The Steel Valley Authority


The shutdown of steel production in Youngstown and Pittsburgh that began in the mid-1970s has resulted in the loss of tens of thousands of jobs, both in steel and in other industries. In 1979, union, church, and grassroots activists in the region organized the Tri-State Conference on the Impact of Steel (“Tri-State”) to try to save the steel mills of these “rust bowl” communities. In 1984, U.S. Steel announced that it planned to demolish a large blast furnace, popularly known as “Dorothy Six,” at its Duquesne works. During a campaign mounted in response to this announcement, Tri-State persuaded nine municipalities in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania to incorporate the Steel Valley Authority (“SVA”). Tri-State proposed to create a regional development authority empowered to acquire abandoned industrial facilities by eminent domain; after acquiring the facilities, it planned to operate them itself or to broker them to other operators.

Although the SVA was unable to stop the demolition of U.S. Steel’s Duquesne works, it has continued to explore eminent domain as a means of preventing disinvestment in heavy industry. The SVA is currently attempting to avoid two plant closures in Allegheny County. While the ultimate success of the SVA experiment remains to be seen, Tri-State and the SVA have transformed the debate about reindustrialization in the Pittsburgh area. The steel- workers union has adopted Tri-State’s assertion that American steelmaking could be revitalized if government financed the rebuilding of the nation’s decaying infrastructure.’ The idea of using eminent domain to acquire facilities that private industry no longer finds profitable to operate has become a commonplace of public discourse. As the SVA’s experience shows, however, both legal and political considerations will affect the ability of a public authority to revitalize its surrounding communities. This article discusses how those factors influenced the creation of the SVA and sketches some of the broader implications of using the public authority as a tool for economic development.

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