Tomorrow is Bangladesh Independence Day, Steward’s Day in Alaska (we purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867) and Camp David Accords were signed in 1979.  Birth anniversaries include poet Robert Lee Frost (1874), US Army Nurse & Red Cross champion Jane Delano (1862), playwright Tennessee Williams (1911) and American mathematician Nathaniel Bowditch (1773).

Outside Toledo, Ohio along Lake Erie is Val Meadows Equestrian Center.  Mike McGee runs a therapy horse center with eight very special horses that are OK with their role of helping people with cerebral palsy, autism, emotional and learning disabilities.  You can imagine how well trained (and compassionate) a horse that doesn’t get skittish with someone that might thrash around on it.  Mike’s been doing this for twenty years.  Unfortunately, a fire in the century old barn killed six of his horses as well as some other animals that were boarded in the century old barn.  With as much as Mike feels bad about the horses, he really dreads having to tell the kids about it.  Arson is not suspected.

Six malnourished horses were rescued by Equine Angels Friday from a property in Fairview Township.  Pam Vivirto, the founder of Equine Angels says these six has pushed the number of horses rescued since the first of the year up to 26, quite the jump from 18 during the same time last year.  Besides being malnourished, the horses were caked in mud, dehydrated, had worms among other ailments.  Pam says rising grain prices and a shortage of hay is pushing some horse owners over the edge.  She tries to work with them, if possible, before being forced to rescue them.  The vet bill for these latest six horses was  $700 and with food running $500 a week, she’s appealing for donations.  You can donate directly from her web site.

When I bought the property that became The Parador Inn it already had a license to be a bed and breakfast, but the license was for five single guest rooms.  The reason the previous owner did this is by international building codes (which Pittsburgh adopted in the 1980’s), when you have six or more guests in an Inn, you needed the next higher safety standard, fire escapes.  The previous owner didn’t want to deal with that, hence the license for five single guest rooms.  When I bought it, I wanted seven double occupancy rooms in the Mansion, didn’t want to destroy the outside appearance of the building so in collaboration with my architect we petitioned the city zoning board to let us install a sprinkler system in lieu of the fire escapes.  We conformed to all the other codes and the city agreed.  The sprinkler was installed and I continued with my renovations.  The following March, the hard renovations were completed and I applied for my occupancy permit.  When I went in to ask for it, I was informed I needed a letter of approval from Pittsburgh City Water and Sewer Authority saying it was OK to use their water for the system.  I spoke with Mongovi and Son’s the installers of my system and they told me that the city required buildings to have separate water lines for the domestic water and fire system water.  That way, if the business didn’t pay their water bill, the water authority could shut the domestic water off and not face liability in case of a fire.  This was passed in the 1980’s as well and had only been enforced with new construction, not retrofits.  Mongovi also told me it would cost $20K to $30 to do this (the entire sprinkler system cost $28K).  I called five other master plumbers that could separate the domestic and sprinkler waters and they all echoed what Mongovi said.  I attempted to contact then Mayor O’Connor who never returned my phone calls.  I attempted to contact BJ Leber, his chief of staff that never returned my phone calls.  I contacted then county executive Dan Onorato’s office and his staff member Peter Haverland (?) who was very sympathetic, but said the authority was an independent authority and his office couldn’t make them do anything.  I contacted my city counsel woman’s office, Tanya Payne and tried to get help from her.  At least her office SEEMED to be willing to help.  At one point, while speaking with Payne’s assistant to schedule an appointment between myself, the water authority and Payne, I raised my voice.  I did not curse or use any inappropriate language.  The aide told me she did not have to take my attitude and I immediately and profusely apologized.  I was wrong and told her that and said that after almost two months I was getting frustrated.  We continued the conversation and before I hung up, I again apologized.  When I arrived at the meeting with Payne, her assistant and Greg Tocksic (sp?) the guy in charge of the authority at the time, Payne and Tocksic were sitting next together chatting.  I pointed out the authority had yet to enforce this with retrofits and Tocksic’s reply was “it’s the code”.  I said separating the water lines would be over $20K and he said that wasn’t his concern.  I offered to instal separate lines in my basement (could be done for less than half the cost) and he said I could block his employees from entering my property.  I offered to get an attorney to draft permission that unequivocally gave him the right to enter my property and he said that wasn’t acceptable, I could change my mind at a later date.  I offered a $5K or even $10K deposit, he said no.  He made a comment about if I sold the property and the water lines weren’t separated, there wouldn’t be anything he could do.  I offered to put a lien on my property that that would be the only way it could be sold, with separated water lines.  He said no.  Guess who sat in that room and said NOTHING, Payne.  Oh, I just lied to you.  She did rebuke me twice for being rude to her assistant on the phone.  I informed her that I apologized twice to the assistant on the phone during that conversation and made a big point of apologizing to her again in that meeting.  When Payne ran for re-election, the voters threw her out and elected Daniel Lavell.  Guess where Payne has a job?  The city water and sewer authority.  She’s running for a council seat again, talk about city officials with secret agendas and an “old boys network” taking care of each other.  As a post script, I had to open, so I agreed to separate the water at a tune of $24K.  I broke the sidewalk up and dug the hole to save some money.  Mongovi came and installed the separated lines.  We had to wait for Pittsburgh water authority to shut the water off so we could tap into it.  During this process, I learned that the water authority unilaterally turned the laterals and shut of valves to the residents, they only own the water mains.  Even though I owned the shut off, we waited for them to send a crew out to shut the water off.  When they did, they broke the aged shut off and the supervisor on the crew (why was there a supervisor assigned to a crew that was just shutting the water off, I guess the answer is obvious), pointed to me and told me I was responsible to have the shut off replaced.  Their solution to the water spewing out of the hole was to drive a wooden stake in the old shut off leaving me with no water until the shut off was permitted and replaced.  Thankfully Mongovi was on site, they repaired the shut off to a trickle.  At this point, I wasn’t fighting anymore.  I told Mongovi to schedule me as soon as possible.  Because Western Avenue is a commercial street and technically route 28, the work had to be done after 5 p.m.  So I had to pay Mongovi’s crew overtime for the work.  I also had to pay an off-duty policeman time and a half to direct traffic for the same reasons (has anyone seen how little traffic is on Western Avenue after 5pm?)  This cost me an additional $22K.  (The permit alone was $2,500).   Payne and the water authority drove the price of the sprinkler system up to $75K.  I will do anything to keep her out of office, anything legal that is.

Port Authority is at it again.  The T has been completed for a year now and they are talking about expanding it again.  They are considering running from the Northside to Cranberry, basically following I79 at an estimated $1.385B.  #1, the density of Cranberry is 1,200 per square mile compared to 2,900 per square mile along the south hills route.  #2 the demographics of the residents in that affluent area aren’t the type to share space on public transportation.  #3 they would be encouraging more urban sprawl.  #4 traffic is not as congested along I79N and I279 as along the Parkway west.  An alternative, if they want to extend the T, would be to take it out to the airport.  It would make our airport a lot more attractive having such accessibility to the city.  And if designed right, there’s a ton of space that could be developed along that route.  Just my opinion.

Finally, the tree top zip line course in North Park is scheduled to open next month.  Go Ape is creating an attraction that includes rope swings, zip lines, rope bridges, trapezes and other obstacles.  The cost will be $55 for adults, $35 for children 10 to 17.  I think a partnership like this a win/win for us all.  I really think the government should govern and let stores sell alcohol; restauranteurs provide food service; outdoor outfitters run ski slopes, zip lines, boat rentals, etc.

Keep warm and dry,


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