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EQT drops plans to spray herbicide from helicopter in Murrysville

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 10:54 a.m.

Officials of a Pittsburgh-based energy company have decided not to spray herbicides from a helicopter along a pipeline right of way in Pleasant Valley Park.

Officials of EQT, which owns a natural gas transmission pipeline that stretches from Penn Hills to Delmont, had planned an aerial spray of Alligare Triclopyr3 and Metsulfurin methyl-DF in the Murrysville park between Aug. 1 and Oct. 25.

However, despite reviewing the landscaping using a GIS mapping program, EQT officials had no idea they were planning to spray in an area that intersected with two walking trails in at least five locations.

“We will not be spraying around Pleasant Valley Park,” said Linda Robertson, spokeswoman for EQT. “We try to stay away from homes, streams, ponds – anywhere there are people or animals. When (our mapping people) see a big grassy area, that becomes part of what can be sprayable.”

According to a letter sent by Schoeffler Energy Group, a Texas-based land management firm, the spraying was set to be part of a vegetation-maintenance program designed to control the growth of trees, brush and other undesirable vegetation on the right of way. Robertson said maintenance around the pipeline right of way is required so that workers can have quick access to the line if there is a service problem.

After receiving a copy of the letter, Pleasant Valley Trailbuilders volunteer Joe Galvin had worries. The right of way includes four locations on Hank's Trail and at least one on the Cheeky Chipmunk Trail. Last week, he raised the issue with Murrysville Council with the hope that something could be done to limit hikers' exposure to the chemicals.

“Our big concern is how the heck are they going to know from a helicopter that no one is on the trail or in the park?” Galvin said last week.

“There's no way to prevent people from coming in contact with this.”

Councilman Dave Perry, an environmental geologist, said he worried about the possibility of overspraying from a helicopter. Perry said one of the chemicals — Metsulfurin methyl-DF — wasn't “that big of a deal” and noted that both are common.

According to the material safety data sheet for Alligare Triclopyr3, the liquid herbicide is corrosive and can cause irreversible eye damage. Under its hazard identification section, it is noted as being harmful if absorbed through the skin or swallowed and is considered a combustible liquid.

Council asked chief administrator Jim Morrison to request a more exact time frame, rather than the nearly 11 weeks in which Schoeffler had indicated the spraying could occur. Galvin said he worried that people would ignore or not even notice any signs the municipality placed in the park alerting people of the spraying, which Robertson initially said was slated to begin this week, weather permitting.

Robertson said EQT will explore other options — such as mowing or accessing the area on foot or by ATV — to maintain the property. Municipal officials said they are glad that the company has reconsidered its plan.

“It's good news,” council President Joan Kearns said. “But it would serve them well to do a little more investigation before they send out a letter like that.”

Daveen Rae Kurutz is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8627.

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