Five environmental programs from throughout western Pennsylvania will share $25,000 from Dominion Energy and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council for innovation and effectiveness in making a positive impact on the environment as part of the Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards:

  • Allegheny County Conservation District (Pittsburgh, Allegheny County)
  • Allegheny Outfitters Warren (Warren County)
  • Casselman River Watershed Association (Somerset, Somerset County)
  • Edinboro Lake Watershed Association (Edinboro, Erie County)
  • Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail Shelters Restoration Project

In addition to these five organizations, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council will present a lifetime achievement award to Dr. Jared Cohon, the former president of Carnegie Mellon University. The winners will be honored at an awards dinner in Pittsburgh on May 24.

These winning programs reflect many of the environmental priorities of this region as they address watershed conservation and stewardship, urban land contamination, and public park conservation. With these awards, each winner will designate a $5,000 cash prize to be used in support of a nonprofit environmental program of their choice.

Here is more on each of the winners.

Allegheny County Conservation District: There are thousands of vacant and abandoned parcels in Pittsburgh and the outlying municipalities, and many are contaminated with lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals. So the Allegheny County Conservation District (ACCD) launched an urban soils program that works with resource-strapped Pittsburgh communities to address the significant environmental concerns around urban soils. To date, ACCD has offered over $150,000 in testing services and hundreds of hours in free technical assistance, towards community and greenspace projects. ACCD has also raised awareness of soil health and contamination issues in communities around the county and given guidance on sustainable practices to improve environmental and public health.

In addition to providing free services that allow for environmental project funds to be used efficiently, ACCD has begun conducting its own mapping and research efforts, seeking to better understand the nature and extent of legacy contamination across the urban environment.

Allegheny Outfitters: In the Allegheny National Forest in northwest Pennsylvania, Allegheny Outfitters is serving as public advocate and conservation educator to mitigate the impacts of increased human traffic on waterways and forest land. Allegheny Outfitters formed the Allegheny River Clean-Up, a week-long annual event that draws hundreds of volunteers and community sponsors each year to clean up 30-plus miles of the Allegheny River and two of its tributaries. Since then, nearly 3,000 volunteers have donated almost 23,000 hours in support of this effort.

Additionally, Allegheny Outfitters has adopted a stretch of the North Country National Scenic Trail in the Allegheny National Forest, and regularly hosts volunteer staff trail work events. It also provides financial support for conservation of public land and waterways and has created commemorative trail posters of land and water trails in the region with a portion of each sale going back to the organization that maintains it. Contact: Piper VanOrd, [email protected],  814-730-2428 cell.

Casselman River Watershed Association: Over the past 30 years, volunteers of the Casselman River Watershed Association (CRWA) has dedicated countless hours to seek grants and construct treatment systems to address the water quality issues resulting from abandoned mine drainage degradation that the Casselman River suffered after the Industrial Revolution devastated the once, pristine watershed. CRWA has partnered with local, state, federal agencies, along with other non-profit organizations on a number of projects.

Water quality in the river and tributaries improved through the use of innovative lime dosing and AMD treatment systems. And CRWA works with the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy to secure easements along the Great Allegheny Passage and the Casselman River to preserve the aesthetics of its breathtaking landscapes. Through the efforts of the Casselman River Watershed Association, watersport activities have increased, local businesses have benefited, and the potable water quality for local communities has improved.

Edinboro Lake Watershed Association: The economic and ecological benefits of Edinboro Lake have been compromised by its advanced state of eutrophication, which depletes oxygen in water and impacts aquatic life. A management plan completed by the Edinboro Lake Watershed Association determined that 81% of the phosphorus entering the lake is from non-point sources with over 27% of the total being derived from stormwater runoff from land development.

In 2017 the Edinboro Lake Watershed Association completed a project to design and install stormwater best management practices on the campus of General McLane High School in Edinboro. These stormwater methods capture runoff from approximately 38 acres resulting in approximately 24 pounds per year reduction in phosphorus and 10,000 pounds per year reduction of total suspended solids entering Edinboro Lake.

Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail Shelters Restoration Project (PA Parks & Forests Foundation): For the 40 three-sided Adirondack shelters of the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, the passage of time and harsh ridge winters had taken their toll on the masonry and stonework of the chimneys that are the shelters’ best feature. The mortar began to crumble and the stones to shift. The shelters are not only an important feature of the trail, but they are in essence also historic structures. A mason with a heightened appreciation for the work had to be located. He photographed each stone and disassembled each chimney, numbering the pieces of stone as they were removed, then cleaned and scraped them and put them back together in order.

An initial REI grant of $3,000 to the project was matched by the Friends of Laurel Hill. Thanks to the overwhelming support of REI, the R.K. Mellon Foundation, and individual donors from nine states, funding was secured to complete the project.

Lifetime Achievement Award: Dr. Jared Cohon: Dr. Jared Cohon served as the President of Carnegie Mellon from 1997 until 2013. Before that he was dean of the Yale Forestry and Environmental Studies departments and a member of the faculty and administration at Johns Hopkins University. He serves on the board of five non-profit organizations and two corporations.

In his extensive service for the U.S. government and the National Academies, he chaired the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, co-chaired the Commission to Review the Effectiveness of the National Laboratories, and currently chairs the Academies’ Board on Energy and Environmental Systems. Professor Cohon is interested in environmental systems analysis, especially the development and application of optimization tools for large-scale natural resource and environmental problems. Most of his theoretical work has focused on algorithms for multi-objective programming problems and systems methods for integrating engineering, economics and policy in public environmental decision making. He has worked most on water resource, energy and waste problems.

Among his many contributions to environmental policy-making in western Pennsylvania, Dr. Cohon chaired the Sewer Regionalization Review Panel representing local government, foundations, academia, legal, environmental, water  and sewer authorities, nonprofit and private organizations to identify a true regional approach to wastewater and storm water management for Allegheny County.

The Western Pennsylvania Environmental Awards, presented annually to local organizations that demonstrate leadership, effectiveness, and results in making an impact on the environment. All four were chosen by a group of independent judges, environmental experts, and PEC staff in response to a call for entries earlier this year. Ticket information for the May 24 awards dinner is available on the PEC website.