Audacious Al's geo-technical wasteland
survey RTK: Part I
During the special meeting of the Fayette County Commissioners on February 26,
2014, Commission Chairman Al Ambrosini referred numerous times to a
geological, pre-construction survey of the $1.25 million dollar land where he
chooses to build a county jail. Anytime anyone inquired about possible problems,
he quipped that it was all in the survey report.
Under Right To Know, I obtained that August 19, 2013 document, titled
"Preliminary Subsurface Investigation Report for New Universal Well Services
Ambrosini contends -- and, therefore, substitutes a soil sample specifically done
for jail construction with this report -- that Universal Well was the company
thinking of buying the same land, just last year, when its value was listed as a
fraction of the now $1.25+ million dollars that the county wants to pay for it.
Universal, however, read the same report 7 months ago and had the good sense
to walk away and leave the deal on the table.
Why was that?
Universal, at the time, was thinking of expanding its business and adding
buildings at the Mt. Braddock Industrial Park, to buy the land on the opposite side
of Mt. Braddock Road. The company wanted to add four new buildings where
Ambrosini and Commissioner Vince Zapotosky say the new jail now will be built.
Ambrosini, at the special meeting 17 days ago, said he was "comfortable" with
the expectation that sewage would be feasible on the land for the jail. Anytime
any citizen inquired about getting new sewage approval for the jail and resolving
existing sewage back ups, power problems, flooding, sink holes that took 4
months to fill, under mining problems and pyrite issues resolved, Ambrosini
again and again said that all the issues are noted "in the report."
When industrial park business owner Steve Laskey pointed out at that meeting
that his business has been flooded numerous times on rainy days and that he has
had raw sewage also flood back up and explode into his business four times,
Ambrosini said, "We're aware of all conditions."
Yes, Ambrosini provided one of those jaw dropping moments when he assured
Laskey and the public that "this project (building the jail) will help to correct those
If this land that Ambrosini and Zapotosky want so badly for a jail at $1.25 million
dollars is such a great deal, why then did Universal walk away from the table after
reading this preliminary report from Construction Engineering Consultants, Inc.
last year when they could have purchased it for far less then? Why wasn't
Universal jumping up and down with excitement, thinking it had got the bargain of
One source at Universal, who initially declined comment and commented only
after hearing that a jail was being built there, said that the company had already
been screwed over once, across the street at their original site on Braddock View
Drive. Land that was supposed to be solid, reportedly, was not solid. Attempts to
reach Universal's special project manager Mike Kloecker, who authorized the
2013 geological testing on the land, were unsuccessful at this time.
The source, who, eventually, did comment on the strict terms that he was
speaking from personal opinion and not as a representative of the company,
thinks that his employer probably also knew the issues building its first buildings
started for the rest of the industrial park, and probably did not want to risk
flooding out its own first group of buildings and operations, if the second site was
chosen nearby there for expansion.
Now, with the county wanting to put a jail on that same land Universal opted not
to buy, that concern that Universal will start to experience problems is getting
"When we built, businesses farther down Mt. Braddock Road started having
problems with flooding and sewage backing up," he said. Some sold off their
businesses and moved out. A meeting with many of the stake-holders was held
by the DEP. It was as though Universal was on trial.
"It wasn't anything the contractors did wrong building for Universal. There are
letters, things in writing, from the DEP, saying that the county's redevelopment
authority altered a creek without a permit."
Run off water just wasn't getting to the creeks or places such as Gist Run due to
development cutting the path of drainage and man made pipes and diversions
ponding the water where it was not supposed to go.
While that company representative was hesitant to share those letters, other
business owners were not hesitant to talk openly.
From Laskey, those DEP communications were shared here. Of the flooding, the
DEP wrote on November 7, 2013:
"The Department of Environmental Protection received the first complaint of
flooding in 2007. Department staff has been working to define the problem and find
a solution for many years. Engineering reports attribute the problem to the original
drainage paths being cut off during development of the property. The
Redevelopment Authority of the County of Fayette (RACF) graded and filled the site
to create the flat, pad-ready industrial park in the last 1970s or early 1980s. In the
process, RACF relocated one stream and completely eliminated another. The
original drainage paths to Gist Run, and ultimately Dunlap Creek, were closed off
by the development, resulting in upstream water having no further connection to
the downstream Gist Run. Runoff now goes into what was once a small pond on
property purchased from RACF. When the pond water surface reaches a certain
elevation, flooding occurs.
The Department has no record that RACF obtained the requisite permit for such
activity. RACF has taken the position that it must have obtained a permit, but has
not been able to produce any documentation to substantiate this. The Department's
legal staff does not think there is a sufficient basis to bring legal action against
RACF at this time.
Engineering plans have been drafted for the creation of a new stream channel to
connect the pond and its upstream flows to Gist Run. The cost of the project is
estimated at $150,000 - $175,000. Until funding is obtained, there is nothing that the
Department can do."
Flooding and having his business ruined four times alone with sewage aren't
Laskey's only worries. His land was said to be solid land when he purchased it, a
ready to go pod for his building. He still can't get Fed Ex deliveries to his shop
because GPS doesn't recognize the industrial park street.
Laskey, also, now has official "wetlands" status on part of his property, so
expansion isn't an option anymore for him. That in itself is a personal loss for him,
but for the county as well, since he feels his small business should be employing
10 additional persons and could be, if he could expand on his man-made wetlands
Another of Laskey's concerns should be a significant concern for Fay Penn, the
county commissioners, the DEP, township officials and all Mt. Braddock
residents. Laskey pointed out at the county meeting, and again this week when
we met, that another business owner nearby his has a few large oil tanks that rise
when the area floods. If those tanks continue to rise with flooding and rupture,
Laskey's nearby business would be completely wiped out, as would other
businesses in the industrial park. Possibly, even a new jail up the road, its
prisoners and staff, could be in jeopardy.
What would environmental clean up of Gist Run and Dunlap Creek cost and how
long would it take for oil contaminates to reach other communities downstream of
The Preliminary report that came in this recent RTK answer is just that, a
preliminary report that suspects pyrites will be a concern. On a happier note, it
concludes that mine subsidence should not be problem since the land was strip
However, did the report's mention of the following nix Universal's plan to
purchase the land when the company reps read this on page 5:
"...Typical shallow foundations for the new buildings would then lie entirely in the
site fill soils or possibly a small portion in newly placed fill. Due to the variably
consolidated site fill that exceeds to the base of the Pittsburgh Coal Seam at an
approximate elevation of 1108, larger than acceptable differential settlements may
"The only way to virtually eliminate these settlements would be to utilize a deep
foundation that entends to the site bedrock layer. Cast-in-place concrete piers
would likely be the most economical deep foundation option. Caissons would have
to extend to auger refusal on the underlying sandstone bedrock encountered below
the coal seam in Boring B-2. Caissons should then be socketed at lease three feet
in the bedrock or until auger refusal is encountered. Caissons could then be
designed for an end bearing value of 10 tons per square foot. Temporary steel
liners would likely be needed to prevent sloughing of caisson sidewalls and limit
any groundwater infiltration... If deep foundations are utilized, additional test
borings should be drilled in each building location. The borings should extend into
the underlying bedrock in order to better evaluate the bedrock below the site and
better estimate caisson lengths."
Aren't caissons used in under water construction?
Given that the county still opts to pursue buying and building a jail on this site,
and given that Ambrosini pledged assurance in a public meeting that "this project
will help to correct" the industrial park flooding and the sewage back-ups into
businesses when flooding occurs, is the county now not liable now for any
additional flooding to the businesses should the jail project proceed?
Fay Penn, RACF, DEP and/or the majority commission's private funds should
have to pay to reconnect the run-off water to flow back to Gist Run, if nobody
steps up now to correct the problem before more profits are made from sales and
more development is allowed.
It's easy to understand why Laskey is frustrated and bitter because nobody has
corrected all the man-made flooding problems in development. To boot, he was
threatened with legal action when he attempted to construct a barrier wall to stop
Businesses such as Laskey's that bought pods at the industrial park shouldn't
have to keep losing their shirts due to man-made development mistakes, while
everyone else passes the buck of responsibility and gets their cut of the profits.
This industrial park shouldn't have to die a miserable death and be resurrected
one day with the next TIF to improve infrastructure and fill gaping holes.
An investigation report into the flooding, reportedly, was lost at the DEP and
copies of it at an engineering firm, likewise, were lost in a fire.
At least nobody claimed that his dog ate it.
15 Mar 14