Attend the upcoming hearing on proposed industrial zone & power plant along Yough River in Elizabeth Twp

The sun sets behind the Youghiogheny River as seen from Smithdale, PA

The view of the Youghiogheny River at sunset from the neighborhood of Smithdale.

Despite vehement public opposition, the Elizabeth Township Commissioners will hold a public hearing just 5 days before Christmas to decide whether to create the largest Industrial zone in the township’s history.

At the hearing, the Commissioners will consider a proposal by Invenergy LLC, who is hoping to build a 550-megawatt gas-fired power plant, known as the Allegheny Energy Center (AEC). The AEC would be constructed next to the Youghiogheny River and the Great Allegheny bike trail, nearby the neighborhood of Smithdale and across the river from Sutersville and West Newton.

In order to build their power plant, Invenergy has proposed a zoning change and an ordinance, which would rezone nearly 147 acres from rural residential to light industrial.  The proposed ordinance would also list power plants as a ‘permitted use’ in all industrial zones. Permitted use applications receive the lowest level of review for any zoning permit and are usually reserved for much less impactful developments. Permitted use applications are merely reviewed and approved by a zoning officer.  Highly impactful and potentially hazardous projects such as a power plant are usually listed as a “conditional use” which involves a public hearing, review by the entire local government, and the opportunity to add special conditions to a permit. The proposed zoning change could set a dangerous tone for the community and possibly encourage others to apply for expansion or addition of more industrial zones in the township. In addition, if passed as a permitted use, any company would be allowed to build a power plant by right in any of the existing or new industrial zones without a public process.

While impacts from the proposed changes will be pervasive throughout Elizabeth Township, the community of Smithdale will likely face the most significant consequences. Currently, the historic company coal town sits in a valley below hundreds of acres of wooded hillsides, nestled between the Great Allegheny Passage and the Youghiogheny River. Residents feel that the township has neglected the Smithdale neighborhood by, for instance, failing to make the necessary repairs to the only road leading into the neighborhood. Other homes have been abandoned or condemned, yet the township has not taken the necessary steps to help the community recover. Instead, the township has let the homes fall into further disrepair.

Still, residents of Smithdale, many of whom are “lifers”, love the peaceful quality of life of their neighborhood. Many moved to the community while the nearby coal mining operations were in full-swing, and now, they have seen nature reclaim much of the area. “I love to watch the deer come down from the hillside, play in the field, and walk down to the river. It’s taken them a long time to recover since the coal mine was in operation. Now, I’m worried that could be ruined again,” one resident noted.

“I was born here, and I raised my family here. This community is all I’ve ever known. I love it here,” another said.

They reminisce on how they used to have a vibrant community, including festivals that celebrated their coal mining heritage and activities like ice skating on the Youghiogheny River. With the Great Allegheny Passage passing directly through the town, they see the potential to revitalize the area, turning historic homes into bed & breakfasts with riverfront views. However, if the Commissioners vote to rezone part of Smithdale into an industrial zone, that future could be lost.

Residents are encouraged to come out to the hearing on December 20th at 5pm at Elizabeth Forward Middle School to encourage the Elizabeth Township Commissioners to vote No on Invenergy’s proposed zoning change and ordinance. If you are not able to attend the hearing, we encourage you to call the Elizabeth Township Commissioners or sign this petition which will be delivered to them at the hearing.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Ashley at Mountain Watershed Association at or 724-455-4200×6#

Edit: A previous version of this article stated that the Fire Department failed to show up to put out a house fire in Smithdale. However, the fully volunteer Fire Department did show up in a timely manner. We respect and value the service of the volunteers who serve the area.