On September 19, 2006, a massive landslide occurred at a commercial development site in Kilbuck Township, Allegheny County. Between 500,000 and 600,000 cubic yards of earth and stone cascaded down the hillside, across the four-lane Ohio River Boulevard and onto three adjacent railway tracks, stopping short of the Ohio River. As a result, roadway commerce and railroad commerce were greatly affected, as Ohio River Boulevard carries approximately 22,000 vehicles each day, and Norfolk Southern Railways operates the three railroad tracks as part of a major commercial rail link between Chicago and New York City carrying approximately 100 trains each day. The landslide also negatively impacted neighboring communities, which needed to contend with increased traffic congestion and traffic hazards. In January 2007, it was reported that remediation costs totaled $2 million and monitoring costs totaled $75,000 per month. In the end, the commercial development project was halted, and the site will be returned to a pre-development, natural slope that includes trees and vegetation.
Although the specific causes of the September 2006 landslide cannot be definitively ascertained, the disturbance of the soils and topography of the site are leading factors. The existence of steep slopes and the unstable land composition (whether due to the soils occurring naturally at the site or the placement of fill over the years), coupled with blasting operations that occurred the day before the landslide, facilitated such substantial movement of earth. In addition, the site has a long history of significantly smaller landslides, dating back to the mid-1800s.
Prior to the landslide and throughout the commercial development process, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation reviewed the revised traffic impact study of the developers and issued a highway occupancy permit for the development site. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reviewed storm water runoff management plans, issued a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit and issued a blasting permit for the development site.
On October 24, 2006, the House of Representatives adopted House Resolution No. 897, directing the Joint State Government Commission to conduct an in-depth investigation into the landslide, including a thorough review of the applicable State and local permit and approval processes. A four-member legislative task force was created, consisting of Representatives Thomas C. Petrone (Chair), T. Mark Mustio, Sean M. Ramaley and Randy Vulakovich. An advisory committee was also appointed, consisting of attorneys, geologists, engineers, land use planners, representatives of local and county governments, representatives from community development organizations, environmental advocates, representatives from Communities First! (a group of individuals, public officials and small business owners from approximately 20 communities along the Ohio River corridor), the Executive Director of the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee, and representatives from the Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources, Environmental Protection and Transportation.
The task force and advisory committee reviewed the circumstances leading up to the landslide, as well as the actions taken following the landslide, and visited the site to learn about soil and rock stabilization plans. The task force and advisory committee recognized the need to statutorily address the identification and delineation of geologically hazardous areas in Pennsylvania, which are susceptible to mass earth movements, such as soil and rock slides, acid formation or sinkhole development. The task force and advisory committee also emphasized the importance of statewide review and oversight, thereby providing local governments with additional expertise and guidance as to how developers must identify proposed courses of action, and their sequence, to be taken during and after construction to eliminate or reduce the occurrence of a hazardous condition that could result from proposed earth disturbance activity.
This report describes the task force and advisory committee process and provides information regarding the commercial development site where the September 2006 landslide occurred, governmental actions taken before and after the landslide, the involvement of Communities First!, statutory and regulatory authority, and standing and jurisdiction. This report also contains the proposed Geologically Hazardous Areas Act. The recommendations and findings contained in this report reflect the consensus of the task force and advisory committee, gained after numerous subcommittee meetings and six group meetings.