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Mayor Ed Gainey announced nominees to lead planning and economic development

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: WESA transportation and development reporter Margaret J. Krauss explains what we know so far about Mayor Ed Gainey’s latest picks to lead city departments, and what we can learn about his approach to development; the Port of Pittsburgh Commission’s executive director Mary Ann Bucci tells us what impact the roughly $860 million will have on the Montgomery Locks; and, for our Good Question, Kid! Series, we ask a physicist if it’s possible for a meteor to be struck by lightning.

Mayor Ed Gainey selects leaders for planning and economic development roles
(0:00 - 6:53)

Earlier this week, Mayor Ed Gainey made public his picks to lead his administration in areas of city planning and economic development.

Gainey nominated Karen Abrams to become the director of the Department of City Planning and Heidi Norman to become the permanent director of the Department of Innovation and Performance. Norman had been serving the department as acting director before this nomination.

Both Norman and Abrams will need to be confirmed by City Council.

Andrew Dash, the former head of the Department of City Planning, will stay with the department as deputy director.

“He helped to create inclusionary zoning, which was like a long time coming from the city, it was recommended early on in 2016 or 2017, which basically uses market forces to help create affordable housing,” says WESA’s development and transportation reporter, Margaret J. Krauss.

Gainey also appointed Kyle Chintalapalli as Chief Economic Development Officer. Chintalapalli previously worked with former Mayor Bill Peduto’s administration, before working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

In addition to these selections, Gainey also spent Tuesday night at a neighborhood meeting hosted by the Oakland Planning and Development Corporation to discuss the controversial Oakland Crossings proposal. Gainey had put a 30 day hold on the vote for the proposal.

“It was a very robust meeting,” says Krauss. While a number of attendees spoke in support of the proposal, others shared concerns. “There's still a lot of consternation about the long term effects in the neighborhood and kind of the sweeping change the project represents for Oakland.”

City Planning will host another meeting Wednesday regarding the Oakland Crossings proposal, and then the mayor’s office will have some discretion to bring a vote to approve the project.

Port of Pittsburgh secures funding for Montgomery Locks
(7:02 - 17:16)

Last week the Port of Pittsburgh announced it will receive about $860 million dollars to fund the Montgomery Locks along the Ohio River in Beaver County.

“So we will get a new 600-foot chamber that replaces the tiny 360-foot auxiliary chamber at the Montgomery Lock, so we’ll have a reliable lock,” says Mary Ann Bucci, Executive Director of the Port of Pittsburgh Commission.

The lock currently in service has been in use since 1936.

The funds are enough to complete construction at the Montgomery Lock, but Bucci says there’s more to be done for the Emsworth and Dashields Locks and Dams on the Ohio River.

“What people don’t understand is our rivers are navigable only because of the commercial traffic. We get our funding for the operation and maintenance, and our capital development projects based on the tonnage that we use on the river system,” says Bucci. She says all other attributes, like drinking water and hydropower, do not contribute to the Port of Pittsburgh Commission's funding.

Bucci says a reliable river system is also better for the environment.

“It checks a lot of boxes in terms of air quality, in terms of safety, in terms of carbon emissions,” says Bucci. “It is the cleanest, safest, most environmentally friendly mode of transportation, but you need reliable systems.”

Bucci says construction could start as soon as 2024.

Has lightning ever struck a meteor?
(17:23 - 22:30)

We’ve been asking families for questions, those very good questions that a kiddo in your life might have but leave you scratching your head.

Oliver, age five, has asked, “Has lightning ever struck a meteor?”

Diane Turnshek, a lecturer in the Physics Department at Carnegie Mellon University and outreach coordinator at Allegheny Observatory, explains that it’s highly unlikely lightning has ever struck a meteor.

“In a thunderstorm, the cumulonimbus clouds mostly have lightning that go from about one to two kilometers from the ground to 15 kilometers high. But meteors, on the other hand, mostly burn up in the atmosphere at about 80 to 130 kilometers above the ground,” says Turnshek. “So the two things are happening at different places in the atmosphere.”

If a kid in your life has a good question, you can fill out our form or send it to

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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