Friday, October 31, 2008

Construction Begins on Mine Water Heating System

Construction will begin soon on a geothermal heating and cooling system that may be the first in the country to use water from an abandoned mine. The system will cut utility bills at least in half at the John Wesley AME Zion Church in the Hill District.

Geothermal systems run water through a heat exchanger to keep buildings at a comfortable temperature. Normally, these types of systems tap into groundwater. But the church sits on top of an abandoned mine that is full of water. In fact, the water pressure was once so great that it seeped into the church's basement and threatened to blow out the whole building. The water is currently being diverted into storm sewers. By the end of this year, the water will be re-directed into the geothermal system.

Pastor Calvin Cash says his church is still seeking funding to cover some of the costs. But in the long run, he anticipates the geothermal system will save enough money to allow for much-needed renovations at the church. Cash also thinks the geothermal system could be a catalyst for new development along the busy Herron Avenue corridor. The system will be built with room to expand to other buildings. The system is expected to begin operating by the end of the year.

Pittsburgh to Get New Trees

TreeVitalize Pittsburgh will be planting over 100 hundred trees this weekend in East Liberty. The planting is a part of a 20,000 tree multi year planting effort designed to increase tree cover and green space in the city. TreeVitalize is a new group that was created in the spring and is modeled after a Philadelphia project of the same name. TreeVitalize will take care of the trees in the first few years with the city taking on the responsibilities later.

2008 DiverseCITY Program Series

As part of an ongoing series, a symposium on the business advantages of a diverse workforce was held this morning in downtown Pittsburgh, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh Institute of Politics. Professor Audrey Murrell of Pitt's Graduate School of Business says more research is needed, but data clearly show that diversity benefits recruitment, retention and innovation, making a business more effective. In the Pittsburgh region, Murrell says the challenges are opportunities for African Americans and a glass ceiling for women.

Urban League President and CEO Esther Bush says our country will not reach its full potential until the skills, talents and resources of all its people are utilized, including women, the disabled and ethnic and racial minorities. She says governmental remedies are inconsistently addressed even when there are laws on the books, e.g., the Justice Department's Office of Civil Rights has not addressed racial discrimination in the last eight years.

There will be other workshops and symposia on the topic through December.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Pa Workforce Continues to Age

Pennsylvania's workforce continues to get older, according to new figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau. In 2004, 3.6 percent of Pennsylvania's workforce was aged 65 or older. In 1998, that figure was 3.0 percent.

The numbers mirror a national trend. The Census Bureau estimates that the over-65 population will grow from 1 in 8 today to 1 in 5 by 2030. Pennsylvania already has the third-highest percentage of over-65 residents in the country, according to the state's Department of Labor and Industry. Spokesman Troy Thompson says the Labor and Aging departments have collaborated for years to offer training for older workers who want to keep their skills current or switch careers. He says older workers are an asset because of their experience and work ethic.

But a large number of older workers could also pose challenges for companies that are seeing an increasing number of retirements. The Three Rivers Workforce Investment Board studied the issue in 2006. Among its findings: some industries, like mining, utilities and transporation, are aging faster than others.

PennDOT Slates $175 Million for Bridge Repairs; Parkway East Work to Continue Until 2010

The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation will invest $175 million next year to repair bridges in District 11 which includes Allegheny, Beaver, and Lawrence counties. Last year $91.9 million was used to replace, rehabilitate, and preserve 87 area bridges. District 11 spokesman Jim Struzzi says PennDOT will focus on repairing and preserving at least 70 bridges in 2009. He says the increase in money reflects a change in philosophy about bridge maintenance. Proper bridge upkeep can extend the life of a bridge for 20 to 30 years. It is also cheaper than bridge replacement and affects traffic minimally.

PennDOT has also decided to extend the last phase of the Parkway East/I-376 rehabilitation project another two years to 2010. That work will be done on the stretch of highway between Churchill and the Pennsylvania turnpike. Struzzi says by spreading the work over two years, the impact on traffic will be much less. Next year, all work will be done on the inbound lanes and will flip to outbound in 2010. Most construction will occur on weekends and off-peak hours, and during the project, the contractor will be required to maintain two lanes of traffic.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Heinz Endowments Gives 10.2 Million Dollars In Grants

The Heinz Endowments has donated 10.2 million dollars to the Pittsburgh Public Schools and some community groups that help in education development. The Pittsburgh Promise received a grant worth 6 million dollars over 3 years. The Fund for Excellence which was created by Superintendent Roosevelt after he announced his excellence for all campaign received 2 million dollars. The hill house association received $300,000 for social services to hill district families in an effort to boost child performance in school. Other grants are for encouraging parents to read to children and improving child readiness in areas of the city that have the largest achievement gaps.

Residency Restriction Map on Allegheny County Website

If you look at the map on the Allegheny County website showing residency restrictions for registered sex offenders, you may conclude they have nowhere to live, but the County Council member who introduced the ordinance says the map is misleading.

Vince Gastgeb, who represents District 5 in the South Hills, says the map looks more restrictive than it is because it's keyed to main roads. He says the map indicates his street is restricted, but if you type it in, it shows it is not. Gastgeb says the parents he represents want children protected, so they don't have to walk by a sex offender's residence going to and from school.

The Allegheny County ordinance is modeled after others all over the country that courts have upheld, according to Gastgeb.

The map is at:
Search by property address at:

New Children's Research Center complete

With the first phase of the new Children's Hospital complete, its research center will soon begin the move from Oakland to Lawrenceville. Children's Hospital Scientific Director Dr. David Perlmutter says the center will help conserve research dollars by being accommodating to changes.

The state-of-the-art building doubles the size of the Oakland facility with more than 300,000 square feet of space. Perlmutter says researchers will begin to move in as soon as next week, and the center is scheduled to fully open in May.

PA Ed. Board Listens to Affordability Concerns

Staff of the Pennsylvania board of Education Stopped in Monroeville Wednesday as it travels the state trying to learn more about what some have called the perfect storm of higher education affordability. The board says there is clearly a problem with students not being able to afford college but it is unclear what is at the root of the problem. Those giving testimony asked for more state funding for schools, more state grants for students and more need based assistance from colleges and universities. One speaker noted that when economic times are good and people are working the state seems to have the money to spend on education but when times are tough and people need low cost education the state cuts funding. Robert Calloway went to CCAC for two years and is now enrolled at Point Park University. He says tuition is not his only concern. He has to pay for books, supplies and transportation, which are not covered by grants and loans. Calloway says his books this semester came in at more than $600. Others spoke of students leaving the school of their choice to enroll in colleges and universities closer to home simply to save money on room and board. The board of education hopes to present lawmakers with suggested legislation to address the funding gap.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

City Residents Can Put it All in one Blue Bag

Starting Monday all city residents will be able to mix the recyclables and add in a few new products. Since January about half of the city has been able to put plastic and metal into one blue bag and leave it on the curb for the recycling truck. The rest of the city will be able to do that beginning November 3rd. Residents will also be able to start adding in paper including bulk mail, newspapers and phone books. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl says the city is also trying to get business owners on board by providing technical support, opening new drop off points and placing 150 recycling containers in the city’s business districts. The city’s three major sports teams are also going to green up their acts by recycling more waste including leftover cooking oil and aluminum cans. For every ton of waste moved from the trash stream to the recycling stream the city sees a net gain of 75 dollars. Ravenstahl says the city has seen an increase in the tonnage of recycled materials increase by 30 percent since starting the pilot program for a savings of nearly 700-thousand dollars.

Avairy Expansion Plans Made Public

The National Aviary on the North Side says it is ready to start work on a $23 million expansion. The focal point will be a new free flight theater which board chair Mike Finn describes as a “reverse theater in the round” with stages all along the walls and people sitting in the center. Birds will walk and fly from stage to stage and wall sized video screens will help transport visitors to the bird’s natural habitats. Most of the current space will be kept as it is with the additions being added around the perimeter. There will also be a free flight theater on the roof where birds of prey will fly through the park in search of a meal. Ground is to be broken in the spring with completion expected in June of 2010. About half of the money for the project has been raised. The public fundraising phase will begin soon and more foundation, corporate and state funding is being sought.

One Allegheny River Dam Threatened by Erosion

Allegheny Lock and Dam #6, located near Freeport, PA, is severely threatened by erosion, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. The erosion, or scour, was discovered during a recent dive inspection. A failure of the dam could cause serious problems for the area. It would shut down commericial and recreational navigation and would impact water intakes and sanitary facilities causing severe water quality degradation . A break could also damage a hydropower facility at the site possibly causing it to cease operations, and could dry up the Cogleys Island Complex near Kittaning--one of the region's largest wetlands--home to several species of endangered mussels.

Currently, the Corps is preparing a solicitation for emergency repairs. Spokesperson Jeff Hawk says they hope to have a permanent fix made before winter. One of the Corps' major concerns is ice formation on the weak dam and collisions by ice floes. The district has implemented additional safety precautions including 24/7 staffing, hourly gauge checks, and local emergency and water management coordination, until the fixes are made.

O'Brien Wants to Remian in Control of House

State House Speaker Denny O’Brien says he wants to remain in that role in the next legislative session but that may not be easy. He was put in the post after the Democratic majority was unable to come to a consensus on which member of that party should run the lower chamber so Republican O’Brien was elected as a compromise. Currently Democrats hold a one-seat majority in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives and it is unclear what changes the new year could bring. Speaker Denny O'Brien says the House has an opportunity to continue what he sees as a successful experiment. He says, "I am ready, willing and able and clearly interested in serving as the speaker for the next session. Not as an end in itself, but to continue what we've started - to expand new paradigms promoting creative solutions to promoting differential learning in our children and young adults, health care and the state budget." O'Brien admits - if either party wins a wide majority in the November election, an independent speaker might not be so attractive to a caucus looking to solidify control of the chamber.

Monday, October 27, 2008

State Awards Two Grants For Regional Development

The Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources has given two grants totaling $750,000 to two western Pennsylvania authorities. The Johnstown Redevelopment Authority received a $250,000 grant for an inner-city river walk along the perimeter of the Greater Johnstown Technology Park, and the Cambria Somerset Authority received a $500,000 grant to construct a custom water release mechanism at the Quemahoning reservoir water intake tower to create whitewater boating on the Stonycreek River. The grants were funded by the Keystone Fund which is generated through a portion of the state's realty transfer tax.

Conference Highlights Sustainable Water Practices

Large industrial facilities are getting the message about conservation, according to organizers of this week's International Water Conference. The conference is being held in San Antonio, Texas, although it's been organized for years by the Engineers Society of Western Pennsylvania.

Chairman Kumar Sinha says a hot topic in recent years has been the idea of "zero liquid discharge," or the reuse of wastewater in industrial facilities in order to avoid having to clean it to the point that it meets federal and state environmental standards for safe discharge into streams and rivers. Those standards are most strict in the west, where water is less plentiful.

In eastern states like Pennsylvania, Sinha says the biggest issue has been consumption. Large industrial facilities like power plants use cooling towers, which require massive amounts of water. That water just evaporates, eliminating any possibility of re-use. Sinha says some engineers are trying to find ways to capture that water vapor.

The International Water Conference is in its 69th year. It began as a regional conference in western Pennsylvania when steel was still booming. The conference has expanded its reach since then, but the Engineers Society continues to run it, along with two other annual events: the International Bridge Conference and Business of Brownfields Conference.

Designer Promotes "Radical" Collaboration

Traditional public hearings are not the best way to get the public involved in new design projects. That's according to Fred Dust with of the design firm IDEO. He will speak at Point Park University today at a lecture sponsored by the Community Design Center of Pittsburgh. Dust says public hearings pit advocacy groups against each other rather than encourage people to work together to find common ground.

Dust says good design requires a deep understanding of people's needs. His firm employs psychologists and anthropologists to help learn what people really want from their buildings and communities. One technique they use is called "empathic design," which helps designers better understand people's feelings in order to better meet their needs. He says it may sound easy, but it can be difficult for people to truly step into someone else's shoes and understand the way they think. His firm also encourages hands-on involvement from the public during the design process.

Dust says this will be his first time in Pittsburgh. He says he doesn't know a lot about design-related challenges here, but is doing a lot of reading and is looking forward to exploring the city.

Drinking and Drug Use by Teens Closely Linked to Future Problems

A recent report co-authored by a Carnegie Mellon University researcher found drinking and drug use by youths is more closely linked with problems later in life than originally believed. The study tracked a group of New Zealand 15-year-olds into their 30’s and found a wide range of health and other issues include higher rates of early pregnancy, sexual diseases and under employment. The study compared teens with behavior problems before they began drinking and smoking marijuana with similar teens that did not have those behavior problems. The study found there was no difference between those groups at the age of 32. Nagin says this dispels some of the beliefs that drinking and drug use is just a phase ore something a teen will outgrow. He says this shows the importance of prevention programs and efforts to get kids to stop using drugs once they start.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Port Authority Imposes Contract for Transit Union

The Allegheny County Port Authority has voted to impose its final best contract offer on its drivers. CEO Steve Bland says that's allowed when talks reach an impasse. The contract is scheduled to take effect December first. It includes annual three percent wage increases, higher employee contributions to their health care plans, and no post-retirement health coverage for workers hired after next month.

The President of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 85 is not happy about today's vote. Pat McMahon says talks have not been at an impasse. He's filed complaints with the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. McMahon also disputes the legality of County Chief Executive Dan Onorato's decision to withhold funding from the Port Authority until it cuts costs. A continued hold on the funding could force the agency into bankruptcy by the end of the year.

Court Keeps Regular Pace in Voting case

A Commonwealth Court judge has denied the Pennsylvania Republican Party's request for "expedited discovery" in a suit against the state and community group ACORN claiming voter registration fraud. the suit is one of three filed against the state in the past six weeks addressing election issues. The GOP voter fraud lawsuit goes to court Wednesday, when the judge will consider the party's request for a list of voters registered through ACORN, and greater fraud protections from the department of state, among other items. A second lawsuit, brought by the NAACP and voting-rights groups in federal court seeks to change the rules for issuing emergency paper ballots at the polls to avoid long lines. Secretary of State Pedro Cortez says he thinks it's too late to change the rules, which specify that 100% of voting machines at a precinct must be broken before paper ballots are used. The voting-rights plaintiffs want paper ballots issued when half or more of a precinct's machines break down. A third lawsuit brought against the state may see some action on Tuesday when the department of state must file a brief on whether voters should be allowed to wear campaign t-shirts or buttons when they go to vote.

Crisis Education Forum Held in Pittsburgh Sat.

Advocates for African American students in the Pittsburgh Public School system hope to bring the community up to date this weekend on a more than decade old settlement with the district aimed at closing the achievement gap between blacks and whites. A complaint was field in 1992 that African American children were being underserved and were falling behind other students in the system. In 2006 a conciliation agreement was finally signed and the terms of that agreement are to be discussed Saturday at the “Crisis Education Forum” at the East Liberty Branch of the Carnegie Library from 1-3pm. Original complainant Wanda Henderson is still involved in the effort and will be part of the event. She says a major part of the agreement is the creation of an “equity advisory panel” directions for the panel will be discussed Saturday. She says the data shows the longer a black child is in the Pittsburgh Public school system the farther they fall behind. She says the gap between black and white students in the 3rd grade is 20%, by the 5th grade it increases to 30% and by 11th grade there is a 40% gap.

Palin Outlines Help for Special Needs Children in Pittsburgh

In her first public policy address since being chosen as the Republican Vice Presidential Candidate Governor Sarah Palin outlined the McCain administration’s proposals for helping special needs children. Palin told a crowd of parents of special needs children and their caregivers that a McCain administration would fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act for the first time since its inception. She says too often special needs individuals and their parents are made to feel there is no place for them in society. She says to that end the McCain Whitehouse would reform the vocational rehabilitation act to require that all special needs individuals be given the chance to learn to work and live independently if they so choose. Palin says another key will be to make all federal special-needs education funding portable with the child so parents can choose where to send their school age children. Palin says she also looks forward to strengthen NIH funding for research into early diagnoses and cures for illnesses such as autism. And building public/private partnerships with organizations helping special needs children. Palin did not layout specific numbers but says the programs could be funded through the elimination of earmarks.

Charter Schools at 10 Years

In 1997 the state legislature passed Act 22, allowing for the creation of charter schools in Pennsylvania. Three charter schools opened in Pittsburgh in 1998 and all three are still in operation. DUQ's Mark Nootbaar looks at how they are doing 10 years later and the impact they are having on the district.

Listen to the full-length story here.

PA Sec of State Gets Sued Again

Civil rights and voter rights advocates are suing Pennsylvania Secretary of State Pedro Cortez over the possibility of long lines at the polls on November 4th. The groups: Voter Action, the Pennsylvania NAACP and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, want to give more voters the option to use paper ballots when voting machines fail. Currently a precinct will switch to paper ballots when all of the voting machines at the site stop working. The coalition wants the state to mandate paper ballots when fifty percent or more of the voting machines break down. John Bonifaz with advocacy group Voter Action says the 100-percent threshold disenfranchises voters who don't have time to wait in long lines. Voter Action, the Pennsylvania NAACP and the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia filed the suit.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

DEP Tests Find Mon River Contaminated

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection yesterday found the Monongahela River to be contaminated with TDS, or Total Dissolved Solids. DEP officials say TDS is considered a "secondary contamination" and poses no imminent health risks to citizens who consume water drawn from the Mon. Though the water is not harmful, if may have a bad smell or a bad taste and the DEP is advising citizens to drink and cook with bottled water, instead.

Currently the DEP is investigating the source of the contamination. Acting Secretary John Hanger says water coming in from West Virginia already has high TDS levels. He says 40 percent of the problem is caused by brine discharge from oil and gas drilling, and sewer and water treatment plants. Acid mine drainage and the low water level in the Mon further exacerbates the situation. The DEP is now requiring that oil and gas drilling groups and water treatment plants reduce their amount of brine discharge by 90-95 percent.

Public Water suppliers affected by the contamination are: Pennsylvania-American Water Co., Aldrich Station and Brownsville Plant, Charleroi Municipal Authority, Belle Vernon Authority, Washinton Township Municipal Authority, Newell Municipal Authority, Tri-County Joint Municipal Authority, Southwestern Pennsylvania Water Authority, Carmichaels Municipal Authority, Masontown Water Works, East Dunkard Water Association, and the Dunkard Calley Joint Municipal Authority.

T-shirts in the Voting Booth Will Get Day in Court.

Commonwealth Court could weigh in next week on whether Pennsylvania voters should be allowed to wear campaign t-shirts while voting. Under state law, electioneering is prohibited inside a polling place - but policies on what constitute electioneering vary by county. Some allow buttons and stickers to be worn by voters while some allow nothing at all to pass through the doors while in other counties T-shirt and hats are fair game. In an attempt to clarify the apparel issue, the Department of State issued a memo last month recommending that buttons and T-shirts be permitted. Those recommendations prompted a lawsuit from two Allegheny poll workers who disagree. Department of State spokeswoman Rebecca Halton acknowledges that the upcoming court date of October 28th is very close to the election, but she says they are not worried about confusion on Election Day. The Pennsylvania ACLU petitioned the court to take part in the case but was rejected. A spokesman for that group says that poll workers should not be empowered to turn people away from the polls based on what they're wearing.

Tighter Assisted Living Controls Stalled

Ongoing debate over how to license assisted living facilities in Pennsylvania has forced the Department of Public Welfare to postpone new regulations for those sites. A law passed last year requires the state to license assisted living facilities, but disagreement among stakeholders has forced the Welfare Department to delay the implementation of the new rules until next year. Diane Menio, Director for the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly, says the current regulations lack important protections for residents from deceptive marketing practices. Menio says her group and the larger Pennsylvania Assisted Living Consumer Alliance would like to see the regulations require facilities to disclose information about services available and what they will cost before residents move in. Debate over how much room a person in a wheelchair needs to live comfortably has also become a stumbling block.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pittsburgh Home Sales May Buck Trend

National existing home sales numbers are to be released Friday and they are predicted to show a soft housing market. President of Pittsburgh based Howard Hanna Real Estate, Hoddy Hanna, says that is not the case in the Pittsburgh region. He says home sales remain strong with values running one percent above last year and inventories five percent below last year. That means homes, in general, are not languishing on the market as they are in other regions. Hanna says a recent report listed the Pittsburgh region as having a 99% chance of seeing rising home vales over the next two years. That compares to some cities with a 90% expectation for homes to lose values in the same time frame. Hanna says those numbers coupled with lower than national average unemployment rates fro southwestern PA should lead to stable home sales market for the remainder of the year. He calls the region “steady Eddie” because it did not see the huge run ups in price seen elsewhere and is not seeing the big drops reported in places like California.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Speaks in Pittsburgh

A Nobel Peace Prize recipient is speaking in Pittsburgh tonight about his recently-published memoir. Bernard Lown began his medical career as a highly-accomplished cardiologist; he invented the defibrillator. But after hearing a lecture on the dangers of nuclear war, he says he became convinced that it was a greater threat to humanity than sudden cardiac death.

Lown's memoir, "Prescription for Survival," documents his work against nuclear proliferation. He co-founded Physicians for Social Responsibility and International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which brought together scientists from the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Lown says he disagrees with people who think the U.S. won the Cold War; he says we lost because the investment in the nuclear arms race could have been spent on domestic needs.

Lown says the United States now spends $40 billion a year maintaining nuclear weapons that ideally would never be used. He believes that other countries are seeking nuclear weapons only because the United States already has them. Lown says if the United States got rid of its nuclear weapons, other countries would follow suit.

Lown is speaking at the Pittsburgh Athletic Association tonight at 7:30.

Allegheny County given new lifesaving devices

Thanks to the St. Margaret Foundation's PULSE program, nine new Automatic External Defibrillators (AEDs) have been donated to city and county departments. This boosts the number of public AEDs in Allegheny County to more than 1200. Since 2000, the public defibrillators have saved 60 lives. County Chief Executive Dan Onorato says having these tools is critical to the first minutes in saving a victim's life, despite the county having some of the best health facilities in the country. Six of the nine AEDs will be used by the Sheriff's Office. The others will go to the Pittsburgh EMS Department, the County Courthouse, and one still to be determined location.

There is research shown that survival rate is less than 5 percent from a sudden cardiac arrest event. However, if CPR and an AED are used, the survival rate increases to 60 percent or more.

Ballot Question on Shaky Ground

A proposal on the November ballot to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars for water and sewer facilities is proving to be a tough sell among Pennsylvania voters. Some advocates are concerned that folks worried about the economy will defeat the measure. Pennsylvania's water and sewage systems need to make $20 billion dollars worth of improvements over the next fifteen years to meet state and federal environmental standards. The referendum would authorize the state to float a $400 million dollar bond to help start the upgrades. Governor Ed Rendell acknowledges the current economic climate may discourage residents from voting yes but he says it's worth the money. He says, “If we sit around and do nothing but cut spending, you know, the budget in Harrisburg will be ok, but that's not going to create one job for the people of Pennsylvania." Some Republican lawmakers have opposed the measure from the beginning, saying the state should not take on any more debt.

McCain Visits Robert Morris

Senator John McCain rallied his supporters last night on the Robert Morris campus in Moon Township urging them to not give up the fight no mater what the polls say. In his speech McCain eluded to remarks made by Congressman John Murtha regarding racism in southwestern Pennsylvania, saying he could not disagree more. He boosted the crowd in the Sewell Center noting how Pennsylvanians love the constitution, love the country and love their families. McCain dismissed Sen. Barack Obama as being too inexperienced for the job and misguided on the situation in Iraq to take the roll of Commander-in-Chief.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Cortes says GOP Voter Fraud Claims are Bunk

Pennsylvania's top election official is refuting state Republican Party claims of voter registration fraud. Last week the Pennsylvania G-O-P filed a lawsuit against the state and community activist group ACORN over voter registration policies. But Secretary of State Pedro Cortes says charges leveled at the state are baseless and that he is "outraged" at the suit. He says, "The remedies that the plaintiffs are seeking are things that the department has already been doing for years.” He says the party's request that his department tell counties to check identification for first-time voters is also bogus because it is already required under state law. Cortes adds he is confidant Pennsylvania's election results will be accurate and fair.

Foundations Give $13 Million to Pittsburgh Promise

Two foundations are making their largest gifts ever in order to support the Pittsburgh Promise. The Pittsburgh Foundation is contributing $3 million right away, another $2 million over the next four years and an additional $5 million five years after that. The Buhl Foundation has committed to a $3 million dollar gift over the next 10 years.

Both foundations say the recent economic downturn did not affect the amount of their contributions, and that the money is being invested in a conservative money market fund for now. The foundations also say they made their gifts on the condition that the Pittsburgh Public School district meet certain goals in the future, including higher test scores.

The Pittsburgh Promise awards scholarships of up to $5,000 a year to help high school seniors go to college. The first scholarships were awarded last spring.

Voting Machines Accuracy Verfied, High Voter Turnout Projected

The Allegheny County Elections Division today announced the results of a random testing of its voting machines. Eighteen machines were selected and tested over the past five days, and all of them demonstrated the exact, true and unaltered version of the federally trusted build held in escrow by the Secretary of the Commonwealth. County Executive Dan Onorato says Allegheny County is the only county in the U.S. to take these measures. He expects other counties to follow the lead of Allegheny County to ensure the accuracy of their machines in coming years.

Meanwhile, Elections Manager Mark Wolosik projects a large turnout at the polls on November 4th. He estimates that about 75 percent of registered voters in Allegheny County--around 700,000 people--will come out to cast ballots. He says that there will not be any shortage of voting machines, but expects lines will be longer than usual. He suggests people try to come out in the middle of the day, rather than in the early morning or late evening to cast their vote to avoid long lines. Wolosik also recommends county residents verify their registration status with the Elections Division prior to election day to ensure they are properly registered. Voters can do so by calling or stopping by the Elections Division, or through the Division's web page.

Monday, October 20, 2008

City Budget Approved For 2009

The governmental agency tasked in overseeing the city's financial recovery has approved Pittsburgh's 2009 budget. The Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority has approved a budget that will focus on addressing the city's debt and legacy costs. City Finance Director Scott Kunka says after the financial sector meltdown left the future of the markets in question the Mayor revised the budget to send 5% of the city's reserve fund balance to paying down long term obligations. Chair of the ICA and President of the Pittsburgh Chamber of Commerce, Barbara McNeese says the Mayor is being proactive in controlling and managing the city's debt. The budget now goes to City Council for an up or down vote before Dec. 31st.

Deer Poaching enforcement

Deer poaching has been an ongoing issue in Pennsylvania, but the Pennsylvania Gaming Commission (PGC) hopes to further aid in the problem. PGC Press Secretary Jerry Feaser says residents play a big role in reporting incidents. Now there are commissioned officers located in areas that were previously vacant. They will also help enforce hunting laws.

To report a poaching incident, submit a tip by either calling toll-free 1-888-PGC-8001, or by going to . From the Web site, scroll down and select the "Turn in a Poacher" icon in the right-hand column, and then click on "'TIP' Reporting Form."

AAM kicks off tour in Pittsburgh

A two-week "Keep it Made in America" across Pennsylvania kicked off this morning with a rally in downtown Pittsburgh at the United Steelworkers Headquarters. The tour hopes to bring awareness about the importance of U.S. manufacturing jobs, particularly in the ailing U.S. economy. Alliance for American Manufacturing (AAM) Executive Director Scott Paul said the next president needs to make decisions to benefit the middle class, about relating topics like manufacturing jobs, trade policies and green jobs.

Friday, October 17, 2008

"Sleep In" Downtown Benefits Homeless

Some people will spend the night at the City-County Building to help bring attention to the problem of homelessness. The "Sleep In for the Homeless" is sponsored by the Community Human Services Corporation. Donations for the event are expected to help about a thousand homeless people in the form of emergency shelter, food and medical support.

State Senator Jane Orie is chairing the event. She says during the night, several people who overcame homelessness are expected to talk about their experiences and share poetry. Orie says many people have misconceptions about the homeless. She says especially in this tough economy, many people are trying to find jobs and just can't. She also says homelessness is a problem among veterans, young people and victims of domestic abuse.

Ravenstahl Meets With African American Chamber of Commerce

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl met with the African American Chamber of Commerce of Western Pennsylvania Friday morning to discuss the accomplishments of the last year as well as the goals he has for the upcoming year. He spoke about the balanced budget he will be presenting to the ICA on Monday as well as the many developments that have taken shape over the last year.

Ravenstahl added how the city will be instituting a new program to help lower the number of gun related deaths in the city as well as the revitalization efforts of many neighborhoods. He mentioned the CBA that was reached with the Hill district neighborhood and the G.C. Murphy building that has just started development. He said that Pittsburgh is positioned well for the next few years and will continue to see growth in many areas.

DCED Head Steps Down

Pennsylvania's top economic development official is departing the Rendell administration. Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary Dennis Yablonsky says he will step down from the post next week. He has been with the administration since Rendell took office in January 2003. Yablonsky says he is ready to move back into the private sector and he felt he was not able to do his government job while looking for a new position. Four other cabinet secretaries have departed in recent months, as Governor Rendell heads into his last two years in office. Current deputy department secretary John Blake will fill Yablonsky's post on an interim basis.

Knoll in Johns Hopkins

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Catherine Baker Knoll was admitted to a Johns Hopkins hospital earlier this month for ongoing cancer treatment. In July the lieutenant governor announced she had been diagnosed neuroendocrine cancer - and said at that time she was receiving chemotherapy and radiation treatments. As President of the Senate, Knoll presided over the chamber at opening of the fall session, but Senate Pro Tem Joe Scarnati has managed the body ever since. Governor Ed Rendell says Knoll is in the best place to receive her "intensive" treatment. Rendell called Knoll a fighter.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Michelle Obama Rallies in Pittsburgh

Michele Obama rallied Pittsburgh voters today on her husband’s behalf using the theme “Barack gets it.” She says he has been there and experienced the troubles so many Americans are facing daily. Mrs. Obama urged those gathered in Soldiers and Sailors hall in Oakland to get out to the polling place and to bring a friend. She says with 19 days to go before the vote this is no time to let up the pressure. She told the full house stuffed with mostly college students that they need to act like Obama is down 20 points in the polls. She says the old ways of working in Washington are not working and a new approach is needed. She says she is proud of her husband for his campaign efforts and knows he will make a great president.

Authority Ends Free Holiday Parking

The Pittsburgh Parking Authority says it will not offer free parking during the holidays this year and that has some concerned. For the past several years the Authority has been offering free weekend parking during the holidays and free parking the day after Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day but officials say the authority can no longer afford that. Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership CEO Mike Edwards says that is upsetting. He says while there is no way to measure the impact the $5 weekend parking fee has on downtown shopping and dining everything indicates it does play a roller in consumer decisions. Edwards says the PDP will try to make the fee seem less offensive by encouraging people to do more than just one thing when traveling downtown such as shopping before taking in some entertainment and then topping the day off with a meal.

Graduation Exams Back in the Spotlight

Pennsylvania's Department of Education continues to pursue the development of graduation exams, over the objections of some state lawmakers. State Senator Jane Orie of McCandless says legislation passed over the summer put a one-year moratorium on the department's efforts to make the exams a requirement for high school seniors. She also says at a time the state is at risk of a $3 billion deficit this fiscal year, the department should be looking at areas to cut rather than pursuing new initiatives. Orie says she's heard that the model exams the department wants to develop would cost at minimum $9 million.

Michael Race with the Department of Education says the one-year moratorium applies only to the regulatory process. The department is still developing cirriculum and assessment models that school districts could use voluntarily. Today was the deadline for companies to bid to help with that project. In response to Orie's fiscal concerns, Race says Governor Ed Rendell has already ordered departments to freeze their budgets and look for potential cuts. It's unclear whether the graduation exam project will be part of those cuts. He also says the state needs to weigh the potential fiscal impact of graduating students who are unprepared to join the workforce.

CMU Gets EPA Cash

The EPA has pledged $900-thousand to the Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center at CMU to perfect a computer tool and launch community training in how to best reuse brownfields. The funds will be dolled out over 5 years. The tool looks at community needs, assets and opportunities and helps determine the best use for a given brownfield. The training will help officials in 150 communities in the Mid Atlantic region use that tool. The grant is one of 10 similar grants nationwide. EPA Mid Atlantic Region Director Don Walsh says upfront investment in brownfields is a good use of federal monies because they usually attract much more in private investment. Walsh says the EPA has invested 52 million in brownfield projects in the region and that has prompted private investments of 523 million dollars. He says Pittsburgh has long been a hot bed of brownfield redevelopment and has often served as a national model so it made sense for one of the grants to come to Southwestern PA.

Schenley Fountain Flowing Again

The restoration of the fountain at Schenley Park is complete. The Pittsburgh Parks Conservancy will rededicate the fountain tonight. One thing park visitors will notice immediately is that the fountain is actually flowing again; it had stopped working earlier this year. Missing pieces have been replaced, and the entire fountain has been cleaned. New lighting illuminates the fountain at night. The paving surrounding the fountain has been narrowed and realigned to allow for better stormwater drainage and more direct pedestrian connections.

The fountain was originally dedicated about 90 years ago. It's titled "A Song to Nature" and was created by Victor Brenner in honor of Mary E. Schenley, who donated the land for the park.

The restoration work cost about half a million dollars.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Internet Safety for Children

With the internet being such a vast tool today, it's easy for kids to get into mischief there-- whether they know it or not. Attorney General Tom Corbett's office presented an internet safety program at the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh that over 100 local school children attended. Child Watch of Pittsburgh Executive Director Amy Raslevich said the attorney general listed three ways for kids to be safe, including: not posting information like a full name and address with pictures, staying away from profiling Web sites such as and chatrooms, and telling a parent or adult if they find something that looks suspicious.

Parents can also help by closely monitoring their children when they use the internet and tell them what is appropriate and what isn't.

World Leadership Conference in Pittsburgh

The International Women's Forum (IWF) is holding its annual World Leadership Conference in Pittsburgh. Leaders from more than 60 different countries are meeting to talk about sustainable cities and how to attain them. Attendees will pay careful attention to Masdar City in the United Arab Emirates, which is being built to be the world's first "zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city."

IWF President Esther Silver-Parker says the conferences are always focused on developing more women leaders, and on how women can become involved in worldly situations.

They have previously met in places like Seattle and Buenos Aires, Argentina. They plan to meet in Hong Kong in the spring.

Michelle Obama coming to Pittsburgh

The Wife of Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama will rally voters in Oakland Thursday. Michelle Obama will host a “Change We Need” rally at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial. Doors open at 10:30. The campaign says the event is free and open to the public but reservations are recommended. Michelle Obama is expected to talk about, “The issues at stake in this year’s election” and “The challenges of everyday Americans.”

BNY Mellon Gets Contract to Administer Bailout Funds

BNY Mellon will not be making any decisions on how the funds will be spent and invested but it will hold all of the cash, assets and securities for the Treasury Department. The company will eventually run the auctions for the assets. BNY Mellon was one of 70 financial institutions to submit a bid to manage the fund. The three-year contract to administer the funds can be renewed on a year-by-year basis each of the 4 years following the initial contract. Also announced yesterday was the investment of $3Billion of the $700 Billion bailout fund in BNY Mellon preferred stock. It was one of 9 banks the feds invested in Tuesday. None were deemed to be in distress. BNY Mellon spokesperson Ron Gruendl says the purchase of the stock will not have any impact on the management of the company and it will also not dilute the dividends that will be announced Thursday. Gruendl says it is unclear how the contract will impact the Pittsburgh workforce.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Taxpayer Assistance Forum Tomorrow

A forum tomorrow is aimed at helping Allegheny County residents who are having trouble paying their real estate taxes or mortgages. The county's Treasurer, Controller and Sheriff will all attend. Controller Mark Patrick Flaherty says they want to hear suggestions about what the county can do to help residents who are having problems with taxes or foreclosures. So far, the county has delayed its annual filing of real estate tax liens. Normally, they're filed in August. A new date has not been set. A Taxpayer Task Force is also studying ways the county can help taxpayers.

The forum will be held in the Allegheny County Courthouse's Gold Room tomorrow from 5 to 7 pm.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Peduto Reflects on Norway Trip

Pittsburgh Councilman Bill Peduto recently returned from a month-long visit to Norway. He says he learned a lot about alternative energy and believes some of what that country is doing may hold promise in Pittsburgh.

Peduto says Norway is already planning for shifting its energy portfolio once the country's supply of oil and natural gas is depleted. That's expected to happen in about 40 years. He says he met with scientists who are working on floating wind turbines that will be positioned in the north Atlantic Ocean, where oil rigs are now. He also says Norway no longer puts its garbage in landfills. The garbage is incinerated and used as a form of energy to supply electricity and heat.

Since his return, Peduto says he's met with State Representative Joe Preston about a project he tried to pursue years ago: using the Highland Park reservoir as a potential energy source.

Bureau of Building Inspection makes changes

Pittsburgh's Bureau of Building Inspection (BBI) has a new chief and will be undergoing many changes starting in January. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said he wants the BBI to be more effective in what they do in order to better serve the community. Ravenstahl named Sergei Matveiev as the new chief of the bureau. There will be changes in code inspection. It will be an integrated process. Also, inspectors will be provided with much-needed tools, including handheld computers and bureau-provided vehicles. New inspectors will take proper training classes, and older inspectors can also take classes to be better trained in what they do. The costs to provide all of this is expected to exceed $1 million, but Ravenstahl believes "it's a worthwhile investment."

Pittsburgh Lawyer Challenges City Limits On Gun Sales

A Pittsburgh Lawyer is challenging a city statute that prohibits the selling of guns throughout most parts of the city. The statute sets zones where guns can and cannot be sold. Attorney Peter Georgiades is claiming the amendment to the statute in question is illegal because state and federal guidelines overrule the city's decision making power. The zoning board is currently debating whether or not to approve the request by Georgiades. Georgiades obtains the weapons by seizures of property in cases where a debtor owes him or one of his clients money. To sell a firearm one must have a federal licence to do so. Georgiades applied for a licence from the ATF and was denied because of the city's zoning code. He says he plans to appeal this case as much as he has to in order for him to be allowed to sell firearms.

Biomass and Garbage Take Center Stage in Pittsburgh

The second “International Energy from Biomass and Waste Exposition and Conference” kicks off in Pittsburgh Tuesday. The event features sessions on everything from the latest energy technologies and government policies to finance and investment strategies. The event also includes an expo floor with exhibitors ranging from bio mass producers to fuel and chemical makers. There is also a workforce development and youth forum aimed at linking businesses with employees. Conference co-organizer Nathaniel Doyno says Pennsylvania is one of the nation’s largest producers of biomass, one of the nation’s largest importers of garbage and one of the nation’s largest users of energy so the information that will be discussed this week is key to the future of the region. He says while investments in new ventures may be slowing thanks to tight financial markets he thinks safe investment like garbage-to-energy projects will continue to attract money. More than 1-thousand delegates are expected and more than 70 businesses and organizations will have booths at the expo.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Herpes Research May Lead to Vaccine

University of Pittsburgh researchers say their recent findings about herpes may lead them closer to a vaccine. Their new study in the journal Science finds that the immune system plays an important role in keeping the virus "asleep" in the body. By identifying the specific types of cells responsible for controlling the virus, researchers say they can now work on boosting those cells to help prevent outbreaks.

Study co-author Kip Kinchington says this is a different approach than in past research, which focused on antibodies or on ways to prevent people from becoming infected.

Nine out of 10 people carry herpes simplex virus type one. Symptoms in most cases are minor, but about 250,000 people in the United States annually experience eye problems that can lead to blindness. The Pitt study was funded partly by the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh 250 Festival of Lights

The Pittsburgh 250 Festival of Lights kicks off tonight at 8:30 with building facades downtown transformed into works of art by international designers and a free concert from 6 to 9 in Katz Plaza by Etta Cox and her band. Then every night through November 20th, the lights will be on from dusk to midnight.

On Wednesday, October 15th, the celebration extends to Oakland and Pitt's Cathedral of Learning, with several days of free performances by Squonk Opera in Schenley Plaza.
Festival director Marguerite Jarrett Marks says the investment pays off for the city and the region as visitors frequent shops, theaters and shows.

Festival details are at

Mayor Ravenstahl Meets With President Of The Slovak Republic

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl met today with Ivan Gasparovic, President of the Slovak Republic. The President was hosted by U.S. Steel, which does business in Slovakia. They met to discuss the Visa waiver program that would enable trade between Slovakia and the U.S. to move faster. U.S. Steel officials cited an instance where it took 3 months before they could ship their products back to the U.S.

Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts

The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts opens Tonight. DUQ's Mark Nootbaar had a chance to talk to the curator Paul Organisak. Listen to the full-length story here.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

New Leadership for Reorganized Episcopal Diocese

The Episcopal Church USA has recognized new leadership for a reorganized Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese. This comes after a vote Saturday by some clergy and laity to secede from the national church and align with the more conservative Southern Cone of the Anglican Communion. The clergy voted 121 to 33 and lay leaders voted 119 to 69 to split from the U.S. Church. Robert Duncan served as Bishop of the Pittsburgh Episcopal Diocese for 11 years before he was deposed last month by the Council of Bishops of the Episcopal Church USA. He now becomes the Episcopal Commissary from the Southern Cone to Pittsburgh. Bishop Duncan led the secession movement following the ordination of an openly gay bishop in New Hampshire.
Following the vote to secede, at least 20 parishes voted to remain with the U.S. Church. Today the national leadership recognized a Standing Committee to serve as the ecclesiastical authority of the reorganized Pittsburgh Diocese in the absence of a bishop. The Reverend Doctor James Simons, rector of St Michael's of the Valley, chairs that committee. Reverend Doctor Simons told DUQ News that the first task is pastoral...reaching out to those parishes and members who are in pain because of the split.
Simons says that they will hold a reorganization convention December 13 at which an interim bishop will be chosen to serve for a year or two until a selection committee is formed and conducts the process for electing a new bishop. Reverend Simons says he believes that sometime in the future there will be reconciliation in the Pittsburgh Diocese.

Mushroom Foray

On a recent Saturday in North Park amateur and expert mushroom hunters grabbed their baskets and fanned out for the Western Pennsylvania Mushroom Club's big annual foray-- to scour the woods, fields and trails for fungi. DUQ's Larkin Page-Jacobs tagged along.

Listen to the full-length story here.

DeWeese Fires Back at Former Chief of Staff

Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese says the testimony of a former aide implicating DeWeese in the so-called Bonusgate scandal is false.
Representative DeWeese called an impromptu press conference in a hallway outside the House of Representatives to dispute the comments of his former chief of staff.
Mike Manzo testified at a preliminary hearing for 2 people indicted in connection with alleged illegal bonuses paid to state employees for doing campaign work. Manzo testified that DeWeese knew about bonuses given to state staffers and condoned them.
DeWeese called Manzo a desperate and disgruntled former employee.

"Mike Manzo's speculation that I knew about his criminal acts is absolutely false and there is no evidence to support his opinion."

DeWeese says he has fully cooperated with authorities, and Manzo is retaliating against him for being fired last year.

"He has lied to his wife, to his girlfriend, to investigators and to me. His motives are suspect and his opinions are just not credible."

The grand jury presentment handed down in August charged that Manzo gave an alleged girlfriend in Pittsburgh a ghost job.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek would not comment on whether DeWeese will be indicted. He only said the investigation is continuing.

Ford Cleared By Ethics Commission

The former head of the Pittsburgh Urban Redevelopment Authority has been cleared by the State Ethics Commission. In a letter dated September 25, the Commission said that the theater sound system that Ford received from an executive at Lamar Advertising did not meet the $250 threshold and therefore did not need to be reported. The panel said the gift was valued at $215. Ford took a paid leave of absence for 4 months following the disclosure of the gift and information that he helped Lamar get a permit for a digital billboard in downtown Pittsburgh bypassing the usual hearing and voting process. Lamar later agreed to resubmit its application for a permit. Ford resigned his post in August after the U-R-A agreed pay him $90,000 in salary and benefits for the final 4 months of his $117,000 a year contract. Ford's attorney Lawrence Fisher says the Commission's decision validates his client's ethical integrity.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Bonusgate Takes Big Turn in Court

A former aide to state House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese today testified in court that his boss knew bonuses were given to state workers as rewards for illegal campaign work - and that he “condoned” them. Until now, former DeWeese chief of staff Mike Manzo was one of the most important defendants charged with corruption, theft and criminal conspiracy in the bonus case. His testimony in the preliminary hearing for former caucus staffer Annamarie Perretta-Rosepink was a real surprise in the courtroom. State Senior Deputy Attorney General Anthony Krastek says Manzo agreed to a plea bargain right before the hearing. He says the state made no promises of leniency in return for his testimony. Manzo's lawyer told reporters he would plead guilty to at least three felony charges brought against him. The attorney general has not charged Majority Leader DeWeese. Attorney General Corbett says his investigation continues in to both republican and Democratic activities. No additional charges will be filed until after the November election.

October Is Parental Involvement Month In Pennsylvania

October is parental involvement month in Pennsylvania. Parental Involvement is important for the development of a child and their success in school. Families can start involvement as soon as a child is born and encourage education by supporting homework time, being involved at a child's school, either in a PTA organization or just by being aware of what is going on at the child's school or school district. Studies show that the more involved the parent the better the chances for success a child will have in their education.

Wagner Calls for Contraceptives to be Covered

State Representatives Lisa Bennington and Chelsa Wagner, both Democrats from Allegheny County, haves introduced legislation that would force all health plans in the state that include prescription drug benefits to cover contraceptives. She says it is a matter of empowering women and it should be seen as a public health issue. She says people also need to realize that contraceptives have uses beyond preventing pregnancy including treatment for acne and sever bleeding and cramping. Wagner admits that the measure was introduced late in the session and has little chance of passing but she says it will serve as an introduction to some members of the house and she plans to reintroduce it in January. Several other states have similar legislation.

PA Teacher of the Year announced

Rebecca Snyder, a language arts teacher at Greater Latrobe, said she was stunned when she found out. She uses a unique teaching method in the classroom, that involves hands-on activities to grasp abstract concepts to her students. She tries to "turn the light bulb on for her students." She said she also has a passion to teach, and comes to school giving all her effort, everyday.

Snyder will also compete in the national teacher of the year program. The national winner will be announced in April.

Rea Questions new Redevelopment Authority Board

Allegheny county council member Jan Rea says she is concerned that a board overseeing the spending of more than $6-million a year has very little accountability. She says the “Allegheny County Economic Development, Community Infrastructure and Tourism Board” will be appointed by the Redevelopment Authority of Allegheny County and will dole out $6.6 million a year in gaming money. She says she is not sure why there needs to be any new board created at all but if there has to be, the members should at least have to be approved by the County Council. Rea has scheduled a public hearing on the creation and operation of the board Thursday at 5:00pm in the Gold room of the County Courthouse.

Market Square Place To Have Groundbreaking Ceremony

Market Square Place will be see its groundbreaking today take place inside as a result of bad weather, but Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Executive Dan Onorato will still be kicking of the ceremony inside what will become a mixed commercial and residential building. Market Square Place will have 60,000 square feet of retail space and 50 loft-style apartments to promote downtown living. There will be free food and drinks for those who attend as well as a free concert by a disco themed band.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Onorato Presents Proposed 2009 Plan to County Council

Allegheny County Chief Executive tonight presented his 2009 Comprehensive Fiscal Plan before Allegheny County Council. His plan once again refrains from raising property taxes and proposes a decrease in the drink and car rental tax from a 10 percent tax on poured alcoholic beverages to 7 percent. Onorato says excess revenue from the drink tax, which has already raised more than the $32 million that was needed to subsidize the Port Authority, will go towards outstanding debts on the county's roads and bridges. The overall proposed operating budget is $762.7 million and the proposed capital budget is $63.4 million. Onorato also stressed that in 2009 he will continue to follow the steps towards consolidation of the governments of Allegheny County with the City of Pittsburgh. He says the county will also pursue potential extraction of natural gas from Marcellus Shale located on the 10,000 acres of county land at the airport and in other areas. If approved, the budget will reflect the eighth consecutive year Allegheny County has not raised property taxes.

Family House Grows

Family House has inked a long-term deal with the University of Pittsburgh to rent out the top 4 floors of the old University Club to use as a new “house.” The charity hopes to have the 45-bed facility open by the spring of 2009. Currently Family House has 115 beds in three facilities in Pittsburgh and its executive director Christie Knott says they have to turn away 30 families every night. Any patient and their family traveling more than 60 miles to Pittsburgh to get treatment for a life threatening illness can rent a room. The rooms range from $40-$60 compared to a $120 hotel room. Knott says she knows many families wind up sleeping in hospital waiting rooms or their cars because they cannot afford a hotel. She says the average client stays in the Family House for 6 to 7 nights but transplant patients often need stays of 3 to 6 months. Each of the houses include common areas and cooking facilities where Knott says many families find the support they need from others in similar situations.

Average Pension Fund Tumbles

BNY Mellon Pension Services says the average corporate pension plan saw assets tumble last month 6.7%. That is more than the first 8 months of the year combined (4.3%). Pension Services Executive Director Peter Austin says the bright side is that funding ratios dropped only .3% because corporate bond yields jumped in September. He says once the markets calm down the yields will fall and that will cause funding ratios to climb. He says corporations will have to make adjustments not only to their current investments but also to the way the funds are managed. He says managers have learned in the least few months that they need to have a new appreciation for the risk and volatility in pension investments. He says these types of movements have never been seen before and managers will have to learn to be more proactive to dampen that volatility.

State Senator Speaks out against Domestic Violence

State Senator Jane Orie, Majority Whip and a Republican from Erie County, today spoke about domestic abuse under the Rotunda of the Main Capitol Building in Harrisburg. The news conference kicked off October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Pennsylvania. Orie, who authored the "Domestic Violence Health Care Response Act," says law enforcement and health care need to work together to combat domestic violence. She says through close collaboration between the two, Pennsylvania can lower its number of domestic violence victims. Since 2007 domestic violence has resulted in over 100 deaths, with more than 13 of them children.

ACLU Files Suit Against County's Sex Offender Laws

The ACLU of Pennsylvania and the PA Institutional Law Project filed a lawsuit Monday challenging Allegheny County’s law that limits where convicted sex offenders can live. The suit asks that the county’s law be thrown out in favor of state laws. The county limits sex offends from living within 2,500 feet of places where children gather including schools, day care facilities and parks. ACLU Legal Director Vic Walczak says that only leaves forested hilltops and a few high-income areas. The county was to have printed a map of acceptable areas 6 months ago. The lawsuit was filed in federal court on behalf of six sex offenders. Five are already living in the county and one is still in prison because he cannot find a place to live. Walczak says the laws prevent sex offenders from returning to society as productive citizens by separating them from their support networks. He says it also forces some to either be homeless or to not properly register their residence.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Catholic Parishes To Close in Greensburg

The Catholic Diocese of Greensburg says it's closing some parishes due to a drop in its number of priests and parishioners. The diocese will close 14 parishes later this month. Two others will merge and 26 will form new or modify existing priest-sharing agreements. The diocese provides a list of affected parishes on its website.

Diocese spokesman Jerry Zufelt says the decision came after a lengthy strategic planning process. He says most of the parishes that will close are small, and are located just a few miles from other parishes.

Zufelt also says the diocese has been working on recruiting more priests. The diocese currently has 83 active priests, but expects to have only 49 a decade from now.

The diocese covers Westmoreland, Fayette, Armstrong and Indiana counties.

New Call for Citywide Wireless Service

Pittsburgh should continue to pursue a citywide wireless network, says Councilman Bill Peduto. He's called for a special hearing on a potential WiMAX network. He says it holds greater potential than WiFi technology for expanding wireless service to other neighborhoods. The city already has a WiFi network that covers downtown and parts of the North Shore and lower Hill District.

Peduto says the WiMAX network would have to be run by a private company, since the city's current financial situation would not allow any kind of major public investment. But the city would play a role by granting a private company rights of way needed for the network and by establishing guidelines for the service's operation. For instance, Peduto says any wireless service should still allow users at least two hours of free access per day.

Baltimore recently rolled out a WiMAX system, and Peduto says others are in place in cities outside North America. He says companies like Sprint have invested billions of dollars in the technology, indicating there's private interest in creating these types of systems.

Peduto says the special hearing will likely take place in November. He would like to see the WiMAX network built by the end of next year.

Flu Shot Clinic Opens This Month

Flu season is quickly approaching. Allegheny County Health Department spokesperson Guillermo Cole says vaccinations are plentiful. Approximately 150 million doses will be available nationally this season.

The vaccination is highly recommended for people over 50, pregnant women, people with high-risk medical conditions, health care workers and all children from the ages of six months to 18 years. Cole says children are receiving a high priority this year because they are two to three times more likely to get the flu than adults are. (Last year children ages six months to four years old were given a high priority for the vaccination, along with older children with medical conditions.) Although it is not likely for children to have serious complications from the flu, they could pass on the flu to people who may develop such complications.

Cole says the county walk-in clinic will open Monday, October 20th at its office on 3441 Forbes Avenue in Oakland, and will be open throughout the winter. Clinic hours are from 9am to 3pm on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, and from 9am to 7pm on Wednesdays. The shots will cost $25 per patient. Patient who have the Medicare Part B plan will not have to pay an out-of-pocket fee. Cole says the inhalation vaccine (a nasal spray) for people ages two to 49 with no serious medical conditions will be available for $10, but those vaccinations are limited.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Children's Hospital Receives Safety Award

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh has received the Top Hospital Award from the Leap Frog group. The award goes to hospitals that demonstrate excellent patient safety records and who meet four critical guidelines that include the implementation of a computer program that monitors and ensures patient medications won't cause adverse reactions because of past medical history, allergies or multi medication reactions. The hospital was only one of seven chosen nationwide and was selected out of a pool of over 1,220 hospitals.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tech Council Goes for a Ride

The Pittsburgh Technology Council is taking advantage of the Pittsburgh 250 Legacy Ride to promote the livability of the region to outsiders and to promote the depth of the technology Pittsburgh sector to the world. The Council has sent Jonathan Kersting on the Washington to Pittsburgh ride as a way to highlight one of the amenities of the region that might help to attract new companies and young workers. At the same time he is carting a slew of products from local tech companies in an effort to show their usability in the real world. Kersting is blogging about his trip. While on the trail he is also meeting with members of the media to show off the products and talk about the region’s tech sector. The ride ends Saturday in Point State Park.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Childrens Hospital Works To Stop Sudden Infant Deaths

In Allegheny County sudden unexplained infant death is the leading cause of death among infants, with African American families losing two thirds more infants than white families. Many of the causes of infant deaths are because of a lack of education on proper sleeping habits for infants. A baby must be placed on its back and have no pillows or stuffed animals in the crib with them. Also, infants should not sleep with their parents because of the risk of being smothered by the adult. Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh along with the Allegheny County Health Department have teamed up in October to try and educate families on how to properly put to sleep an infant.

Grant Available For Low Income Families Who Struggle To Pay Utilities

The Dollar Energy Fund will start providing assistance to low income families who need help paying their utility bills on Wednesday, October 1st. The maximum amount of money available to a family in a single grant is $500 per utility so a family can receive up to $1,500 to pay for gas, electric, and water bills. Dollar Energy funds the grant program through a dollar for dollar match with participating utility companies. To qualify a family must be low income and in danger of losing their utility service or be without service.

Richard Louv Interview

Since the 2005 publication of "Last Child in the Woods", more research has come out about the important role of nature in child development. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed the "No Child Left Inside Act". DUQ's Charlee Song talked with author Richard Louv when he was in Pittsburgh last week to address the International Urban Parks Conference.

Listen to the full-length story here.

Medicare's new policy takes effect

Medicare has stopped paying for treatment for hospital-acquired infections, taking effect today. The new policy is estimated to result in a $20 million savings for Medicare over the next year, according to Karen Folk Feinstein, CEO of the Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative. She added that Medicare spent approximately $20 billion on such avoidable infections in 2007. Feinstein says it is the beginning of a new era, with commercial insurers and Medicaid offices in some states following suit. Medicare's goal is to improve patient care because hospitals are no longer getting paid for preventable conditions such as bed sores or urinary tract infections.

Pittsburgh increases cycling rank

In the annual American Community Survey, Pittsburgh ranked in the 11th cities in the country in 2007 for the percentage of city residents that commute by bike. The percentage went up from .8 percent in 2006 to 1.1 percent in 2007.

Scott Bricker, Executive Director of Bike Pittsburgh, thinks there are many reasons why more locals have been commuting by bike. These reasons include saving in gas money, being healthier and more green conscious, and easy commuting through Pittsburgh's dense neighborhoods. Bricker adds that bikes are also very stylish. "Bikes are the new black," he says.

Bricker says with Mayor Ravenstahl's biking initiatives to create more biking lanes and to place bike racks in the city will also bring increase rates in the future. With the mayor's initiatives and more investments, Bricker hopes for Pittsburgh to be a Top 5 biking city in the future.

According to the same survey, Pittsburgh remained in second place next to Boston with 12 percent of locals commuting by foot. Walking commuters also include people who use transit, because they technically walk for parts of their commute.

Audio Taping on School Buses Debated

Under current Pennsylvania wire tap laws you are able to videotape individuals but are not able to audio tape them without their consent. Exceptions have been made for police stops. The law says the prohibition on taping does not extend to locations where people do not have an expectation of privacy. There has been a debate for the last decade over weather that extends to school buses. District attorneys across the state have been weighing in on their level of willingness to file criminal complaints. Some say they will prosecute and others say they will not. However that does not speak to any civil suits that could be filed. State Rep Don Walko has introduced legislation in the house that would place a stipulation in the law that would allow for the use of audiotape along with videotape in school buses. However before it can be installed the school board must first give its approval, notify parents and students and post clear warnings on the bus. One operator testifying asked that his “hands be untied.” The state police say such a unifying law would also help their enforcement efforts. Walko says he has spoken to the ACLU and heard no objections.

Coal Conference Underway in Pittsburgh

The 25 annual International Pittsburgh Coal Conference kicked off Tuesday morning by focusing on coal’s potential impact on a looming power crisis, energy independence and greener energy. Carbon sequestration was the buzzword for many of the conference speakers. The department of energy has identified enough CO2 storage capacity in the US to hold 3 and a half trillion tons and Eastman Chemicals Vice President Gregory Nelson says their project using sequestration is helping lower demand for imported energy but eliminating the need for 10-20 million gallons of imported oil every year.
Other speakers noted technologies that reduce carbon emissions from coal-fired plants by more than 90-percent are available today but opposition to new coal fired plants is stronger than ever before. Others opined that wind, solar and other renewable sources cannot be brought on line fast enough to cover the nation’s growing demand. The conference continues through Thursday.

Ravenstahl Shines Light on Contracts

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has created the “Pittsburgh Contracting Best Practices Commission” with the charge tat it study the city’s contract and bidding system. The Mayor has filled it with not only members of the administration and city council but also executives from the private sector. He says it is important to have that third party prospective. Ravenstahl says this is not a result of the recent controversy involving contracts let by the urban redevelopment authority but he wants to make sure questions brought up then are not brought up again. Ravenstahl says he will implement all the recommendations from the commission even if it includes campaign donation disclosure rules similar to the ones that prompted him to veto a council bill earlier this year. Ravenstahl has already signed an executive order requiring a justification form to be filed out every time a contract is awarded and that the forms be posted on the Internet. The commission is expected to meet in the next 30 days and issues a report within 6 months. Ravenstahl says he hopes the commission will also look at ways to open the contract process to more new bidders including companies owned by minorities and women.