NORTH BRADDOCK (KDKA) — North Braddock got dealt a mighty blow with the death of big steel, and it has never regained its footing.

“We’re down to below 5,000 residents,” said Mayor Tom Whyel. “This was a borough that had more than 20,000 people at one time. Seventy-five percent of your people are gone.”

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But now the region is in the throes of a new industry, shale gas drilling for natural gas. Mayor Whyel believes this could be the lift his town needs.

“It could be a shot in the arm and that’s something this borough is in dire need of. This borough is struggling,” said Mayor Whyel.

In the past few months, dozens of resident have affixed their names to leases, some promising signing bonuses and royalties should drilling come to the borough.

Details are sketchy. No driller has been identified nor has a potential site for drilling. But by an 8-to-2 vote North Braddock Council has embraced to the idea.

They authorized their manager to explore assembling some 300 blighted and vacant properties for potential leasing, with the hopes of generating hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix roads and hire more police.

“On the surface, it seems like a good idea, but my question was why not parcel them together and do something like a solar farm. Something that’s a little more clean,” said Vicki Vargo, of North Braddock.

Vargo, the sole dissenting vote on council, believes the town is not right for drilling.

“North Braddock is a congested area,” she said. “You can reach out your window and touch the house next door. It just does not seem safe to me.”

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Folks in town are also divided. Joe Korotko declined to sign a lease saying the borough is under mined.

“They put that wastewater down there. It’s leaking everywhere and everything else, so you don’t know, and me being downhill that isn’t too good neither,’ he said.

But while Pat McConnell is still asking question, she’s inclined to sign.

McConnell: “We do need more money coming into the borough.”

KDKA’s Andy Sheehan: “And this would be a way to get it?”

McConnell: “Yes.”

It’s been tough times in North Braddock for several decades now, so a windfall of money is an attractive proposition. But whether shale gas drilling ever comes remains to be seen.

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