homes and construction of city-style housing," the Altoona Mirror says.

That's a kind way to report a potential public molestation of private property.

What officials of this Blair County community plan to do is what Pittsburgh officials have become experts at (or at least experts at threatening) — the confiscation of private property for dubious "public" uses. All are conceited enough to believe that they know what better to do with it.

Of course, Altoona taxpayers, and even those from across the state and nation, likely will pay for this latest chapter in that long, long government-knows-best fiction:

  • Taxpayers would pay for the purchase and relocation of that auto-glass store.

  • They'd pay for the purchase and relocation of those nine homes, including that of Judith Weinstein. It's been in her family since 1942; it recently was renovated following a fire at a cost of $40,000.

  • Taxpayers would cover the cost of acquiring vacant parcels of land the government has deemed "blighted" and "underused."

  • Taxpayers, through a Community Development Block Grant, would foot the bill for the construction of as many as 25 new homes.

  • Does anybody care to bet that these new homes will, in one way or another, be further subsidized by taxpayers?

    And it's all happening in an area that the marketplace heretofore has deemed to be unworthy of redevelopment, unsustainable for new development.

    Should this project proceed, what's likely to happen• Well, given the genre's track record, it's doubtful it will resemble much in the way of urban "renewal."

    It's more likely that it's the beginnings of a perpetual, government-subsidized slum . Property that the government in Altoona might have the temerity to declare as "inefficiently used" very well could become useless for generations to come; free markets never will have the chance to function here, should they so choose.

    Call it the blight of "blight." And it's as unsightly as it is smelly. Why can't we learn this lesson?


    More than 100 miles southeast of here, in Harrisburg, there's a market-perverting exercise of a decidedly chickeny stench.

    Rep. Thomas Creighton of Lancaster County has drafted a bill that would offer a subsidy of as much as $20 per ton to Pennsylvania chicken farmers to make their chicken manure more "competitive," The Associated Press reports. The subsidy would go to farmers who transport what the AP calls "stuff" on fourth reference from areas with lots of manure to those with little.

    Chicken manure, for the chicken manure novitiates among you, is most rich in nitrates. And, used in its composted form, mushrooms just love it. Truth be told, there wouldn't be much of a mushroom industry without, well, chicken poop.

    So, if chicken doo-doo is such a valuable commodity, why should the government be subsidizing it• What business do governments have attempting to establish some kind of chicken poop market parity?

    Well, it seems that neighboring Maryland pays its chicken farmers to export manure to other states, Pennsylvania included, to get rid of excess "product" that has been threatening aquatic life in the Chesapeake Bay. (Mushrooms love it, the fishies don't.)

    That means that subsidized Maryland chicken manure is cheaper for Pennsylvania mushroom farmers to buy than Pennsylvania manure. And, certainly, to be "fair," to save the market from being perverted, we must do something, right•

    As usually is the case, government intervention only begets what, class• Yes, class, more government intervention, as Rep. Creighton proposes. Pennsylvania will subsidize its chicken poop; Maryland will increase the subsidies on its chicken poop. Then, Pennsylvania will counter with its own increase. And pretty soon, before you know it, taxpayers will have some very expensive chicken poop on their hands.

    Simply put, governments have no business subsidizing private businesses, no matter if it's chicken poop or new arenas for hockey teams (hint, hint Steve Leeper). Why can't we learn this lesson, either?

    And, more importantly, why does this kind of poop never seem to hit the fan•


    Well, holy-moley-pumpkin-pie. The Port Authority of Allegheny County has responded to my complaint about the bus driver who attempted to force me off the road not once, not twice, not thrice, but four times on June 17.

    Hey, and it only took 41 days to answer my June 18 complaint. But it wasn't much of a response.

    "Cathy" at PAT left a voice-mail message Monday last informing me that the supervisor at the Collier Township garage has talked to the driver in question. That's it. That's all I was told. "Cathy" didn't even leave a callback number.

    Don't you just love such "gold-standard service"?

    Well, "Cathy" at PAT, and PAT boss Paul Skoutelas, I want to know who the driver is, what was said to him, what his driving record is and how many complaints have been filed against him. As I asked two weeks ago, is it his first• Or is it his 20th?

    I want to know if he's still on the road. I want to know what bus he's driving and what route. For I have a right to protect my life from this maniac. By refusing to divulge such information, the Port Authority isn't protecting privacy. And it's certainly not serving the public. It's covering its fanny.

    And, gee, perhaps if the Port Authority would spend more time taking customer complaints seriously and dealing with them forthrightly than, say, touting a ludicrous new psychedlic paint scheme for its new trolleys, its customers would be better served.

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