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Pittsburgh’s plan to build a solar farm on former steel mill dumping ground awaits state approval

The URA plans to build the 15-acre solar farm on a flat portion of land in

 Margaret J. Krauss / 90.5 WESA

The URA plans to build the 15-acre solar farm on a flat portion of land in "the slags," a former industrial dumping site between Swisshelm Park and Squirrel Hill South.

The land between Squirrel Hill South and Swisshelm Park is affectionately called “the slags,” because for decades it served as a dumping ground for steel mills. The solar farm that’s envisioned for the site will become “a symbol of a clean energy future for the Steel City,” said Lilly Freedman, a manager for the Urban Redevelopment Authority, which owns the land.

But while the site is covered with trees, shrubs, and informal trails, it’s still a brownfield, said Freedman.

“The site will need to be remediated before any development can occur.”

In 2022, the URA worked with Civil & Engineering Consultants, Inc. to create a plan for that clean up. After looking at various options, the recommendation is to cover the earth with “clean fill,” so the area can be used for industrial and recreational uses. O

The URA is targeting a 70-acre portion of the slags that is largely flat and already cleared. According to Freedman, the location was chosen to minimize disruption to mature trees. Freedman expects the solar farm to be 15 acres. The rest of the land, roughly 55 acres, would be used to expand Frick Park to the southern side of Nine Mile Run.

City Councilor Barb Warwick, whose district includes the site, said it’s an exciting project.

“You’re taking what was a site for industrial waste and turning it into a site that’s going to manufacture green energy,” she said.

For nearly 20 years the land was promised to the developer of Summerset at Frick to build a third phase of housing. But the proposal was sidelined by the costs to overcome the area’s topography, and a lack of interest in more expensive housing. In September of 2021 the URA notified the developer, Summerset Land Development Associates, that its rights were being terminated.

The move to green energy is even more exciting because it was the residents of Swisshelm Park who made the call, Warwick said.

“Ultimately they decided that green energy was more important than more luxury housing.”

County Controller Corey O’Connor said he can’t remember a single person who opposed the new direction at the first community meeting with the URA in 2021.

“Making it an expansion of Frick Park, I think everybody wants to see that,” said O’Connor, who lives in Swisshelm Park and was Warwick’s predecessor on council before becoming controller. “Our parks and trails are something that everybody enjoys.”

The solar farm would be the first project of its kind in the city, O’Connor said. It will benefit the area while “starting to push for long-term planning of our energy system, not just in the city, but in the county,” he said.

nce the Department of Environmental Protection approves that approach, the URA can select a contractor to install the solar panels.

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