Dredging creates uproar near Three Rivers

PITTSBURGH — Already under fire over concerns about their impact on fish and mussel habitat, western Pennsylvania dredgers are now battling unprecedented noise restrictions on parts of the Allegheny River.

Residents of the tiny community of River Forest north of Pittsburgh who pushed for a noise ban aren't happy, either. They say the new constraints don't go far enough. Both the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recently amended the current five-year permits of three dredgers, including Hanson Aggregates PMA Inc., which is actively operating in the area, so that summers, and evenings, weekends and holidays the rest of the year, are off-limits on the side of the Allegheny closest to River Forest. Hanson had tried previously to quell noise with equipment upgrades.

The dredging companies and River Forest residents are appealing the permit amendment to the state Environmental Hearing Board. Bob Ging, an attorney for the River Forest residents, said his clients also may file a nuisance lawsuit.

Meanwhile, the DEP plans to hire an expert to measure noise levels this summer.

Dredging has been part of the scenery for more than a century on the Allegheny and Ohio rivers, which yield high quality glacial aggregate used in road construction. In recent years, though, as sportfishing has increased on the rivers — the site of the 2005 Bassmaster Classic — conservationists have criticized dredgers for their impact on aquatic life. When new river sampling techniques turned up federally listed endangered mussels and rare fish, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (PFBC) convinced the DEP and the USACE to require dredgers to perform more comprehensive surveys as a permit condition.

"As we collect data and as dredgers collect, we'll get a greater understanding of what lives along the riverbed," said PFBC biologist John Arway, who will compare before-and-after studies of dredged areas. "The focus is on fish that spawn on gravels in the deeper water in the middle of the river, but we hope to learn more about many species. There may be forage fish and macroinvertebrates that smallmouth bass and other sportfish depend on at the bottom of the river."

Hanson, Glacial Sand and Gravel Co. and Tri-State River Products Inc. are scheduled to appeal the fish sampling requirement before the state's Environmental Hearing Board in September.

 Hanson did not respond to requests for an interview about noise restrictions for this article. 

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