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Airport demolition halted

Lawsuit says approval procedures not followed

Saturday, April 24, 1999

By Mark Belko, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For the second time in 19 months, the demolition of the old Greater Pittsburgh International Airport terminal has been halted, this time by a federal appeals court.

The U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the work stopped Thursday pending a full hearing on a lawsuit claiming that neither Allegheny County nor the Federal Aviation Administration followed procedures in approving the demolition.

The decision comes three weeks after the county resumed the work to clear the way for a business park and air cargo center after receiving approval from the FAA, which had halted the demolition in 1997.

The county will seek a hearing, possibly as early as next week, on the merits of the lawsuit, Solicitor Kerry Fraas said yesterday. He considered the circuit court order temporarily halting the demolition a minor setback.

"We haven't even turned off the bulldozers," he said.

Fraas added he was confident the court would find that the FAA "did everything perfectly, correctly and by the book" in giving the go ahead to resume demolition.

"I really don't think it's meritorious," he said of the lawsuit. "Common sense and the law are against [the plaintiffs]."

Though pleased with the court decision, David Tessitor, a Reform Party candidate for county executive, said he and the two other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Patrick Litzinger and Denis Rudd, still faced an uphill battle in preserving the old terminal, their ultimate goal.

"I can't say we're really elated because that would be unrealistic," he said. "[The court decision] gives us a chance to gasp for air."

Tessitor said he wants the county to restore and reuse the old terminal, which he said was the first that allowed passengers to board planes directly from the building.

"It was the first of its type in the world and the largest of its type for two decades," he said. "It was the gateway to Western Pennsylvania for the rest of the world so it has considerable significance."

Tessitor believes the idea of an aviation museum at the old terminal, first floated a few years ago, is still "viable." He also thinks the county could incorporate the terminal into its redevelopment plans, rather than destroy it.

But Fraas said that with nearly half of the terminal already demolished, there's no turning back.

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