Planned Duquesne Light utility structure unpopular with East Park enthusiasts

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One way or another, the landscape of East Park in Allegheny Commons will change — either with the addition of a Duquesne Light utility structure or with a park renovation project by the Allegheny Commons Initiative, or with both.

Duquesne Light wants to put a utility structure inside East Park by a large manhole on the park’s lawn next to Cedar Foreland and Foreland Street. Its purpose is to circulate cooling oil through large transmission lines that run from substation to substation, said company spokesman Joseph Vallarian. 

He said the project was part of Duquesne Light’s efforts to upgrade its facilities and ensure smooth operations. Because these lines are underground, if one of them breaks, it would take a minimum of eight hours to fix, he said.

The Allegheny Commons Initiative, a group of community members dedicated to restoring Allegheny Commons to its original landscape, is currently in negotiations with the electric company over the type of structure to be built and its location.

Alida Baker, the Initiative’s project manager, said that the Initiative proposed that Duquesne Light build the structure along Union Avenue, about 100 feet from the currently proposed site.

“It would fit there because there are structures on that edge,” Baker said. “It wouldn’t be smack in the middle of the lawn overpowering the landscape.”

Vallarian said that the structure needed to go near the manhole, because the farther the cooling oil has to travel, the less effective it is.

“We don’t just arbitrarily go and say ‘Let’s put something there,’” Vallarian said. “There’s a reason it has to be where it is.”

The two groups also contest what type of structure Duquesne Light should build. The electric company proposed a public bathroom or a gateway arch into the park, Vallarian said. He added that the size of the structure would depend on the type.

“We don’t normally offer to build a bathroom for someone,” he said. “We’re going to build it. We have to put something there.”

Baker said that the scale of the project was the main problem, and said that the electric company had proposed a structure 28 feet long by nine feet high and nine feet wide. She said that the large size would pose a “public nuisance” by creating an eyesore and compromising the historic integrity of the park.

In addition, she said that the structure would invite graffiti and give passersby a place to hide in the already poorly-lit park, as well as obstruct the view of people passing through the park.

It would also interfere with the first phase of the Initiative’s $2.2 million park restoration plan, slated to start in early 2010 once the ground thaws.  Phase one includes all of East Park between East Ohio and Federal streets and Cedar and North avenues.

The first part will cost approximately $450,000 and will include reconstruction of a 50-foot fountain called the Northeast Fountain, which used to sit where the circular flowerbed in East Park currently sits. 

They will also install lighting, electric hook ups and water fountains where the Farmers Market is held to create an event space, as well as planting more trees and restoring the pathways.

“We’re continuing to look for a solution,” Baker said. “We hope Duquesne Light will compromise.”

Vallarian believes Duquesne Light already has: “Our offers have been more than what we normally do, and there still seems to be some dissent there.”
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