BECHTEL IS COMING TO MONROEVILLE
Bechtel, one of the richest and most secretive private US corporations, helps develop nuclear weapons, pushed for us to go to war with Iraq and has wreaked ecological and economic havoc in countries across the globe. Now they're coming to Monroeville and already they're abusing that community.
Late last year, a division of Bechtel Corporation called Bechtel Plant Machinery, Inc. (BPMI) decided to relocate the majority of its employees to a new facility in Monroeville. BMPI is under Do D
contract for the Navy's Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (NNPP) to research, develop, produce and maintain products for the Navy's fleet of nuclear-powered ships and submarines. BPMI was formed when Bechtel acquired the Westinghouse NNPP division from CBS in 1999. BPMI currently has employees located in Schenectedy, NY and Penn Hills. The first batch of employees are expected to start work in Monroeville in August 2007.
BPMI's move to Monroeville stems from an expanded contract that Bechtel received as part of their ever-increasing role in the heavily-funded revitalization of the nuclear weapons and energy complex, which services the Navy, the Air Force and commercial nuclear power. Bechtel's contracts with the Do D
and the Do E
number in the billions of dollars. Examples include operating the Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the Manhattan Project was located; the Yucca Mountain Repository, where the nation's spent nuclear fuel and other radioactive waste is eventually to be stored; and the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site in the Marshall Islands. In nearby West Mifflin, Bechtel is contracted with the Do E
to operate the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory (the site of last year's Hiroshima day protest), which is responsible for researching and developing the nuclear reactors used in naval vessels.
To expand and consolidate its BPMI operations, Bechtel choose to lease a 16.5 acre lot adjacent to Tech One Park, a large industrial park located near the Monroeville Mall. The lot included a 129,000 square foot building, an ancillary 16,000 square foot building, and a 452-space parking lot. To accommodate the estimated 800 employees who will work there Bechtel contracted Elmhurst, a Pittsburgh-based real-estate developer, to acquire the lot and develop a plan to demolish the ancillary building, replace it with a 50,000 square foot industrial building, and also build a new and larger parking lot on hitherto undeveloped land adjacent to Monroeville's Sugar Camp Park. To accommodate the increased traffic flow to the park, Elmhurst plans to make certain traffic improvements, such as widening the driveway entrance and adding a new right turn lane onto the residential road where that entrance is located. Apparently Elmhurst has obtained Allegheny County grant money for that purpose.
Amidst promises that Bechtel's arrival would bring new revenue and jobs into the community and improve an otherwise unused industrial center, the Monroeville Council approved Elmhurst's site plan on November 14, 2006.
From that first Monroeville council meeting meeting in which Elmhurst's site plan for Bechtel was approved, local residents have voiced concerns over the safety of their children, noise pollution, and other environmental effects of Bechtel moving into their neighborhood.
Their current most pressing concern stems from the construction phase. Last month, trucks started rolling down quiet residential roads to begin construction. The trucks include 18-wheelers, over-sized trucks, and box cars with large green- and orange-colored tanks.
For their main entrance to the facility, Bechtel and Elmhurst decided on checkpoint on Jamison Lane, which is a narrow suburban residential road without sidewalk. According to a Tech One Park contractor, the main entrance to the Park off the commercial Monroeville Blvd. was ruled out because other businesses in Tech One park didn't want Bechtel's heavy traffic to disturb their operations. Jameson Lane residents, who comprise approximately 50 families, prefer that Bechtel uses another entrance located on the far side of the park that is near a more commercial area. But that would entail additional construction, which either Elmhurst and Bechtel don't want to do, or the property owners in question are unwilling to allow it.
Apparently there are no zoning laws that constrain the times in which the large trucks can go in and out. Nonetheless, when the community raised concerns, Elmhurst and Bechtel voluntarily agreed to limit those times such that they would avoid driving through night time, and when kids go to and come back from school. But apparently Bechtel and Elmhurst are not living up to that agreement. Residents say they hear trucks going in and out in the middle of the night and there are frequent encounters with school buses.
Because the street is narrow, oversize trucks occupy the entire road. They also have problems going in and out of the Jamison Rd. driveway entrance to Tech One Park. One time a truck drove up on a resident's lawn across the street from driveway; another time there was a near collision with a school bus. Residents are thus legitimately worried about their personal safety.
Once the construction phase is over, it seems unlikely that there will be a steady flow of over-sized trucks, since Bechtel says they're not building a manufacturing plant. But residents are concerned about the effects of having 800 employees driving through their neighborhood. Among other things, that volume of traffic will increase environmental pollution and the possibility of a traffic accident.
Another concern that residents have voiced is the secrecy of Bechtel and Elmhurst. The first report was about "Project X" - they didn't include the name the company until the site plan was approved. One of the residents found that ironic: "Why use this street if they want to remain secret?".
Residents are also worried about the presence in their neighborhood of a large company that cares only for its bottom line. Some employees have already bought homes in the neighborhood, which has some residents worried that their concerns will continue to fall on deaf ears.
Local residents have not only raised their concerns about Bechtel moving into their neighborhood; they have implored their council members to vote against the site plan, or to make adjustments to it that would address their concerns.
About 30 residents have banded together to find out more information about what is planned and to continue their pressure on local government, Bechtel and Elmhurst to abandon their plans to use the Jamison Lane entrance way. One of their members, having discovered that Bechtel is a widely loathed war-profiteer, sought help from United for Peace and Justice, Pittsburgh Organizing Group, and perhaps other organizations. She wrote, "The idea of Bechtel making so much money on this war and then ruining our neighborhood just to save a little money on developing an alternate route to their facility seems unconscionable. Can you help us? We would appreciate anything you could do or suggest for us to do."
Having failed to get the Monroeville Mayor or Council to take action, residents have started to appeal to their State Senator, Sean Logan, as well as the Allegheny County Chief Executive, Dan Onorato. Some are also trying to pitch the story to the media and others have begun to document the traffic on their street using video and photography.
On Thursday, May 3rd, a WEAN delegation traveled to Monroeville after being invited by residents to address the Municipal Council on Citizen’s Night regarding Bechtel's pattern of abuse, deception, destruction, and greed. WEAN, or "War-profiteering Education & Action Network," is a new project of the Thomas Merton Center that grew out last summer's organizing around Bechtel on the anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombings of Hiroshima. The concept behind the so-called “Citizen’s Night” is to provide a public forum where residents can address their elected officials regarding problems or grievances in the Monroeville Municipality and ask their Council members to take appropriate measures to follow through on their mandate to serve their constituents.
Council heard emotional testimony from several Jamison Lane residents about the dangers facing their community since the construction phase began over a month ago: oversized trucks occupying the entire road; constant traffic violations; activity occurring at all hours of the night; damage of residents’ yards by truck tires; the endangerment of children while going to and coming from school and playing in the neighborhood. Other concerns were the conclusion of a real estate agent that property values of houses adjacent to the BPMI facility will drop significantly and the possibility that Bechtel will expand its operations to vacant property in the industrial park next door with unknown environmental and health consequences. Also, residents feel that the 8-car-length turning lane to be developed on Jamison Lane to accommodate the influx of 800 employees at the new facility does not even begin to deal with the problems of safety, air and noise pollution, and diminished property values that are the predictable outcomes of turning a residential street into a commercial thruway.
After this testimony two members from WEAN were invited by residents to address Council about Bechtel’s record of human rights abuses, war-profiteering, environmental poisoning, and taxpayer fleecing. Before completing a sentence, however, Mayor Lomeo launched into an irritable and nonsensical tirade explaining that past or current behavior of corporations that want to operate in Monroeville are irrelevant to Council, and that only complaints about traffic considerations would be tolerated. In a remarkably vulgar display of contempt for the citizens of Monroeville, the Mayor more or less claimed that Council had no more power over the situation than that of a glorified traffic cop.
Lomeo and every member of Council who failed to correct him (which was every member of Council) would have citizens believe that whether or not a corporation has a history of human rights abuses or egregious disregard for the communities in which they operate is not something relevant to governance. By suppressing information about Bechtel from being heard on live television and public record Council revealed their conception of government and their role as “public” officials: to protect the powerful interests from the ire of an aroused citizenry that might demand regulations that ensure that the safety, health, and quality of life of their community is not negatively impacted by the greed of a few.
After the Mayor made it clear that Bechtel’s systematic pattern of abusive behavior was not a relevant concern to citizens or Council, WEAN members made it a point to ask the court reporter to record the fact that Council was willfully censoring information of critical importance to the citizenry of Monroeville. This provoked another tantrum from Lomeo, and after repeating for the television audience that Council was censoring information, WEAN members left the podium to speak with the residents that actually care about their community and its future.
While residents lived up to their end of Citizen’s Night, Council’s behavior revealed that they regard local resident’s needs are subordinate to those of the powerful corporations that are Council’s actual constituency and that Council will actively censor information that might suggest that Monroeville is being sold out from underneath those who live there.
The residents we spoke with all agreed on the need for a campaign of education and organization regarding the dangers of Bechtel moving into the neighborhood so that citizens can come together and protect their community.
The next morning we heard that the Municipality had four police cars citing drivers involved in traffic violations at the Jamison Lane site. It has also been brought to our attention that the Mayor immediately attempted to placate residents by promising to take other simple measures to alleviate some of the more immediate safety concerns. Still, the living standard concerns of falling property values, drastic increase in traffic once the facility is operational, the safety of friends and family, and pollution have not even been considered let alone addressed. Neither have the ethical concerns of permitting a corporation that aggressively contributes to fomenting war, militarizing the economy, despoiling the planet, and bankrolling electoral campaigns to subvert democracy (amongst numerous other crimes) to operate anywhere.
It is important to note that Council commented several times that they could not revise the site plan, implying a legal fact. It is not. It is a political choice. Review of section 306.5(g) of the Monroeville Zoning Ordinance might shed some light as to why:
Traffic Control. No design shall be approved which is likely to create substantial pedestrian or vehicular traffic hazards endangering the public safety. Safety requirements which may be imposed in such a review shall include traffic control devices, acceleration or deceleration lanes, turning lanes, traffic and lane markings, walkways, and signs. The developer shall be responsible for the construction of any such traffic control devices.
The notion that the proposed 8-car-length turning lane at the end of Jamison Lane will adequately address “vehicular traffic hazards endangering public safety” is a betrayal of the public interest and, perhaps, means for legal recourse regarding the site plan.
If this avenue for action is a possibility it can only be pressed by an organized community that is aware of their rights, the consequences of Bechtel moving into Monroeville, and a willingness to fight for and with each other. Given that Council is hostile to the concerns of ordinary residents when these conflict with the desires of one of the world's most powerful corporations it becomes incumbent upon those residents to organize and defend their community. WEAN will continue to work with the concerned residents of Monroeville and help provide whatever assistance we can offer for building community resistance.
For more information about WEAN and its Bechtel campaign, visit www.thomasmertoncenter.org/wean or email firstname.lastname@example.org
by Bret Grote and David Meieran
-- Raymond Lutz
- 28 May 2007