Valley grows greener
New Kensington, Vandergrift and Allegheny Township will be growing greener to the tune of $188,000.
That's the total of Growing Greener II state grant money allocated to four projects in the three communities. The money comes from a voter-approved $625 million state bond issue. The money is earmarked for statewide conservation projects, such as cleaning up rivers and streams, reclaiming abandoned coal mines and brownfields, preserving natural areas and open space, and improving state parks and recreation facilities.
Westmoreland County Commissioners, with a $1.75 million slice of the state-wide pie, allocated money for four projects in the Valley:
• Cleanup of an illegal dumping area along Indian Hill Road in Allegheny Township -- $3,000.
• Restoration of the flood control channel carrying Little Pucketa Creek in front of Valley High School -- $50,000.
• Development of a riverfront walking area in New Kensington -- $60,000.
• Installation of "green" parking spaces in Vandergrift -- $75,000.
Jim Pillsbury, the hydraulic engineer for the Westmoreland Conservation District, says the flood control channel that carries Little Pucketa Creek can't do its job in its current condition.
"The flood control channel in front of the high school has been damaged by erosion and by accumulation of an awful lot of rocks and sediment," Pillsbury said. "So when there is a storm, the flood channel doesn't have the capacity to carry the amount of flow needed. The flow encounters a hydraulic traffic jam."
Pillsbury said that bio-engineering techniques will be used to design stabilized stream banks for Little Pucketa Creek. The city and the school district are working in conjunction with the Conservation District for the repairs.
Mike Orr, the facilities manager of Valley High School, said that the school applied for the grant in conjunction with the city of New Kensington. The ultimate goal of the project is flood control.
"Two years ago, we had significant flood damage due to Hurricane Ivan," Orr said. "This project will alleviate some of the future damage and the expense."
Orr said that there is no definitive time line for beginning the repair and stabilization project, and that he wasn't sure who would be repairing the flood control channel.
Pillsbury said that he would like to begin the project "within the next year or so."
The other money being allocated to New Kensington is to develop a riverfront walking area with trees, shrubs, lights and observation areas along the Allegheny River in New Kensington. Attempts to reach the city's redevelopment authority were unsuccessful, and no additional information on this riverfront development was available at press time.
The project in Vandergrift -- "green" parking spaces -- is designed to restore some of the vision of the town's original architect, Frederick Law Olmstead.
When Olmstead designed the town, he laid out a large green lawn that ran from the railroad station to the Casino theater. Due to highway widening and other factors, the lawn disappeared. The rest was turned into a parking lot.
Pillsbury is also involved with the Vandergrift project. He said that the plan is to restore Olmstead's original green area while maintaining parking. Pavement will be removed in the parking lot and street areas.
"We're going to replace the pavement with a combination of grass and infiltration paving blocks," Pillsbury said.
Infiltration paving blocks are heavy-duty plastic boxes that contain a grid. The grid supports the weight of vehicles and creates a firm surface for vehicles to drive on, but also allows grass to grow through. In addition, the paving blocks will allow rainwater to infiltrate into the ground. Trees will be planted and additional landscaping will be done to beautify the area.
"From the eye of the pedestrian, you will see grass," Pillsbury said. "But you will still be able to park there."
Vandergrift Borough and a group called VIP (Vandergrift Improvement Project) are working with the Conservation District on the project. The area will be about 60 feet wide and 300 feet long.
"The goal is to restore a little bit of Olmstead's vision for that area," Pillsbury said. "The restoration of this lawn area will create a much better pedestrian atmosphere there as well as helping the environment by infiltrating rainwater into the ground."
The Vandergrift project still needs additional planning and design, but should begin next year, Pillsbury said.
In Allegheny Township, cleanup is the name of the game.
People have been illegally dumping trash into and near a stream that runs along Indian Hill Road.
According to Greg Phillips, the District Manager and CEO of the Westmoreland Conservation District, an environmental group named Westmoreland Cleanwaves will be cleaning out the stream.
"There is a lot of garbage--tires, household trash--being dumped into the stream," Phillips said. "Westmoreland Cleanwaves is going to clean up the stream and restore the habitat."
Growing Greener II is the second state-wide program aimed at environmentally friendly programs. In the first phase of Growing Greener, from 2000 to 2004, Westmoreland County got $4 million for similar conservation work.