Tiny Wasps Used to Attack Ash-Destroying Beetle

Aug 22, 2011

The Emerald Ash Borer has destroyed or severely damaged more than 40 million ash trees in 15 states, including Pennsylvania. The beetle is native to China, but was first detected in 2002 in Michigan, and then was found in Pennsylvania four years ago. At least 12 counties in the commonwealth are infested with the pest. Past eradication efforts have not succeeded, so agriculture and forestry officials have been trying to contain the pest by placing quarantines on hardwoods.

The Eastern Hellbender is a salamander of many names:

"The snot otter's probably my favorite. Waterdogs is what a lot of people call them in the area. Allegheny Alligator is another one, I've heard that one as well," says Eric Chapman. Chapman works with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, the PPG Aquarium, and Purdue University to study eastern hellbender salamanders in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Hellbenders live in large streams and rivers. Chapman and his team have been conducting hellbender surveys in the Little Mahoning Creek Watershed since 2007.

Consol Energy announced this week that it's selling half of its interest in Marcellus Shale drilling in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to Houston-based Noble Energy for $3.4 billion. A local energy expert says that he expects such deals to continue. "The amount of available shale gas is so great that it's becoming beyond the ability of any company to develop its own acreage," said Kent Moors of the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Duquesne University.

The infant mortality rate rose by 7% in Pennsylvania since 2000 but the death rate among children ages 1 to 14 fell by 10%. Those are 2 of the 10 indicators examined in the 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book that tracks the well-being of children in each state and nationally.

Largest Phase of Route 28 Work Begins

Aug 18, 2011

The estimated 60,000 motorists who use Route 28 between Pittsburgh and Millvale on any given day will have some additional challenges starting August 22 as PennDOT begins the next phase of construction on that roadway. PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi says the $36.4 million phase is the largest of the overall project.

Raja Plan: Modernize County Government

Aug 18, 2011

The Republican candidate for Allegheny County Executive announced his plan to trim spending at the County Courthouse today.

D. Raja said cutting departmental spending and avoiding reliance on one-time revenues would give the County a more realistic budget. He said the current administration's "over-optimistic" revenue projections have caused the County to borrow money and sell off its assets.

Raja said he would rather save money by cross-training County workers to fill multiple roles and setting performance benchmarks for departments and employees.

Project Pop-Up Aims to Revitalize Downtown

Aug 17, 2011

In efforts to promote a more active retail environment downtown the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership are collaborating to distribute grants to individuals and organizations to create "pop-up" projects downtown.

The pop-up projects will inhabit yet-to-be determined storefronts, making them more attractive to potential lessees while improving the vibrancy of the city. Fifteen vacant spots will be transformed and grants ranging from $1,500 to $10,000 will be distributed.

A major Marcellus Shale drilling company is challenging an Allegheny County municipality's decision to restrict drilling. Last month officials in South Fayette Township approved an ordinance that requires drillers to obtain a land operations permit for each well, and it creates buffers around schools, hospitals and certain types of businesses.

Visitors at Phipps Conservatory might not be able to hear the jackhammers, welders, or dump trucks in the background as they wander through the Tropical Forest Conservancy. But just outside, behind a makeshift screen of reeds, contractors are hard at work on something of a first for Pittsburgh.

When Pittsburgh kids show up for school this year, they'll get a packet of information letting them know how they can take advantage of the Comcast Internet Essentials Program. The program will discount the cost of broadband internet services to $9.95 for children whose families qualify for the National Free School Lunch Program. They'll also qualify to get a laptop for $149.95 and for free digital literacy training for children and adults.

Girls In the Juvenile Justice System

Aug 15, 2011

Earlier this month, Allegheny County released their annual Juvenile Probation report. It didn't look very different from reports from years past. Overall the number of juvenile arrests has remained steady, or even decreased. But the number of girls who are coming in has steadily increased. And they're coming in for the kinds of crimes boys have more often come in for—crimes like aggravated assault.

It raises the question, are girls the new boys? Should they be treated as boys are?

Bicyclists Gear Up for BikeFest

Aug 12, 2011

Whether it's a bike tour of some of the city's historic cemeteries or a ride that focuses on the architecture of Pittsburgh's churches, or even discovering the variety of urban trees while on a bike, they're all part of the 7th Annual BikeFest that gets underway today.

Situated on the turnpike about 14 miles southeast of Somerset, the Allegheny Mountain Tunnel is 70 years old and deteriorating. It causes congestion, sometimes backing up traffic for miles. Now, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission wants to see what can be done to revitalize or bypass it.

Turnpike spokesman Carl DeFebo said his agency has hired an engineering contractor to study the cost and feasibility of three options.

Ten Indicted in $4 Million Cocaine Operation

Aug 11, 2011

U.S. Attorney David Hickton announced today his office has indicted ten people in a large cocaine trafficking operation in the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. Hickton said a coalition of several law enforcement agencies seized a tractor trailer containing $450,000 in cash and more than twenty kilograms of cocaine, worth about $4 million. He said the vehicle was found in Allegheny County's Plum Borough, on its way to Pittsburgh.

PA Dems: Pass Impact Fee ASAP

Aug 11, 2011

Democrats in the Pennsylvania Senate are renewing their calls for an impact fee on Marcellus Shale natural gas wells to be passed this fall.

Senator Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said he would support an impact fee measure that allows for job creation, but also helps to protect the environment from any negative effects of drilling.

City Drilling Ban Referendum Fails

Aug 10, 2011

A measure to ask Pittsburgh voters if Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling should be banned in the city seems to have finally failed.

The referendum bill was deemed invalid by the Allegheny County Law Department and County Elections Division, because it didn't make the August 9 deadline to add a question to the ballot this November.

Toomey Joins Federal Debt Panel

Aug 10, 2011

U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) will be part of the twelve-member panel charged with writing a plan to reduce federal debt by more than $1 trillion.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell named Toomey, a former investment banker, to the congressional super-panel today. Toomey, a freshman Republican, said he is "very honored" to serve on the committee when it meets this fall.

"We need to get our spending under control," said Toomey, "and we need to do it in a way that will maximize economic growth."

Jobs Rally Held Downtown

Aug 10, 2011

Activists from several local unions urged Congress today to pass a job creation measure when it returns from its August recess.

A rally outside Democratic Senator Bob Casey's Pittsburgh office drew about 20 people, toting signs that decried the conservative Tea Party movement and called for investment to create more jobs in Pennsylvania.

Steffi Domike of the United Steelworkers said her union wants the federal government to pass another stimulus package to create jobs.

Civic Leadership class graduates

Aug 10, 2011

For the last month and a half twenty-two Pittsburgh high school students have been spending their Wednesday nights learning how the city works. Tonight those students will become the first graduates from the Mayor's Youth Civic Leadership Academy.

"Many of them were really struck by how little they knew about what local government is and what it does," said the Pittsburgh Chief Service Officer Rebecca Kottler-Wein. "I think one of the really exciting parts for the departments was feeling like they had an opportunity to share with the students what types of jobs are available."

Body Mounted Cameras Coming to The People

Aug 10, 2011

Motion-capture technology, used for movies like Avatar or Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, will someday be available to the general public. People will be able to record motion capture and will be able to feel physical sensations as they watch movies or play video games.

Batman Filming to Close Streets Downtown

Aug 9, 2011

Crews filming the third movie of Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy have shot in Lawrenceville, Heinz Field, and other locations already, but they'll probably cause the most pressing traffic closures when they film Downtown from Tuesday night to Sunday.

Dawn Keezer of the Pittsburgh Film Office says several major routes, like Smithfield Street and Oliver Avenue, will close temporarily on various days during that time period. Sidewalks and curbsides will sometimes be off-limits as well.

Hill House Hires New CEO

Aug 9, 2011

The Board of the Hill House Association has named Cheryl Hall-Russell as the new President and CEO of the local human services organization.

Board Chairman Al Heiles said Hall-Russell brings a wealth of experience to her new post, having worked in social services for many years. She currently serves as CEO of the Indiana Youth Services Association in Indianapolis.

Hall-Russell will replace Victor Roque, who resigned in June. Heiles said Roque was brought on to navigate the Hill House through a short time period of special challenges, and his departure was expected.

City Drilling Ban Referendum Falters

Aug 9, 2011

Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl will abstain from signing a bill that calls for a voter referendum on banning Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.

But that's not stopping City Council from attempting to go through with the ballot question anyway.

The bill, passed by Council on August 1, will become law without the Mayor's signature after ten days. But August 9 is the last day a referendum can be added to the November ballot, so it seems that the measure has effectively failed to make it to this year's polls.

Hundreds picket Pittsburgh Verizon office

Aug 8, 2011

"We are going to be here one day longer than they are. It's personal," said CWA local 13500 member John Vignovic as he picketed outside of the Verizon office downtown Monday. He was joined by a few hundred other union members protesting the lack of a new contract with the company.

The latest contract expired at midnight Saturday. "Verizon hasn't budged an inch. They are not receptive. They are not listening to any of our requests. They are not answering any of our questions," said Vignovic.

There are dueling employment reports on Pennsylvania's manufacturing sector—one's outlook is positive, but the other's is a bit more sour.

Manufacturer's News, Inc. of Illinois reported this week that "industrial employment in Pennsylvania remained virtually unchanged" from June 2010 to June 2011. The news release said Pennsylvania bucked the national trend and lost fewer than 2,600 industrial jobs over that time, leaving a grand total of more than 800,000 jobs.

Large Natural Gas Plant Planned for WV

Aug 5, 2011

Natural gas suppliers who drill in the Marcellus Shale will be able to use a new processing facility by the start of 2013.

Dominion Resources has announced it will build a major natural gas processing facility in Natrium, in the panhandle of West Virginia. The $500 million project is slated for completion by the end of next year.

Dominion spokesman Dan Donovan said the plant will be the second of its kind for the energy company, more versatile than the sub-processing facilities currently used. It will be able to process 200 million cubic feet of natural gas every day.

Seven City Schools Could Close Next Year

Aug 4, 2011

Seven city schools would close starting in the 2012-2013 school year, under a cost-cutting plan announced today by Pittsburgh Public Schools.

Superintendent Linda Lane said Both Oliver and Langley High Schools would close under the proposal, which is meant to save the cash-strapped district at least $7 million each year.

The plan would also close five elementary and middle schools, including Fort Pitt, Murray, Northview, Schaeffer, and Stevens.

It's Saturday morning and Father Dan Walsh and his neighbor Jim McCue have joined the throngs of Pittsburghers who shop in the Strip District, a veritable Mecca of fresh foods. The men split up long grocery lists. "I'll get the fish and see you over there", says Walsh to McCue.

D. Raja Outlines Jobs Plan

Aug 4, 2011

The Republican candidate for Allegheny County Executive laid out his plan to grow jobs and keep jobs in the region Thursday. D. Raja, a businessman and former Mt. Lebanon Commissioner, ran through a Power Point presentation of his ideas at the Etcetera Edutainment headquarters in the Strip District.

Transit Plan Proposed for East End

Aug 3, 2011

Pittsburgh's East End has seen its share of redevelopment in recent years, and now the Department of City Planning hopes to map out a transportation plan to get people to and from those new sites.

City Planning officials are slated to talk with residents and organizations Thursday about what new transportation infrastructure the area needs, to decide if they should adopt a "Transit Revitalization Improvement District" for East Liberty.