Water flows through several major stories of 2013 in the Valley

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 1:01 a.m.

Water is an element in three of the top five news stories in the Alle-Kiski Valley in 2013.

There was unwanted water, concern over the safety of water and worry about water being contaminated.

Here are the top five local news stories of the year as selected by the staff of the Valley News Dispatch:

August flooding

Several Armstrong County communities were hit by flooding caused by heavy rain on Aug. 28.

The flash flooding turned some roads into roaring rivers and scores of buildings were damaged. The Kiski Valley and South Buffalo were among the hardest hit areas, officials said. But there was not enough damage for the area to qualify for federal disaster help.

Low-interest loans from the federal Small Business Administration were the only aid available. The agency reported it approved 21 of 36 loan applications in Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler and Westmoreland counties totaling about $829,000. Most were granted to homeowners in Armstrong County. Other loan applications were under review.

Residents who could not afford or did not want the loans complained they were getting little help in rebuilding.

Westmoreland water emergency

About 50,000 customers of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County were warned to boil water before drinking it in October after a filter failed at the George R. Sweeney Treatment Plant in Bell Township.

The Oct. 24 warning, which lasted four days, resulted in confusion over just who was affected and where, and questions were raised over how the authority notified customers of the possible contamination of drinking water.

Tests of the water found evidence of algae containing microscopic materials such as cryptosporidium, a common waterborne parasite.

Supermarket shelves were cleared of bottled water. The Kiski Area, Leechburg Area and Apollo-Ridge school districts closed as a result.

Tests ultimately found no danger with the water, but the authority accepted a state sanction and $5,000 fine for not disclosing all of the potential health risks in the boil-water advisory issued to customers.

The results of an internal investigation into how the situation was handled is said to be due in February.

Bald eagles in Harmar

Two bald eagles making their home along a ridge overlooking Route 28 in Harmar are one of three nesting pairs of the birds confirmed in Allegheny County, the most in at least 50 years, wildlife officials and observers said.

Bald eagles have been making a comeback since the insecticide DDT was banned and states rolled out reintroduction programs. At least one pair of eagles was known to be nesting along each of the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

Bird watchers were treated to spectacular aerial fights earlier this year when the Harmar eagles battled with red-tailed hawks for control of a nest. If alive and healthy, they are expected to return to nest there, possibly sparring with the hawks again. Residents reported seeing them in the area this month.

After having no offspring in 2013, there are hopes that the eagles in Harmar will have more luck at producing young in 2014.

Apollo Fourth of July fireworks accident

A 14-year-old Kiski Township girl suffered burns on her legs in an apparent accident during the Fourth of July fireworks display at Owens Field in Apollo.

Determining how Brooke Wright was hurt was not easily answered as no authorities at the local, county, state or federal levels were known to have investigated the incident.

Pyrotecnico, the New Castle fireworks company that staged the show for the Apollo Salute to the Armed Forces, immediately afterward promised it would conduct an investigation and share its findings with the public. But two months later, company President and CEO Stephen Vitale said company officials had been advised by lawyers not to make any comments.

Witnesses to the incident reported seeing an explosion on the ground. Wright suffered second-degree burns on both legs. The Apollo-Ridge School District, which owns Owens Field, put an indefinite hold on considering requests for fireworks displays at the facility.

The incident factored into organizers of the Apollo Moon Landing Celebration calling off their fireworks display at the field later in July. Finances also played a role.

Marcellus shale drilling impacts

Marcellus shale natural gas drilling continues to impact the Alle-Kiski Valley.

Money from impact fees has been flowing into county and municipal budgets, as officials discuss and debate how far the drilling could and should expand and residents raise environmental concerns.

Alle-Kiski Valley communities received about $1.45 million from the impact fees in 2013, down about 6 percent from the first disbursement in 2012, according to the state Public Utility Commission.

Washington Township, Westmoreland County, collected the most of any local community because of drilling around Beaver Run Reservoir.

Impact fees can be used for maintenance or improvements to roads, water systems or sewers; emergency preparedness; environmental programs; tax reductions; planning; and employee training.

County governments are considering leasing public land or mineral rights for shale gas drilling to raise money. Allegheny County received a proposal from Range Resources and Huntley & Huntley to drill under Deer Lakes Park. Critics contend the long-term effect of such drilling would cost more than governments would gain in royalty payments.

In December, a state Supreme Court ruling restored the power of local municipalities to decide where Marcellus shale natural gas drilling can occur. The court struck down oil and gas law reforms that were supposed to limit municipal powers on drilling. It allows municipal governments to block some neighborhoods from drilling and subject drillers to reviews before proceeding.

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