chrismurfYoungstown Sheet and Tube Company.

I went to high school near Youngstown, Ohio, well after the end of the two dynasties that made the city vibrant: steel and the 49ers. The story of the decline of steel is well-known. Less well-known is that Youngstown was home to Ed DeBartolo, the former owner of the football team, whose glory reflected in the region for years after the Niners had stopped shining on field. By the time I lived there, Youngstown was already what it is now: empty and looming.

In 2010, the city had 20 times the number of vacant buildings as the national average. With such a glut, city leaders attempted a radical plan: intentional shrinkage. Youngstown began to slice off abandoned homes, razing ones closest to entries to the city to boost a sense that it was getting back on its feet. Homes that had been vacant since the last steelworkers moved away vanished.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Now a new problem. The city doesn’t have enough money to continue to pull down the eyesores, to continue its retraction. So it’s considering a new revenue stream. From the Columbus Dispatch:

The Youngstown City Council is debating a proposal to combat blight by leasing the rights for oil and gas drilling under public land. The city has enough money to raze only 260 houses, with more than 5,000 other structures vacant or ready for demolition, Mayor Charles P. Sammarone said.

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing say the money isn’t worth the risk of polluting drinking water and the environment. Sammarone said demolition is a priority because dilapidated homes are causing people to leave or avoid the city, and raising taxes isn’t an option. Surrounding cities and private landowners are already leasing mineral rights, he said. …

Municipalities and school districts in other states have approved oil and gas leases to pay for services, said John Krohn, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, a Washington-based group that represents drillers.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

The booming, messy steel industry builds Youngstown; the industry’s fall off a cliff leaves the city abandoned. So Youngstown wants to turn to another booming, dirty industry to help it clean up.

The risks are not worth the short-term financial gain, said Robert Hagan, a Democratic state representative who represents Youngstown.

“I understand the desperation of cities,” Hagan said. “I just don’t think making a deal with devil is right way to go.”

Youngstown’s problem is that the devil may be the only one willing to make a deal.

Springsteen performs “Youngstown.”

Hat-tip: Midwest Energy News.

Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.