Neville Island Is More Than Factories, Volunteers Help Maintain Balance Between Nature & Industry

Feb 5, 2018

On a winter day on Neville Island, Dorothy Antonelli sits at the dining room table of her home, flipping through printed pictures. 

They’re colorful images, taken in the summertime, of places on the island where she and her fellow volunteers at the non-profit Neville Green plant flowerbeds each growing season. In the beds are several hues of petunias, red sedum grass and blue sage, among other flora. 

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Antonelli is one of about 1,000 people who live on the western third of the island, which sits in the Ohio River about 15 minutes away from Downtown. The rest is occupied by industry: chemical plants, warehouses, parking lots. Antonelli said, that’s the only association that most Pittsburghers make.

“I don’t think that many people know that there’s a residential community on the island that is thriving. It’s a very safe place, it’s a very quiet place," said Antonelli.

Antonelli has been the president of Neville Green since 2002; the organization was founded 10 years earlier. In addition to planting flowers at central locations like the island’s war memorial park and along main roads, Neville Green’s volunteers also plant trees around the island and routinely run cleanups.

Dorothy Antonelli, president of Neville Green, outside her Neville Island home overlooking the Ohio River.
Credit Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Antonelli said she's especially proud of the learning opportunities they’ve been able to offer in the past. For one program, called Neville Naturalists, they brought in special educators to teach local kids about the environment and take them on field trips.

"We went and visited waste dumps, we went down to ALCOSAN, [and it was] free, nobody had to pay for it," said Antonelli, referring to the kids who attended.

These are simple gestures, but they’re appreciated by the community’s residents. Bob Shuty is a financial planner whose family has been on the island since 1917, when it was still mostly farmland (industrialization would only come after the end of World War I.)  Shuty said before 1992, nobody was doing this kind of work on the island.

"In the past, there was nothing, " said Shuty. Today, he said the island is simply more aesthetically pleasing, both for residents and people who are just passing through.

"When people come down here and they take a closer look around, they realize what a special place this is," said Shuty.

Antonelli said that, ultimately, the work is about establishing a better balance, both tangibly and in people’s perception, between the two spheres on the island. 

Bob Shuty's family has been on Neville Island since 1917, when his grandfather established a homestead there, raising livestock like chickens and pigs.
Credit Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

"It’s important that it has another identity besides ‘industrial'," said Antonelli.

One might think that this could create tension between the two groups, but Antonelli said that actually, it's been the opposite.

"Industry on the island supports us almost 100 percent. If it wasn’t for them, we probably couldn’t maintain Neville Green as an organization," said Antonelli, explaining that because Neville Green doesn’t get any assistance from local government, it runs strictly on donations, which industry members contribute to significantly.

"We live in the communities that we work in. A number of our employees live locally here," said Lance Olson, a senior director at the minerals company Carmeuse Lime and Stone, which has a facility on Neville Island. "It’s important to give back to the community and Dorothy is doing marvelous work on an island that is kinda forgotten sometimes."

She said that, in addition to making financial contributions, businesses like the local FedEx Ground office have also sent employees in the past to help out at events like an annual clean-up on Earth Day.

In the winter, Neville Green mostly takes a break from activity. Antonelli said that, come March, volunteers will start getting together to pick out what kind of flora they want to plant this season and where, before planting season begins in April.