Friday, May 30, 2008

City presents 25th annual preservation awards

Mayor Raventstahl and the city historic review commission announced today 7 winners for its 25Th annual preservation awards. Two of the award recipients were the Allegheny Observatory in Riverview park, and the Willock house at 705 Brighton road on the North side. The two projects were both restoration efforts on buildings that were built in the late 1800's or the early 1900's. There were 3 criteria for the awards.

1. The project had to entail preservation, rehabilitation, renovation or restoration of the interior or exterior of a historic building or buildings, or new construction in a contextual design of a historic neighborhood.

2. The project must be located within the city of Pittsburgh

3. The project must have been completed before April 25, 2008.

Beaver County Schools Merger

Merger committees for the Center and Monaca school districts in Beaver County have agreed to a plan for a voluntary merger. They approved a proposal presented by Dr. Daniel Matsook, Superintendent of Center public schools. This follows more than two years of talks. Both districts would be brought together over a two year span starting with the elementary schools (K-5) the first year in the fall of 2009. Dr. Matsook says since the elementary school buildings
in Center are in better shape, they would house elementary students from both districts. Then in 2010, the Monaca and Center districts would have a building separately for secondary students (6-12). That would give another year to bring in a consultant to do a facilities study on the buildings.

Initial studies indicated the districts would realize a savings of $1.5 million dollars, with 5 to 6 mills of tax reduction for taxpayers. Dr. Matsook says some other issues still have to be worked out. One is the mercantile tax in Center Township. He says the township is home to the Beaver Valley Mall which brings in quite a bit of revenue for the tax. He say they are looking to the state to make sure that revenue does not go away.

Next for the Center and Monaca school districts merger will be a hearing by the state board of education in Beaver County in July. The state board of education will then make a recommendation to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Education in September. Pending final approval, Dr. Matsook says the date for the official merger would be set for July 1, 2009.
The two school boards are expected to hold separate meetings on the merger June 12.

The Point reopens

250 pairs of scissors were handed out this morning to help cut the ribbon on the partially renovated point state park. The old fortification has been buried, a new lawn planted, paths refurbished and decorative lights and benches installed. All of the work has been done on the city side of the park. It is the first phase of a 32 million dollar renovation. The next phase includes the addition of 7,000 trees, shrubs and plants to a “woodlands area”, improvements to the walkways along the river, a new café and the instillation of public art. Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell says the investment in the 36-acre park is this generation’s gift to the future to mark the city’s 250th anniversary. A public fund raising effort to refurbish the fountain at the point is to be launched soon.

UPJ Receives $12 Million from Anonymous Alumnus

Pitt-Johnstown has received the largest donation in its history--$12 million from an anonymous alumnus. The money will be put toward full scholarships for 40 students. Alumni and Community Relations Director Bob Knipple said the university is beyond excited to receive this contribution. The money is earmarked specifically for commuter scholarships. About 39% of UPJ's 3,200 students commute. Some eligibility requirements for the scholarship include that the student be in the top 15% of his or her high school class, has SAT scores of over 1200, and has a need for financial aid.

Chronic Wasting Disease not found in states deer and elk

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has announced that there have been no cases of Chronic Wasting Disease found in Pennsylvania Deer and Elk. Chronic Wasting Disease of CWD affects the brains of Deer and Elk and is always fatal. This year marks the fifth consecutive year of testing for CWD, and the fifth year where there has not been a single case found. The Game Commission took 3,800 samples of brain tissue from hunter killed dear and had them tested. CWD has been found in the past in New York state and West Virginia so the game commission has instituted a policy where PA hunters who hunt out of state can only bring back the meat of the animal they kill and not the whole carcass.

Health Department Extends Comment Period on Coke Plant

The Allegheny County Health Department has extended the deadline for public comment on a proposed permit for a new U.S. Steel coke plant in Clairton from June 5 to June 19. This new coke plant will be equipped with state-of-the-art pollution controls and will significantly increase air quality in the Liberty/Clairton area. ACHD has already received over 100 comments since May 7. ACHD spokesman Guillermo Cole says the comment period will conclude on the 19th with a public hearing as is standard on all permits potentially issued by the health department. After the comment extension, U.S. Steel is set to receive the permit on July 14 and will begin working on the 3-year project immediately.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

253 Immigrants Take Oath of Allegiance

In a ceremony commemorating Pittsburgh's 250th Anniversary, 253 immigrants from 63 different countries were sworn in as U.S. citizens today at the Soldier's and Sailor's Memorial in Oakland. The ceremony was an official Federal Court Proceeding with Honorable Judge Donetta Ambrose presiding and administering the Oath of Allegiance. Lisa Tragni, an Italian immigrant who now lives in Pittsburgh, says she is excited to become a citizen to have her right to vote in the upcoming election. Many of the immigrants became citizens for their spouses or other family members who already had citizenship within the states. The general feeling among the immigrants was that of happiness and relief at completing the long naturalization process.

Mt. Lebanon Student in National Spelling Bee Spells Word Correctly, Is Eliminated

Jeremy Pople, a twelve year old seventh grader at Mellon Middle School in Mt. Lebanon earned a spot in the Scripps National Spelling Bee in Washington D.C., and this morning he spelled his word correctly in the first round of the oral competition. Pople was asked to spell "kaiserdom" and after asking for the word's country of origin (Germany) he completed the spelling successfully. However, because the first round also includes a written exam, Pople's cumulative score was not high enough to get him to the second round. Pople said he wasn't nervous about competing or disappointed about the elimination, saying most first-time competitors at the national level are eliminated early. He says he'll be back next year.

BNY Mellon Adds 135 Jobs in Pittsburgh

The Bank of New York Mellon will be adding 135 new jobs to their treasury services group in Pittsburgh. These operations positions bring the total number of new BNY Mellon Pittsburgh jobs to 755 since 2007. Rob Gruendl, the BNY Mellon spokesman in Pittsburgh says this region is great place to hire with its large pool of graduates and strong work ethic. BNY Mellon has announced that it will create between 1,000 and 2,000 new jobs in Pittsburgh over the next eighteen months. Gruendl says there is no correlation between the data center that was supposed to open in Armstrong county but never came to light and the new jobs announced today.

2 Grants awarded to College Students

The Pennsylvania Assistive Technology Commercialization Initiative or PATCI (Pat-Key) is a grant program run by the Technology Collaborative as a way to fund new start up companies run by College students. The two part grant program focuses on Quality of Life and assisted living technologies. Two Student Teams, one from Penn State Main Campus and Lehigh University received $30,000 grants to fund their new companies.
The Lehigh University team is developing a product that will make it easier for elderly people to plug and unplug appliances with the help of magnets.
The Penn State team is developing a Wireless Sensor Network for health care Facilities. For example, if a nursing home patient who needs monitoring leaves their room the nurses would be alerted to that.
The first part of the grant system gives money to teams to develop their ideas, and the second part delivers a $30,000 dollar grant to implement and start to manufacture the product. Nine teams took part in the first stage of the project with only 3 teams applying for the second stage of the grant.

1,000 dead fish found in Central Indiana Creek

On Tuesday May 27Th The State Department of Environmental Protection was alerted to a fish kill in Big Yellow Creek in Central Indiana. Approximately 1,000 fish were killed mysteriously. The DEP didn't find anything in the water and believes whatever killed the fish has moved on. The DEP alerted the Central Indiana Water Authority who subsequently shut off their water intake and tested the water. They have since opened the intake because they were unable to find anything harmful in the water. The dead fish ranged from trout, carp, suckers, minnows, and small mouth bass.

City/County Consolidation

The Pennsylvania House Urban Affairs Committee gathered in Pittsburgh Yesterday to take testimony on a proposal to merge Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. Duq's Mark Nootbaar reports some of the committee members took a very active role in collecting the information.

Listen to the full story here.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Campaign Finance Bill Gets Preliminary Approval

Proposed campaign contribution limits have been approved by the Pittsburgh City Council in a tentative vote. Individuals could contribute a maximum of $2,000. Political action committees would be limited to $5,000. The bill would also require the city to post online who's donating to which campaigns. Sponsor Bill Peduto says Pittsburgh is the last big city without campaign finance reform.

Fellow councilman Jim Motznik voted against the bill, saying campaign finance reform should come at the state level. Peduto says he agrees, but thinks Pittsburgh shouldn't wait for it to happen. He also says he hopes Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will support the legislation, saying a veto would send a "bad message to the country."

Health Department to Host Recycling Day

The Allegheny County Health Department will be hosting a drop-off collection of hard-to-recycle items this Saturday, May 31 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. outside the ACHD Clack Health Center in Lawrenceville. People are encouraged to bring items like televisions, computers, appliances, and tires to the event where they can be handed over to the ACHD along with a nominal fee to be recycled. ACHD spokesman Guillermo Cole says the event is a great way to prevent littering which can have serious environmental and public health consequences. Two similar events are scheduled for June and September. For more information, people are encouraged to call the Pennsylvania Resources Council at 412-431-4449.

Lockheed Martin to create 135 jobs in Johnstown

Lockheed Martin announced it will be bringing a supply chain business from Greenville, South Carolina to Johnstown starting in September. The Supply Chain will be located across the street from the existing Lockheed Martin AeroParts inc. The relocation will occur over a three month period ending in November. The supply chain business will bring an expected 135 jobs to the region with an average salary of $60,000.

Carnegie International: Aitken's Migration

A project that was little more than a brainstorm five months ago is now attracting attention as one of the Carnegie International's best works. DUQ's Mark Nootbaar has more on how the piece "Migration" came to be.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Carnegie International: Doug Aitken’s “Migration”

A project that was little more than a kitchen table brainstorm five months ago is now attracting attention as one of the Carnegie International’s best works. In December, when Carnegie International curator Douglas Fogle was still just talking to artists and working on his final selections, he found himself in the southern California home of film maker Doug Aitken. The two talked about projecting a film on the front of the museum. Aitken was coming off a successful piece for the Museum of Modern Art in New York and was working on a few other projects but he was excited about the possibility of being part of the International.

Aitken eventually was chosen and quickly began thinking about the piece. He came up with the idea for a film he calls “Migrations” and began shooting in Pittsburgh the third week of March. Aitken then began a migration of his own that would take him back to his home in L.A.

The film juxtaposes the natural landscape and the manmade landscape, and explores how humans have remade the country to fit their needs, including their need to feel at home even when they are halfway across the continent. Then he places the animals that once roamed the land into our environments.

A bison tosses a bed in a hotel room, a beaver explores the bathroom complete with complimentary shampoo, conditioner and coffee pot. And the omnipresent hotel television becomes the window to allow us pass between those worlds.

The work has been well received by critics and most of those who have happened upon the piece since it began showing. Aitken says he was not looking to make a film with a message or an ending. “I’m looking for a continuum, I’m looking to provoke or create a response and a personal reaction,” says Aitken, “I was after a new America, a new landscape.”

Listen to a longer version of this story.

To hear all of the stories in the series click here.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Mind Machine Enables Monkeys to Feed Themselves

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has successfully created a brain-machine that gives monkeys the ability to feed themselves with their brain. The machine reads neural impulses and sends them to a robotic arm that then mimics the movements that a normal arm would make. This is a breakthrough for this technology that could lead to the creation of devices that would enable those with physical disabilities the ability to function normally. The technology is opening up new information about how the brain functions and could provide insight into possible cures of many diseases.

Heinz Sets Sustainability Goal

Pittsburgh-based Heinz says its greenhouse gas emissions will drop 20 percent by 2015. The company announced several initiatives it's pursuing to reduce energy consumption, water usage, transportation and waste. At an Oregon facility, the company plans to convert potato peels from Ore-ida products into biofuel. Spokesman Michael Mullen says this would be the first time potato peels would be converted into energy. Heinz believes it could eventually generate enough energy to heat 4,000 Oregon homes during the winter.

Other initiatives include using more eco-friendly packaging in Heinz's Boston Market product line, and lighter-weight aluminum cans. Heinz also wants to grow tomatoes in new locations like China, Egypt and eastern Europe in order to lessen the number of miles the company needs to travel to ship tomato paste to its customers.

Purple Panel Traps Will Catch Invasive Beetle

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture is hanging 10,000 purple panel traps in 35 counties in a multi-state effort to track the Emerald Ash Borer. These beetles, originally from Asia, feed on all species of Ash trees, killing them in one to three years. The beetle has already been found in Cranberry Township and McCandless in Allegheny county. The traps are purple because the beetles appear to be attracted to the violet wave lengths, and they will be coated in a manuka oil which mimics the smell of a sick or dying piece of ash bark.

Sven-Erik Spichiger of the PDA cautions people not to carry local firewood on camping trips. He believes that transporting wood is a major reason for the spread of the beetle. Instead, he says people should buy firewood locally when camping. The beetles have already killed 30 million ash trees in the U.S. and Canada.

City Council to have Public Hearing

Today, May 27Th 2008, Pittsburgh City Council approved a public hearing regarding a proposed North Shore hotel. City council will hold the hearing sometime in the next 14 days. Council member Bill Peduto said they will hold the hearing because they received over 100 petitions for it. The hearing will address the concerns that Pittsburgh United has. Pittsburgh United is a collaboration of community and political groups that presented the petitions to council. They are concerned about a proposed hotel that is to be built on the block across the street from PNC Park. They are seeking a Community Benefits Agreement if the hotel is to be built. They are also asking for an investigation into the actual sale of the property which was made well below market value.

Bill Aims to Prevent Scrap Metal Theft

A recent rise in metal prices has led to an increase in scrap metal theft. As a result, Pennsylvania lawmakers are trying to pass the Scrap Material Theft Prevention Act. The bill would require scrap metal dealers to keep records of their sellers, so that if they are sold stolen items, officials can easily locate the thieves. State Representative Thomas Petrone, a democrat from Allegheny County and co-sponsor of the bill, says the measure will require scrap dealers to get specific information from sellers including their name, phone number, driver's license number, and license plate number. About 10 other states already have similar laws in effect.

Graffiti Bill passes city council

Today, May 27Th 2008, Pittsburgh City Council approved a graffiti bill sponsored by Councilman Bruce Kraus. The bill will allow for fines to be assessed to graffiti vandals who are found guilty. The fines will range from $250-$1,400 per incident and also depending on how much damage is done. The fines are up from the $100-$500 dollars originally proposed. Councilwoman Tonya Payne pushed for the higher fines as a way to deter graffiti. The bill also will require that business keep graffiti tools in clear sight of an employee or behind a counter.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act passes house

The Veterans Guaranteed Bonus Act has passed the house as a part of the Defense Authorization bill. The act was sponsored by U.S. congressman Jason Altmire after he learned that Servicemen and woman who had been wounded in combat and were unable to fulfill their military duty had been ordered to repay their enlistment bonus checks. The Bonus Act passed the house Unanimously and awaits Senate approval before going to the Presidents desk where it will be signed into law. When becoming law the Act will only affect those soldiers wounded in combat on after its approval.

PennDot announces work on Interstate 279 (parkway North)

PennDOT district 11 has announced the timetable for construction activities to take place on the parkway north (interstate 279) and the HOV lanes. The HOV lanes will be closed after the morning rush hour on Monday June 2ND and will remain closed through the July 4Th weekend. After that work will shift to the Southbound lanes up until the Labor day weekend with work shifting to the Northbound lanes after that. The Project is expected to be completed in the fall. During construction on the North and Southbound lanes the HOV lanes will be opened for regular traffic so two lanes will be operating in each direction. The work in preventative repairs because the interstate has not seen any serious work since it's opening in 1989. The work is a part of an 11.2 Million dollar repair effort. More information can be found at PennDOT's district 11 website.

UPMC to begin new heart study

UPMC has began a study of a new heart pump that is the smallest ever created. The pump works much like a traditional pump but is smaller and easier to insert. The heart pump is intended for use in patients who suffer from heart ailments such as coronary vessel blocks. The pump has been tested in a small group and proved effective but UPMC will be testing it in a group of 150 patients over a two year period and hopes to prove the pump is more effective than traditional methods which have been used since the 1950's. The size of the pump enables the doctors to insert it More easily than the traditional balloon angioplasty and stent. Patients will be selected for the study by the severity of their heart problems and heart strength.

Rally and Picnic to be held in support of Green Jobs

On Saturday May 31st The sierra club along with the Steelworkers Union, the Blue Green Alliance and a handful of community groups will be holding a rally and picnic in Braddock in support of green jobs in Pennsylvania. The event is free and will be held from 11:00 am -2:00 pm on the corner of Braddock Avenue and Library road. This event is part of a national effort by the Sierra club to promote green jobs throughout the nation. The campaign wants to find viable solutions that will help the economy and the Eco system at the same time.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Director Haas To Leave Science Center

Joanna Haas, 5-year director of the Carnegie Science Center announced today that she will be leaving the position in mid-July to become Executive Director of the Louisville Science Center. Haas says the move brings her closer to her hometown and much of her extended family. She also says that she will miss Pittsburgh and is honored to have been apart of the community. Her greatest accomplishment, she says, is bringing the Roboworld exhibit to the Carnegie Science Center which was announced April 9th.

Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation Challange the Drink Tax

FACT, or Friends against counterproductive taxation held a press conference downtown at the Carlton Restaurant to announce their "Whiskey Rebellion 2" which is a campaign against the Allegheny County Drink Tax. They Provided estimates of what they say are going to be the total lost revenue as a result of the drink tax. FACT projects by years end 63 million dollars of sales will be lost in the county. Over the first 16 weeks FACT claims 21 Million Dollars have been lost. FACT Executive Director Michele Burchfield has challenged Dan Onorato and Rich Fitzgarald to a public debate over the tax as an attempt to reach an amicable solution.

State Senator Advises Against Turnpike Lease

State Senator Sean Logan, a democrat from Allegheny County, stands firmly against Governor Ed Rendell's proposal to lease the Pennsylvania turnpike to Spanish firm Abertis. Logan released a report today detailing the amount of money Pennsylvania would benefit from the agreement. His projections are much lower than those of Governor Rendell. Senator Logan says even the $12.8 billion bid for the lease is misleading, and that when old debt and prior investments are factored in, the state will make much less than what Rendell suggests. Senator Logan estimates that if the state even earns 8.5% on its investment and adheres to its scheduled budget plan, it would deplete its initial investment in just 16 years as opposed to the 75-year term of the lease.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Public Hearing to be Held on North Shore Development

Pittsburgh City Council will have a public hearing about North Shore development. Recently the city Planning commission approved the the plans for a new hotel to be built within a block of PNC Park. The group Pittsburgh United petitioned for the meeting saying they want to make sure that the proper procedures were followed. They also would like to negotiate for a Community Benefits Agreement to ensure that the local community is not adversely affected. The date for the public hearing has yet to be determined.

Bill Could Toughen Some Murder Sentences

State Representative Matt Smith is co-sponsoring a bill that consider a victim's age and disabilities as potential aggravating circumstances in sentencing for first-degree murder. The presence of aggravating circumstances can lead to stiffer sentences. The bill was inspired by the murder of 78-year-old Jean Heck in 2003. The Upper St. Clair woman was strangled and beaten in her home by a landscaper who had been working there. Smith says he has bi-partisan support for his bill.

Anti-Gun Violence Group Receives $350,000 Grant

Cease Fire PA, the largest non-profit anti-handgun violence group in Pennsylvania, received a $350,000 grant today from The Joyce foundation of Chicago. The money will go towards handgun violence education and advocacy throughout Pennsylvania communities. Executive Director of Cease Fire PA Joe Grace says the grant reflects the growing acknowledgement of the gun violence problem in Pennsylvania. He says that the problem is not just a Philadelphia problem, but a state-wide problem and even a national problem. 30,000 people are killed each year across the country by gun violence.

Jail Employees Get New Exercise Equipment

State Senator Jay Costa and County Executive Dan Onorato toured the Allegheny County Jail's new workout facility today. The facility is for staff only; no prisoners will be allowed to use them. The exercise equipment is a part of the county's wellness program. Jail employees are not allowed to leave the premises when on duty, so they are unable to participate in the county's 10,000 steps program. Onorato says he expects the wellness program will help reduce the county's health insurance premiums. The county received $10,000 in grants to buy the equipment, which is already in use.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Onorato Unveils Positive County Finance Information

Standard and Poor's Ratings Services has raised Allegheny County's debt rating from "A" to "A+" and Moody's Investors Services has changed the County's outlook status from "stable" to "positive." Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato says that these positive reports are a result of a tightened budget and sound fiscal planning that must continue in the future. Onorato cited these ratings and the fact that Allegheny County has not raised property taxes in 6 years against his opponents of the drink tax who claim he mismanaged the county. He says the choice is between a drink and car rental tax, or an increase in property tax and he refuses to increase property taxes. The Chief Executive challenged the homeowners of Allegheny County to join his side of the drink tax debate. Throughout the 6 years Onorato has been in office, neighboring counties all raised property taxes by at least 19%, while Allegheny County has not raised property taxes at all.

Leadership Pittsburgh turns 25

Leadership Pittsburgh is celebrating its 25Th birthday. Founded in 1983 LPInc is a leadership program that functions as an MBA type program focused on community, regional and professional enhancement. There are several programs that are run by LPInc, and all of them are tuition and acceptance based lasting the equivalent of a normal school year with meetings once or twice a month.

The 25Th anniversary celebration is on Saturday May 24Th at the Westin Convention Center Downtown. There is a $50 dollar fee. Reservations should be made in advance.

Turnpike Lease

Governor Rendell introduced the highest bidder in the contest to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike, A consortium including a Spanish firm and a division of Citigroup is offering the Commonwealth 12.8 billion dollars to operate the toll way.

Governor Rendell says the 75-year lease would generate more money for transportation projects than an alternative proposal to place tolls on Interstate 80. "That's a good result, that's a very good result. To me it seems like a slam dunk."

The legislature would have to approve the deal, but Rendell says investing the upfront lease payment would bring in an average of 1.1 billion dollars a year for roads, bridges and mass transit.

Barcelona-based Abertis Infraestructuras - the world's largest private toll operator - would manage the turnpike. Jordi Graells is managing director of toll roads for North America ..."We are going to put here in place the best technologies, the best practices that we have learned throughout 40 years of experience worldwide. And you can guarantee that the road is going to be in perfect shape as the Governor said, as well as the service to users is going to be constantly enhanced and taken care of."

Union workers - but necessarily not managers -- would have job security for at least four years.

Walko to Hold Hearing on Juror Compensation

State Representative Don Walko of Pittsburgh will hold a hearing today regarding two pieces of legislation aimed at raising juror compensation. Currently, in Allegheny County, jurors earn $9 a day for up to 3 days, and $26 a day for each subsequent day. One bill will raise juror compensation to minimum wage for 8 hours (or about $60 per day). In case lawmakers reject the first proposal, Walko is offering a second bill that would increase compensation to $40 a day. Walko, who chairs the House Judiciary Subcommittee of Courts, says its important to maintain juror satisfaction because jury trials are "a pillar of democracy."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Superintendent Recommends Closing Schenley High

Pittsburgh Public Schools' Superintendent Mark Roosevelt presented his findings and final recommendation on the future of Schenley High School in Oakland. He cited the most recent study that gave renovations a soft price tag of 76.2 million dollars. The facility, which is over 100 years old suffers from a number of maintenance problems, including pervasive asbestos and crumbling plaster. Roosevelt acknowledged the beloved place the building has in residents' hearts, but he said that fixing it is not financially viable. He said the public school system is currently in the black, but that its finances are precarious due to declining enrollment, a yearly debt service of 58 million dollars and a pending 40 million dollar budget cut by 2010. He also said that taking on more debt to fix Schenley would lower the district's bond rating.

Roosevelt said that current Schenley students will move to the Reizenstein facility. Incoming freshman will attend three different schools: Pittsburgh Frick, which is expanding to a 6-9 grade school, a Robotics Technology Magnet at Peabody and a new University prep 6-12 grade school in the Milliones facility.

The school board will vote in the June legislative meeting on whether to accept Roosevelt's recommendation to close Schenley.

Mayor Advises Council to Head for City Ethics Board

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl commented last week that the 4 council members who walked out of a vote last week because of a potential conflict of interest should voluntarily take their case to the city's Ethics Board. William Peduto, Ricky Burgess, Doug Shields, and Bruce Kraus excused themselves from voting on whether the city should pay for a $10, 706 legal bill incurred when they sought another legal opinion regarding the Lamar Advertising downtown billboard conflict. An opinion from the city solicitor's office says the bill was a personally incurred expense, and discussing it in council, let alone voting on it, would create a conflict of interest.
The mayor offered advice from his own experience. Last summer, he went before the board after accepting a $9,000 ticket for a charity golf outing, courtesy of the Penguins and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. He says he doesn't think the council members knowingly did any wrong, and they would have a chance to state their case, like he did. He's glad that Councilman Burgess invited the state ethics board to get involved, and says it's their perogative how to proceed.

Water Task Force Meets in Pittsburgh

Fixing aging water systems in Pennsylvania will cost billions of dollars. A task force looking at ways to pay for those repairs will hold a hearing in Pittsburgh today. The Sustainable Water Infrastructure Task Force will make recommendations to the governor by October.

John Schombert with 3 Rivers Wet Weather, Inc. is coordinating sewer repairs in the Pittsburgh region. It's the largest public works project in the region's history. Schombert recently told the task force that governance is vital to coordinating this kind of project. The 3 Rivers Wet Weather project involves 83 municipalities and about 500 public officials.

Regardless of how the state decides to pay for sewer repairs, Schombert says residents are going to feel a lot of pain. Sewer rates have already started to rise. The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority raised rates by nine percent at the beginning of this year. Additionally, residents are responsible for a portion of the sewer system called "laterals" which link houses to the main sewer lines. If those fail, residents themselves must pay to fix them.

Pittsburgh Marathon Returns

The mayor along with the county chief executive and sponsors announced that there will in fact be a marathon in the streets of Pittsburgh once again. The last marathon was 6 years ago, because of a lack of sponsorship. Now, the Dick's Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon is on track for May 3rd, 2009. Other sponsors include Respironics, a medical supply company, and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Dick's has made a 3-year commitment to the race, but wouldn't disclose any further details on exact figures. They sponsor more than 1,000 races nation-wide, and will promote the Pittsburgh race nationally.
Pittsburgh's marathon was once nationally renowned, even used as an Olympic trial. Race officials say they don't expect to recapture that next year, but hope it will grow in coming years. Officials hope to begin the race on Grant Street in front of the City/County building and end it in the newly renovated Point State Park. The rest will wind through Pittsburgh's neighborhoods, causing what County Chief Executive Dan Onorato called a "trickle down effect" benefiting communities and businesses along the race. The route and the winner's purse have not been finalized.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Postal Closing To Take Money, Jobs

A Remote Encoding Center in East Allegheny will close this fall after 13 years of operation. The facility was meant as a temporary fix. Employees would read mailing addresses that machines could not recognize, more than 90% of all mail, and key the correct address. United States Postal Service spokesman Tad Kelley says they planned on 5 years, but added duties to the center. Now, machines can read almost every hand-written address.
The closing will take with it more than $20,000 in local taxes for the borough of East Allegheny and almost 300 jobs. Mayor Louis Payne says that's a lot of money for their municipality, and now they'll have to cancel some capital improvement and recreation projects planned for this fall and next summer. He says he knows the facility was always meant to be temporary, but he wishes he'd had more notice of the closure. When the center was built in 1995, East Allegheny was in financial distress. Payne says they were on the way out, but the tax revenue has helped them stay in the black since. Jobs will be available to management and union employees after the November 14th closing. 288 non-union workers will receive job counseling.

Hard Head Patrol Promotes Helmets

For the 4th year Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh will begin its Hard Head Patrol this summer. The program aims at encouraging children to wear helmets when participating in wheeled activities such as biking, skateboarding, or in-line skating. Local community volunteers run the reward-based program by giving out free lunch coupons to children they see wearing helmets and giving out coupons for a free helmet to those who are not wearing one. Hospital Injury Prevention Coordinator Chris Vitale says the entire community needs to work to promote helmet-wearing not just the parents of children. A helmet law was also enacted in 1995 requiring that all children under 12 wear a helmet while riding a bike. Last summer more than 125 certified Hard Head volunteers handed out 1,020 helmets, 293 coupons for helmet fittings, and 3,400 free lunch coupons to kids wearing helmets properly.

PA Job Market Up In April

A report by the state Department of Labor shows 2,300 new jobs in the month of April, while the nation lost more than 20,000 jobs. Most of the jobs were in education, health services, and professional services. Unemployment rose from 4.9% to the national average of 5%. Department of Labor spokesman Troy Thompson says that's because of the 35,000 people to enter the workforce, 9,000 were unable to find jobs. He says Pennsylvania investments in communities and education have helped make employers and employees more competitive, that needs to continue if we're to stay ahead of the national economic troubles.

Pittsburgh May Get New Sister City

What began as a series of trade missions to Mexico may lead to a new sister city relationship for Pittsburgh. A group of volunteers is working on building the relationship with Aguascalientes, a fast-growing industrial center in central Mexico. The sister city effort evolved from a grant Duquesne University received last year to promote trade between the Pittsburgh region and Mexico. Volunteers with the sister city group will have a display table at the Pittsburgh Folk Festival at the convention center this weekend. A similar group is simultaneously displaying information about Pittsburgh at the annual St. Marcos Festival in Aguascalientes.

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh businesses are preparing to leave Monday for their second trade mission to Aguascalientes and Jalisco, Mexico. Participating businesses include those in the tool and die, medical devices, and software industries.

Brent Rondon with Duquesne University's Small Business Development Center says the sister city relationship would help foster business, educational and cultural ties. Pittsburgh does not yet have a sister city in Mexico. Rondon hopes the relationship can be formalized by sometime next year.

Police Pursuits Down 9%

Police officers in Pennsylvania were involved in nearly 200 fewer pursuits last year than in 2006. The State Police issued their annual pursuit report which shows the total number of pursuits at 1,931--down from 2,115 in 2006--with 1,387 of the suspects being apprehended. Corporal Linette Quinn says the decrease is a result of more stringent police policies on pursuits and better public education about compliance with police officers. Quinn also says that the public is becoming aware of the dangers of pursuits. In 2007, pursuits resulted 652 crashes, 218 injuries, and 13 deaths. The report is available on the State Police's website under the Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Councilman To Work From Roving Office

City Councilman Patrick Dowd will begin work from a new office today--a farmer's market. Today begins his new roving office program which will have the councilman setting up shop in some of his local district's hot spots. Dowd says the program was directly inspired from constituent input and is geared toward more hands-on interaction with constituents. He recognizes that he may incur some problems, but seems dedicated to the program. Councilman Dowd, who represents District 7 will be at Bloomfield's Farmer's Market at 3:30 today.

Market Square Businesses React to Bus Route Changes

Business owners in Market Square have differing opinions on how changing bus routes will affect them. The Port Authority moved buses out of Market Square beginning today. Restaurant and bar managers generally did not foresee any damaging effects. They say moving buses out of Market Square and possible renovations in the future could make the area more welcoming. Meanwhile, owners of smaller businesses are worried that the change will move their customers too far away. They also say they thought Market Square was fine the way it is. One business owner who wants to remain anonymous said when he voiced dissatisfaction with the plan the response he received from those around him was unwelcoming and hostile.

Steelworkers Endorse Obama

The United Steelworkers of America has endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential race. The endorsement comes a day after former presidential candidate John Edwards announced his support for Obama. The Pittsburgh-based union formerly supported Edwards, who dropped out of the race in January. Since then, the union has held discussions with Obama and fellow Democrat Hillary Clinton on issues like trade, workers' rights, and green jobs.

USWA spokesman Marco Trbovich says the union respects Clinton and her decision to stay in the race. A poll of union members found equal support for Obama and Clinton. But Trbovich says the Steelworkers decided it was time to unify voters behind Obama in preparation for the November general election. Trbovich says presumptive Republican nominee John McCain would be a continuation of the Bush administration.

Health Department to Issue River Water Advisories

The City of Three Rivers provides many opportunities for river recreation. Though, according to the Allegheny County Health Department this river water may not be entirely safe. With the boating season that begins today, the health department will begin to issue its Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) advisories. Department spokesman Guillermo Cole explains that when heavy rains fall they force the sewers to overflow and cause the runoff to spill into the rivers. This runoff consists of sewage as well as rainwater which contains some bacteria and viruses that are not otherwise present in river water. Cole says that under a CSO advisory water recreation is not prohibited, but it is recommended that people minimize contact with river water, especially those with open cuts or sores and those with weak immune systems. So how do you know if a CSO advisory is in effect? The department offers CSO advisories via phone, on its webpage, or through the flag system. The CSO flag system consists of 31 marinas or docks across the three rivers which hoist an orange flag bearing "CSO" when an advisory is in effect. The advisories are weather-based so there is no way to predict how often they will be issued. Cole says that advisory frequency and length can vary citing that during a drier summer last year there was 14 alerts averaging 4 days in length for a total of 57 days, but in the wet summer of 2004 there were only 6 alerts lasting 21 days on average for a record high of 125 days under advisory. The program has been in place since 1995.

Cycling to the Office: Friday Is National Ride Your Bike To Work Day

Monday kicked off National Bike to Work Week and tomorrow concludes the week with National Ride Your Bike To Work Day. The event is sponsored locally by Bike Pittsburgh. The day encourages commuters to take a break from firing up their car engines, hop on their bikes and pedal to work instead. Executive Director of Bike Pittsburgh Scott Bricker says he hopes the day will convince more people to bike to work regularly. Bricker also says that participation is often weather dependant and that biking to work is a great way to save money with rising gas prices and protect the environment. Bike Pittsburgh offers a comprehensive bike route map on their website that displays the safest, most convenient bike routes the city has to offer. About 1 percent of Pittsburghers--twice the national average--bike to work.

Some things to remember if you're planning on riding your bike to work:
--take 15 minutes and perform a quick inspection of your bike if you haven't rode for a while
--wear a helmet
--dress for the weather
--bring a change of clothes for work
--plan your route ahead of time

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

College Students To See Less Aid From PHEAA

Students will receive less aid from the state-funded PHEAA program this year. The projections set the maximum amount of aid a student can receive at $4,000, down from $4,700 last year. PHEAA's funds are generated from a combination of state-grants and capital revenue. PHEAA receives $375 million in state grants this year, but because of the credit crunch and legislative changes in loan laws, PHEAA has no capital money to add to that figure. Agency Spokesman forPHEAA Keith New says as a state-funded organization he expects PHEAA to last for a long time, but as a generator of capital, PHEAA is subject to the effects of the market. This lack of capital comes a year after PHEAA was able to offer $61 million in capital funds.

Barden Refinancing Hearing Put On Hold

PITG Gaming owner and Majestic Star Casino developer Don Barden asked the state Gaming Control Board for a hearing extension about his $630 million refinancing plan. PITG spokesman Bob Oltmanns says litigation costs, market failings, and other delays have hiked up the amount needed to complete the casino. As a result, they are proposing to change several aspects of the agreement that predicated their award of a gaming license. PITG wants to refinance through Credit Suisses, delay construction of non-gaming facilities, and divert a $3 million grant for Hill District redevelopment. Oltmanns says while there was no explicit agreement that PITG would invest in the Hill only if they received redevelopment rights to Mellon Arena, it was understood in negotiations that whoever won the gaming license would also gain those rights. They were awarded to the Penguins. Oltmanns says Barden wants permission from the city to spend the money in other ways in the Hill. He would not speculate on PITG's next move if the plan is denied.

Venture Outdoors Festival Set to Kickoff Saturday

The 8th annual Venture Outdoors Festival will kickoff at 11:00 a.m. Saturday at Washington's Landing lasting until6:00 p.m. The event returns to Washington's Landing this year due to heavy construction and development on the North Shore. The festival has grown in popularity over the past years. Assistant Executive Director for Venture Outdoors Sean Brady says last year the event hosted about 8,000 people. The festival is a showcase of outdoor activities available in the region including kayaking, fishing, mountain biking, and a climbable rock wall. The event is open to all ages and skill levels. Brady says the objective is to introduce a variety of outdoor activities to people and to inspire them to participate in outdoor activities regularly. Over 100 different clubs and organizations will have exhibits and booths. The festival is free to participants and is the premiere event of Great Outdoors Week marking the beginning of the outdoor activity summer season.

High School Exit Exams?

The Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee heard testimony today on a proposal from the state Board of Education to require graduation competency exams (GCEs) in all public schools. The graduating class of 2014 would be the first to comply with the new regulations. Students would have to pass 10 exams in middle and high school proving competency in math, science, English, and social studies. Failing students could receive additional help and retest. More than 20 groups in the state oppose the plan for several reasons. The Pennsylvania State Education Association spokesman Wythe Keever says the state is trying to create higher standards without giving schools and students the means to achieve them, because there is no additional funding. He says they're not against GCE's, but think the state should look at alternatives to paper and pencil tests for students to showcase their education. A better solution for the system, Keever says, is to invest at the elementary level. New Board of Education regulations have to pass the state House and Senate.

Phosphate Detergent Act Passes the Legislature

The Phosphate Detergent act has been passed by the state legislature and will require all commercial soap that is sold in PA to have no phosphate in it. The law takes effect on July, 1st 2010 in order for soap companies to fall into compliance. Currently 8 other states have enacted the same legislation with the same date as PA. They are Washington, Minnesota, Indiana, Illinois, Virginia, Massachusetts, Utah, and Vermont. Four other states have pending legislation, they are California, Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio. The new regulations are expected to reduce the amount of phosphorous in the waste stream by 24 percent.

Stabilization Begins at Kilbuck Twp. Slide Site

Wal-Mart begins to rebuild the hillside their development caused to slide onto Route 65 and beyond this week. The 2-phase approach will be overseen by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). The first phase will repack the land that left the hillside, mostly on the northern slope of the development site. Testing during that phase will help the engineers determine what, more specifically, is needed for the second phase. The whole project is scheduled for completion in 2009, but PA DEP spokesperson Helen Humphreys says they're working to make sure another slide won't happen, and that may take longer than some may like. Once completed, Wal-Mart proposes a green space for the site. Humphreys says there are no further applications for development, and no more are expected.

Bill Would Encourage Brownfield Redevelopment

House Bill 2353 or the "Business in Our Sites" program has been passed by the State House and moved to the State Senate where it awaits approval. The bill would increase spending by 100 million dollars. Representative Vince Biancucci, who sponsors the bill, says the program has improved the state economy. The program encourages redevelopment of current brownfield sites by providing grants to interested businesses. Biancucci says 27 firms are currently waiting for a decision on their grant requests. He believes Governor Ed Rendell would sign the bill because the "Business in our Sites" program was part of his initial economic stimulus package.

Lenzner asks PAT for right to run Casino shuttle

The Port authority of Allegheny county is reviewing a proposal submitted by Lenzner Coach Lines to run a bus from a few downtown hotels to the soon to be built slots parlor on the north shore. State law gives PAT the right to approve or deny any such service in the county. PAT spokesperson Judy McNeil says the application was short on specifics and the authority is trying to get more information about the proposed route and the expected fare. The casino is expected to be open next year and the new light rail service to the north shore is expected to open two years later. It is unclear if PAT could award a finite license to Lenzner. Among the questions to be answered is how such a service would impact the new light rail line.

Lawmaker Seeks Input on How Art Can Impact Economy

State Representative Thomas Petrone will be holding a public hearing on Thursday at the state capitol to explore the ways art can have an economic impact on a community. The hearing is being held in response to a failed bill sponsored by Petrone that would have created a five-year tax free zone around cultural centers. The bill was proposed as a way to increase business around cultural centers which have been struggling. The bill failed to pass in last year's legislative session, and Petrone says he wants to do more research and gather more insight on how the program can succeed.

Vigil for Imprisoned Indian Doctor

A vigil was held Tuesday evening at the Church of the Redeemer in Squirrel Hill by Pittsburgh supporters of Dr. Binayak Sen, who has been in jail for the past year in India, where he provided medical care and human rights advocacy to poor tribal minorities in a politically turbulent state. Protests are also planned in other U.S. cities and around the world. Dr. Sen is charged with smuggling a letter from a Maoist prisoner he visited, but Dr. Mary Ganguli, a UPMC physician who went to medical school with him, says he was accompanied at all times by a prison official and had no opportunity to smuggle anything. Dr. Ganguli says Dr. Sen spoke out against violence on all sides.

In April, the Global Health Council bestowed on him the Jonathan Mann Award. This week 22 Nobel laureates sent a letter to Indian authorities protesting Dr. Sen's imprisonment under laws that don't meet human rights standards, and they ask that he be freed to continue his work and receive his award in Washington, D.C. on May 29th.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Manchester Students Mark Anti-Violence Week

An annual staff-student basketball game at Pittsburgh Manchester PreK-8 has turned into a week of anti-violence activities. Curriculum Coach Angela Taylor says recent violence in the neighborhood prompted this week's schedule of activities ranging from anti-violence decorations on classroom doors, to a Random Acts of Kindness competition, to a community meeting. The usual basketball game will still take place Friday night. Teachers are also incorporating an anti-violence message into their lesson plans.

Alcoa May Create Aluminum Industry in Greenland

Pittsburgh-based Alcoa may expand into Greenland. Talks with Greenland's government began last year on building an aluminum smelter in their country. Now, Greenland's Parliament has agreed to enter the second phase of studies on the project.

Greenland is attractive to Alcoa because of its potential for hydroelectric power. A company spokesman says Alcoa is looking to expand to other countries as the worldwide demand for aluminum continues to rise. Greenland currently does not have an aluminum industry.

Alcoa has narrowed its focus in Greenland to the rural town of Maniitsoq. The company will study the feasibility of locating a smelter and hydroelectric power plant there, as well as the potential environmental, economic and social impacts of this kind of project. A similar project in Iceland has divided residents there. Some say it's providing economic benefits to the country; others say it's destroying what had been pristine land.

Pittsburgh gets K-9 money

The Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development has awarded the Pittsburgh Police Department a $10,000 grant to purchase, train and house a new police dog. The request was mad by State Senator Jim Ferlo in reaction to the shooting death of a Pittsburgh Police K-9 officer last week. Ferlo says it was important to act quickly for two reasons. First, he says it is important to get another dog on the streets as soon as possible. Second, he says it is important to send a message to the community that police dogs are an important part of the force.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Pittsburgh Penguins Team up with Pittsburgh Technology Council

The Pittsburgh Penguins have recruited the help of the Pittsburgh Technology Council in their search for new technologies to be designed into the new arena. To achieve this goal the Penguins, with the help of the council used a live web cast to tell the members of the Pittsburgh Technology Council what they wanted. The new technology is supposed to increase the fan experience at the new arena. The intentions are to have the technology be for more than just hockey games because the arena will have many other shows such as concerts, circus', etc...The deadline for proposals was may 1st and the Penguins received 60 submissions.

Mayor Accepts 1.35 Million Dollar Grant

Today, Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl accepted a $1.35 million grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that is designated for the construction of a dock at the planned south shore riverfront park. The grant was made through the Boating Infrastructure Grant program. The project is located between 25Th street and 29Th street in the south side with construction expected to start this summer. The $10.5 million project has received funding from various groups but still needs to raise $2.5 million dollars for the project to reach completion.

Keep Mosquitoes (And West Nile) From Breeding

The Allegheny County Heath Department wants you to keep West Nile virus-carrying mosquitoes away from your homes and neighborhoods by destroying potential breeding sights. Standing water is where the bugs will multiply, so ACHD recommends draining any outside containers after heavy rainfall. Spokesman Guillermo Cole says even a bottle cap filled with water can attract mosquitoes to breed. Also, puddles in your yard or driveway and clogged gutter or storm drains should be fixed. You don't have to run outside after every rainfall, as it takes a few days for mosquitoes to breed, and even longer in colder weather. The safest move is to remove or cover any outside containers. There are currently no confirmed reports of the West Nile virus. Cole says these are preventative measures as the mosquito season starts to head off a later outbreak.

Local Effects of Climate Change

Pennsylvania's emissions are some of the highest in the world and here in the southwestern corner of the state climate change is already impacting the landscape, ecology and air quality. DUQ's Larkin Page-Jacobs has this report.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Meadowcroft Re-opens

As we've been rediscovering during this 250th anniversary year, the Pittsburgh region has played a huge role in the nation's history in everything from innovation to immigration, from architecture to music. Possibly the most important contribution occurred 35 miles southwest of the city and 16,000 years ago: the oldest site of human habitation in North America. Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Museum of Rural Life re-opens tomorrow after being closed for a year for major improvements including a new enclosure for visitors over the excavation site. DUQ's Charlee Song toured the site with David Schofield, the director of the Rockshelter and Museum.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Hearing Tomorrow on Allowing 17-Year-Olds to Vote

Fox Chapel High School will host a hearing tomorrow on a bill that would give some 17-year-olds the right to vote. The bill would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primary elections if they will turn 18 before the corresponding general election. State Representative Frank Dermody of Oakmont has helped the Fox Chapel students seek the change. He is among those who will testify tomorrow. Dermody says the change would encourage more people to become politically active. He says if people get into the habit of voting at a young age, they'll get hooked for life. He also said the students convinced him that they should have a say in who ends up winning their party's nomination in the fall.

Dermody says the Department of State has testified that it would not cost anything to implement the change. He also says some Republicans have opposed the bill, but its sponsors include lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

At least nine other states allow 17-year-olds to vote. Connecticut is considering similar legislation.

Silkscreen Film Fest starts Friday

The third annual Silkscreen Asian American Film Festival kicks off Friday and runs through the 18th with a total of 25 films. All the films are from Asian countries. Many of the films are from India but Festival Director Harish Saluja says there are also films from Japan, China, Iran, Singapore and several other countries. Saluja says the goal of the fest is to promote cross culture awareness and understanding. He says while Asian countries are playing bigger rolls in the US economy and people from Asian are becoming part of our every day life, many of us know very little about the various cultures. He thinks watching their films will help. In the last three years the festival has grown into a year round celebration of the arts but the film fest is still the focus.

Art Olympic Theatre

The Tom Museum on the North Side will close at the end of this month after an almost two-year run. The museum's founder, curator and namesake says he wants to spend more time on other projects. One of those projects is Art Olympic Theatre, a timed competition that judges artists not only on what they create, but also how entertaining they are in the process. DUQ's Katherine Fink has this audio postcard from the most recent Art Olympic Theatre at the Union Project in Highland Park:

Listen to the full story here.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Committee Vote On Smoking Ban Postponed Again

Pennsylvanians will have to wait a little longer for a potential state-wide smoking ban, as the House-Senate conference committee's vote has been postponed until Monday. It was thought that the vote would be held at this morning's 9:00 public meeting. However, Republican Senator Charles McIlhinney of Bucks County recently obtained new information, and needs until Monday to compose his proposal. Senator Stewart Greenleaf of Montgomery County said that the idea is that all committee members will bring their own proposals to Monday's meeting and the committee will vote on them. He said the biggest issue of disparity within the committee remains exceptions to the smoking ban. Greenleaf, who supports a no-exception smoking ban, was optimistic that the committee will come to a decision on a bill on Monday. Today marks the third time action on the bill has been postponed. The House and Senate approved separate bills banning smoking in most public places, but the Senate version had several exceptions.

St. Vincent Science Building Receives $7 Million

A $40 million project to construct a new natural science hall at St. Vincent College got a major boost today receiving $7 million from the Richard King Mellon Foundation. This is the largest private foundation donation in the liberal arts college's 162-year history. President Jim Towey said the gift will allow the college to move forward with the project including groundbreaking set for 2009. The $40 million will go towards construction and endowment of professorships, student scholarships, research, and maintenance. Towey says around 1/3 of the college's students are enrolled in natural science programs, and the project aims to create a better learning facility for them. Earlier this month, the school received a $7.6 million donation from Herman and Sis Dupre. Herman Dupre is a prominent alumnus of the college, and the new building will be named for him. Completion of the project is set for 2011.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Onorato courts Southwest

Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato will travel to Dallas in the next week or two to meet with Southwest Airlines officials to talk about long term plans for expansion in Pittsburgh. Airport Authority Executive Director Brad Penrod is accompanying him. They were to have meet with the company Tuesday but bad weather in Dallas forced flight conciliations and delays so the meeting had to be rescheduled. Onorato says Southwest has gone from an initial 10 flights a day to 27 and he says the company plans to expand but it is unclear when or by how much. He says he wants to talk to company executives about making it as much as possible and as quickly as possible. He says this is not a “courtesy call.” He says discussions have gone well beyond that point. Onorato says there is no doubt that there is room for southwest to grow here.

Tax Credit Program Marks Seventh Anniversary

A celebration at the state Capitol today marked the seventh anniversary of Pennsylvania’s Educational Improvement Tax Credit program. The program offers tax credits to businesses that help fund scholarships or innovative educational programs. Pennsylvania was the first state to create this kind of tax credit.

The Harrisburg-based REACH Foundation led today’s celebration. The organization supports school choice in Pennsylvania and was involved in the creation of the EITC.

Organizations in the Pittsburgh area that benefit from the EITC include:
The Crossroads Foundation, which provides educational support services and tuition aid for Pittsburgh-area students to attend Catholic schools. The EITC program provided Crossroads with about 40% of its revenue in fiscal year 2004.

Asset (Achieving Student Success through Excellence in Teaching), which provides supplemental materials to schools to encourage better teaching methods and more hands-on learning.

The Fund for the Advancement of Minorities through Education (FAME), a scholarship program that helps minorities attend private schools and get internships.

Point Park U. dreams big

Point Park University unveiled a 210-million dollar plan to grow its downtown . The plan includes several buildings along Wood Street from First Avenue to Forbes Avenue. The work will range from offices and classrooms to dorms and performance spaces. University President Paul Hennigan says it will be done with an eye toward retail on every first floor. The work will be spread over the next 8 years with the dorms and athletic facilities completed first with the relocated Pittsburgh Playhouse to follow. The university expects to expand enrolment from the current 36-hundred students to 43-hundred in 6 years including a nearly 2 thirds increase in on campus living. The school also plans to plant at least 150 trees and it hopes to turn the Blvd of the Allies into an actual Blvd by adding a center median.

Firefighter Perks considered

Volunteer firefighters in Allegheny County may receive special benefits in the future that is worthy of risking their lives.

Councilman Nick Futules is to introduce a proposal to give free passes to county-owned swimming pools, ice skating, skiing, as well as other events at a county council meeting tonight.

"It's a thank you to the people that do put their lives on the line," Futules said. He added that it also provides an incentive for more firefighters to join the voluntary force.

However, there is some controversy about where the costs to pay for the free services will come from.

Futules explained it could cost anywhere between $500 thousand to $1 million per fire company, if the county paid for the firefighters' services. While more research needs to be done to confirm how much the perks will cost the county, he believes it will be significantly less than if the county were to begin paying them.

If the proposal passes, Futules said they can start providing the firefighters with the perks as early as next year.

One Hill Coalition to vote on CBA

The One Hill Coalition will be holding a vote on Saturday May 10Th, to decide if they will accept the proposed Community Benefits Agreement. The Preliminary agreement says the Penguins will contribute $500,000 a year for six years, with a six year option. The residents of the Hill will have a chance at hiring for development jobs a week before anyone else, the Penguins and the city will contribute $2 million towards a new grocery store, and Don Barden will donate $3 million dollars.
The 100+ members will vote between 10 am and 1 pm on the 10Th.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Bill Aims to Help U.S. Manufacturers Compete

Congressmen Jason Altmire and Phil English are introducing a bill called the Supporting America's Manufacturers Act. The bill would establish congressional review of cases filed by manufacturers seeking relief from unfair trade practices. The bill is intended to help manufacturers who have suffered because of China's ability to flood U.S. markets with cheaper products. The International Trade Commission (ITC) is in charge of handling petitions for assistance and makes recommendations to the President on whom to help. The President has not approved any assistance to any manufacturer. The bill would give Congress the ability to overrule the President's decisions.

Summer jobs for Pittsburgh kids

With the help of the state, the City of Pittsburgh is growing its Summer Youth Employment Program to include more kids and place more officers on the streets. Public safety officials say crime spikes in the summer as children get out of school and warm weather lures everyone to the street. The program gives department of public works jobs to14 to 18 year olds and funds one additional beat officer in each police district Sunday through Tuesday and two additional officers Wednesday through Saturday. The officers will stay oin the streets through the end of September. Last year 800 applications were received for the 197 job openings. This year the city has 250 positions to fill. The jobs are awarded by lottery in each of the city’s zip codes. For the first time this year the program will include and educational component where kids can get help catching up academically if needed.

Latrobe Steelworkers Protest

Latrobe Steelworkers of USW Local 1537 have been disputing over a new proposed contract since May 1st. Many workers say it is due to management's unfairness to its employees. Instead of giving pay raises, it gave lump sum bonuses. In addition, it proposed to freeze the cost of living, double health care contribution over the next three years, and insert a two-tier wage structure for new workers.

Kevin Caruso, president of USW Steelworkers Local 1537, said a pay raise and a lump sum may add up to the same amount, but they are calculated differently.

Temporary workers were already sent to the plant to fill the spots of protesting workers. Caruso said he is worried about the quality of work the temporaries will give, and how safe they will be in unfamiliar conditions.

Hepatitis B vaccine provided to homeless

May is National Hepatitis awareness month and The Allegheny County Health Department is joining up with the State Department of Health to administer Hepatitis B vaccines to the homeless. The homeless are at high risk for Hepatitis B because of the lifestyle they live. To receive the complete vaccine the Health Department will be providing referrals for the second and third parts of the vaccination after the initial step. The county's mobile clinic will be providing the first step in the three part vaccination.

Wine Fest Returns to Pittsburgh

Organizers of the Pittsburgh wine festival hope to double the amount of money they raise for the UPMC cancer institute this year. Last year the week-long fest raised a million dollars for the center and Wine Fest President Ed Harrell says this year they have expanded and hope to raise 2 million. Harrell says last year much of the money was raised at a dinner in a private home and they now have seven of those dinners on the slate. Harrell says there is also an auction that will bring thousands of dollars. The week culminates with the grand tasting at Heinz field Thursday with more than 500 wines from 170 wineries representing 18 countries. This year’s featured chef is Lidia Bastianich. She owns Lidia’s restaurant in the strip and is internationally known for her cookbooks and TV shows.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Onorato pushes for public safety mergers

More than 40 elected officials, municipal managers and public safety chiefs gathered downtown today to talk about ways to consolidate fire and police services. County Executive Dan Onorato who says he wants the municipalities to look at this type of consolidation to save money ran the meeting. Onorato admits that the consolidations would all be voluntary. He says he hopes to be able to find state or federal funding to create an incentive to make the step. He says most of those at the meeting were receptive to the idea but they had concerns about how such mergers would actual happen. They are concerned about merging different pay rates, retirement packages and union rules. They are also concerned about having to layoff workers. Onorato says solutions can be found for all of those issues. Onorato says he will take his merger crusade to the next chiefs of police meeting and to regional government meetings.

Carnegie International: The Opening

Millions of dollars, nearly three years of one man’s life, and hundreds of thousands of air miles have been invested in building the 2008 Carnegie International art exhibition and starting tomorrow the public will get to see the fruits of those labors.

Curator Douglas Fogle writes in his essay for the Carnegie International, “Underlying each of the works is an attempt to come to grips with what it means to be human today.” But that search carries a signature piece by artists Paul Thek who died in 1988. As you walk through the galleries you get a long look at Thek’s painting of the earth from space on newspaper done in the 70’s. Fogle says Thek’s work carries many of the sensibilities of the show.

As you walk into the main gallery a wall of 60 repetitive, works by Mark Bradford greets you. He uses advertising posters as the foundation for his art, building them up and sanding them down. In this instance he has collected posters for a lawyer working with dads to get custody of their children. Bradford also has two large works that almost look like a city streetscape from a satellite.

Turn around that imaginary satellite and you have the work of Vija Celmins. She builds layer after layer of blue and white paint until she comes up with what looks like a sky full of stars. They look like scientific photographs but the star fields never existed.

Objects not being what they seem is a theme that runs through the show. Peter Fischli and David Weiss have created a room filled with objects you might find in an industrial break room. A dusty vinyl couch, parts of an engine, cigarette buts. However, none of them are real. They are all made of Styrofoam and weigh next to nothing. Another artist’s makes minimalist couches out of ceramic where each “cushion” comes in at more than 200 pounds.

The Carnegie international continues outside in the courtyard where Scotland native Susan Philipsz has installed a sound piece. Philips recorded herself singing “The Banks of the Ohio.” The work is solar powered and it slows as the sun goes down. That is when another work is just getting started. Doug Aitken’s film “migrations” will be projected on the building’s façade.

Listen to a longer version of this story.

To hear all of the stories in the series click here.

Flight 93 Families Upset by Continuing Controversy

Flight 93 families who are working on a memorial say they want to move beyond a controversy over its design. Tom Burnett, the father of one man who died on Flight 93, says the memorial includes an Islamic symbol: a red crescent. Renderings show red maple trees partly outlining a bowl-shaped piece of land at the crash site. The design has since been modified; rather than a "crescent of embrace," it's now called a "circle of embrace." But most Flight 93 family members who participated in the design competition say the criticisms from Burnett are baseless. They say they've consulted religious and design experts who have supported their decision to move ahead with the memorial as planned.

The Flight 93 Memorial Task Force is closing today on close to 1000 acres of land for the project. That's about 75% of the land needed for the memorial.

Tomorrow, the task force will hold a joint meeting with a federal advisory commission. There, they'll provide an update on fundraising for the memorial.

Carnegie International Opens

Millions of dollars, nearly three years of one man's life, and hundreds of thousands of air miles have been invested in the 2008 Carnegie International art exhibition and starting tomorrow the public will get its first look at the fruits of that labor. DUQ's Mark Nootbaar continues his series on the 55th Carnegie International with this preview tour.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Drink and car rental tax class action lawsuit

Allegheny County bar and restaurant owners are continuing to fight against the 10 percent drink tax implemented in January.

Chris Hoel, an attorney for Friends Against Counterproductive Taxation, or FACT, said the group has worked alongside various business owners to change the lawsuit, filed last December, to a class action. In addition, he wants a referendum to rescind the tax to be placed on the general election ballot this November. Supporters are gathering signatures in support of the ballot initiative.

"The evidence regarding sales and revenue now demonstrates beyond dispute that this is hurting the hospitality industry," Hoel says. "It is damaging the county's economy."

However, County Treasurer John Weinstein says the county could receive $10 million more than anticipated in the first quarter from the drink and car rental tax.

Hoel said it will take at least several months before the lawsuit will be addressed in court, and he expects the county's law department to work hard to defend the drink tax.