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Environmental Group Sues Pittsburgh for Buncher Project

The environmental group Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture) has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority (PWSA), alleging the defendants aren't enforcing local and federal stormwater management laws at a new development site.

The suit claims the two government bodies are allowing the Buncher Company to go through with a redevelopment project in the Strip District even though the developer didn't initially submit a stormwater management plan. Now that a plan has been filed, PennFuture said it is inadequate.

PennFuture President George Jugovic said his group notified the city of its intent to sue in April, but Pittsburgh and PWSA officials haven't responded to the group's effort to reach an out-of-court settlement.

"Despite our notice, and despite submitting a comment letter advising the city why our experts believed there to be violations of law at the development project, the city moved forward with issuing consistency letters for the development project," said Jugovic.

The PennFuture president said the city seems to be shrugging off its legal obligations to speed up the Buncher development.

He wrote, "The law requires that the city and PWSA adopt and enforce a program that ensures that stormwater is managed in compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. The city's own ordinance requires that any publicly funded project use advanced green infrastructure practices… They cannot simply ignore these legal obligations."

Councilman Still Withholding Buncher Tax Incentive Package

Meanwhile, Pittsburgh Councilman Patrick Dowd continues what he calls a "pocket veto" of legislation that he said would amount to $50 million of public subsidy for Buncher.

Dowd said he would continue to prevent the bills from being introduced to Council until he gets more information on how Buncher intends to spend the public money.

"I was told yesterday by the director of the [Urban Redevelopment Authority] that if I didn't like it, then I could just drop the number of dollars — introduce the legislation, and reduce the number of dollars," said Dowd. "He then said, 'Look, well we don't know where all the money's going, because we don't have clear plans.' That, to me, indicates that this legislation is not ripe. If they don't need the money, then we shouldn't give the money."

However, Councilwoman Theresa Smith criticized Dowd for withholding the bills. At Tuesday's Council meeting, she told Dowd that he's preventing the issue from moving forward at all.

"If we decide that we're not getting the answers we want, as we have done in the past, we could vote this bill down. We could vote this [Tax Increment Financing District] down. We could hold it for weeks until we get the information, but you're not allowing the public process to take place by not allowing the public conversation to take place in these Council Chambers," said Smith.

The Councilwoman suggested that Dowd was playing politics to antagonize Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and influence the 2013 mayoral election. Dowd unsuccessfully ran for mayor against Ravenstahl in the 2009 Democratic primary.

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