Duquesne Light engineer Jim Boyle shows Deutschtown residents a map of two underground transmission lines that run beneath Allegheny Commons Park (Photo/Kelly Thomas).
Duquesne Light fell under heavy criticism at a community meeting on Feb. 16 for going ahead with its plan to build a crossover station in Historic Deutschtown without consulting the residents or community first.
Three representatives from Duqesne Light attended the East Allegheny Community Council meeting and explained their plan for a new building on Foreland Avenue that would house oil pipes and electronics and took questions from the audience.
More than 25 residents listened — many reacting strongly — to what Duquesne Light’s Manager of Legal and Environmental Services Jody Noble, Project Manager Jim Boyle and Manager of Major Construction John Jaskot had to say.
Foreland Avenue homeowners expressed rage at the prospect of having the structure in a residential area so close to their homes, and all agreed that it should go in Allegheny Commons Park as originally intended.
“We want it in the park!” one Foreland homeowner yelled.
“There’s not a property owner there that wants [the structure] to be there,” said another, in a slightly calmer voice.
On Jan. 27, the utility purchased the property at 728 Cedar Ave. for $135,000 from Alex Alexiades, owner of property on East Ohio Street and further up Cedar Avenue, and who many in the community consider a slum landlord. It used Soho Realty, LLC, to make the purchase. Noble said the company often uses real estate brokers to purchase land in order to keep prices down.
East Allegheny Community Council President Bernie Beck and board member Nick Kyriazi expressed their disappointment that Duquesne Light purchased the property so soon, because they hoped to use the opportunity to convince Alexiades to sell the rest of his properties to the Northside Leadership Conference.
“You may well be faced with a community up in arms. We’ll decide that later,” said Beck.
Duquesne Light plans to use a 400-square-foot garage on the property to house valves, pipes filled with cooling oil and electronic equipment as part of a city-wide upgrade to its systems. The company wants to demolish the garage and build a new structure to the same dimensions.
Boyle made it clear that no high voltage electricity would go near the crossover station — the structure would have the standard 110 volts of any residential house, plus lithium battery backups in case of a power outage.
Duquesne Light wants to demolish this garage and replace it with a crossover station that would have a brick facade to match the surrounding houses.
“We’re going to have a much better looking building than what’s there,” Boyle said.
Noble fielded questions about having industrial equipment in a neighborhood and said, “It’s going to be so integrated into the neighborhood, people won’t even notice it’s there.”
She believes that once construction is complete, it will even bring property values up, because they are willing to build it with any façade the community wants. She also hopes they can work with the community to find a buyer for the house who would fix it up.
The equipment housed in the garage will complete an upgrade to the two 345,000 volt electricity transmission lines that run from the Brunot’s Island substation through the Northside and Allegheny Commons Park to the Arsenal substation in Lawrenceville.
In order to increase electrical capacity, the utility needs to refrigerate the cooling oil in the transmission lines and pump it through them, Boyle said.
Currently, the company is building one cooling and pumping station at Brunot’s Island and one at Arsenal. The equipment on the Northside will not cool or pump the oil.
Instead, it will house shutoff valves in case of an oil leak that would make the line unusable. The electronics Duquesne Light wants to install will allow the company to monitor oil pressure (which will be around 200 psi) in the lines and tell it to shut off oil flow in case of an emergency.
Because electronics generate heat, the structure would need to be constantly air conditioned. Boyle said it would need a one- or two-ton air conditioner enclosed in a separate, reinforced concrete block room in the structure.
Three Foreland homeowners worried about the noise and complained that the air conditioner would run constantly, but Boyle said because of the unit’s small size and because it would be enclosed, there would be little to zero noise.
Although no one was happy with the situation or Duquesne Light’s behavior, Kyriazi and Beck agreed that the structure was “benign” and would not ruin the neighborhood.
“It’s a neighbor you don’t hear, you don’t see, who doesn’t throw their garbage out the window,” Kyriazi said.
Kyriazi, an engineer, did question why Duquesne Light couldn’t build an underground vault in the park.
Boyle said that no underground vault could be 100 percent waterproof, and it would be difficult to get his engineers to sign off on the project, because if something went wrong, it would have a negative impact on their careers.
Building something on Union Place near Allegheny Center Alliance Church would also be incredibly difficult, he said, because of a large sewer line under the street and a Pittsburgh Law Department ruling that said nothing could be built on park land.
Alida Baker of the Allegheny Commons Initiative said she would be willing to reconsider building the structure on Union Place if it were a viable option, but Boyle said he was uncomfortable with that option because of the sewer line.
At the end of the meeting, both parties left frustrated. Duquesne Light offered to work with the community to build an acceptable structure on Foreland Avenue, but residents didn’t want to compromise.
The utility already feels that it has compromised, as it’s been working on plans for the structure since last February.
“We never got a straight answer [from the community],” Jaskot said. “We were running out of time [to purchase the property].”
Nobel added, “Duquesne Light has been trying to work with each and every community organization.”
But residents felt differently, charging that the community always has to react to the company’s plans, rather than help develop them in the first place.