I wrote recently about the importance of having master plans for our riverfront properties. Planning is squarely in the critical path of successful economic development.
But what about the science of these sites? I think this conversation is long overdue. Industries of the past created many assets that endure: railroads, locks, dams, sites. They’re in use today, in great locations, but can use some attention.
Southwestern Pennsylvania is short on people with expertise in redevelopment of brownfields and coal mine site reclamation/remediation. With so much attention focused on Monongahela River sites, it is important that our redevelopment activities benefit the environment as well as the economy. To revitalize our region, we must start by cleaning up our sites from environmental missteps of the past.
We will always need those who dream of reinvigorating our communities, and I am among those dreamers. Tourism and recreation will be huge parts of our region’s economic revitalization. Tourism is as important to our future as natural gas, and I believe tourism can live in harmony with industry.
That’s why we need scientists and engineers to demonstrate to developers and investors how we work together. Southpointe is a shining example of what is possible with a broad-brush collaboration among varied stakeholders. But Southpointe is a once-in-a-lifetime greenfield opportunity. Most communities are not so lucky. Those where our most desirable river sites are located are among our most distressed.
We know much more about air, land and water quality than previous generations. In fact, we have grown by leaps and bounds in knowledge and experience in the past 10 years. Today’s companies are aware of the environmental impacts of their operations and are much more responsible in caring for our environment.
Chevron and Range Resources are examples of this corporate environmental consciousness. Chevron has developed a Center for Corporate Social Responsibility, in partnership with Waynesburg University. Range Resources, along with corporate partners such as Cabot Oil & Gas, CONSOL and EQT, are investing in our communities.
The Mon is a critical location element. In the five counties it touches, the river may be the most important piece of our regional transportation puzzle. The Mon has been here for a millennium and has serviced us well, since DeVore’s Ferry began operations about 250 years ago.
Cleaning up sites of the past is an important part of the formula for success, utilizing established best practices while developing innovative techniques. We need teachers teaching it and experts developing a plan for it. Property owners need not carry the heavy liability, rather engage with redevelopment organizations and letting others take up the liability.
We must swing for the fences, while being patient and strategic. Most important, we must be prepared.
It is going to take time, money and a multi-faceted strategy to reverse the systematic decline of the Valley. Cutting the Mon River into sections, we find opportunities as widely ranging as the stakeholders we must engage. The opportunities and needs from Point Marion to Brownsville in Fayette County differ from those between California in Washington County and McKeesport in Allegheny County.
Sustainable economic growth is development that attempts to satisfy human needs, providing opportunities in a manner that sustains natural resources and the environment. Commitment means success won’t happen quickly. There must be an understanding of the situation at street level – or river level, as it were.
That understanding must be grounded in sound environmental science and community development. We must develop environmental best practices that drive the economy forward, not settle for practices grounded in economics that drag the environment along just because you must.
We cannot compromise future generations and blindly pursue economic success for the current generation. That would be a colossal failure.
I believe we can create quality jobs, while creating environmental sustainability, and develop broad access to opportunities on the horizon for all business sectors.
Jamie Protin is founder and principal of The Protin Group in Belle Vernon.
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