Locked in a power struggle

Written by Diana Nelson Jones on .

by Diana Nelson Jones/Sept 29

No doubt, every North Sider who attended last night's meeting to oppose Duquesne Light's proposed cooling station in Allegheny Commons Park left lights on at home and possibly a computer and a radio besides leaving plugged in all the apparati of our electrical addiction. (Even turned off, plugged in stuff sucks electricity.)

There were, of course, lights on in the Hazlett Theater, and a sound system for the microphones and a computer-generated slide show of imagines and diagrams for the audience of 160 people.

We are accustomed to and, by now, psychologically and emotionally hot-wired to need all this power, which is generated by coal-fired plants, which are, collectively, the Evil Empire in the battle for the environment.

What the North Side is fighting - a proposed 28-by-9-by-9-foot metal box inside this park - is ugliness, green-space encroachment and historic inappropriateness.

Allegheny Commons came of age during the post-Civil War era and blossomed into a Victorian marvel of magnificent fountains, tree-lined pathways, benches, monuments and a lake much larger than the Lake Elizabeth of today. It had islands with trees in it and a boat house.

Today, that park, the city's oldest, is undergoing historic restoration, an effort to be phased in with continuous fund-raising over 15-20 years. An historic boathouse is in the plan. Right now, the phase of restoration is focused on the East Park section that runs from East Ohio Street north to North Avenue and west to Federal Street. Duquesne Light's underground vault, which it needs to marry to a proposed block house of equipment to cool lines more efficiently, sits within that portion, just inside the sidewalk on Cedar Avenue where Foreland Street dead ends.

The restoration initiative has cobbled together funds in the $2 millions and is being true to the park's past. No disguise as yet imagined for this cooling station would fit. The initiative wants it on Union Avenue at East Park's south-west confines, among buildings.

What confounds everyone who sat in the theater last night is the engineering thinking that says it has to be here and can't be there. No one from Duquesne Light showed up; an engineer or two would have been a great courtesy to the residents who came out, representing 11 neighborhoods.

Jenn Saffron, a dynamo of neighborhood activism in Deutschtown, called to the crowd to "bring five of your friends to the next meeting," the date of which will be widely circulated.

Representatives from the mayor's office, including art commissioner Morton Brown and public works deputy director Mike Gable, said the city does not support Duquesne Light's proposal. Councilman Doug Shields told the crowd the city, as land owner, would have to make application for this station, not the utility, and that, by code, the city could, with due notice, even revoke Duquesne Light's license to operate the vault.

Many in the crowd demanded that Duquesne Light move the vault out of the park. They agreed it would cost the utility (read: the consumer) more to do that, just as it cost PennDOT (read: the taxpayer) a lot more to locate the "parkway north" where it is today instead of its original proposal to run the highway right through the middle of Allegheny Commons Park.

Tom Barbush, a resident of Allegheny West, pointed out that people successfully fought PennDOT on that point. (PennDOT eliminated a huge chunk of Deutschtown in putting the road where it is today. Walkabout editorial: Highways through cities R bad.)

"It will take resolve to persuade Duquesne Light that we won't stand for this preposterous proposal," he said.

The greatest power of all - besides, possibly, the PUC - is consumer power.

We pay less for electricity than it pains us to pay; surely less than for gas heat and gas for our cars, and so we are not invested yet in the solution to electrical use. One reason upgraded cooling equipment is needed is because there is so much more demand now. Can you say "casino"?

Electrical service follows the demand for it.

So to friends, readers and countrymen, Walkabout begs you to conserve. Conserve everything. And in your idle time, be thinkin' about what that casino and its parking lot could someday be reused as.)


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