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Looking back at the top stories of 2013

Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014, 11:51 a.m.
 

Looking back, 2013 was a year littered with suspicion, joy and new faces — locally and nationally. Allegations swirled around the National Security Agency's surveillance habits, a nation rallied behind Boston and a new pontiff was chosen in Rome.

Pittsburghers cheered as a giant duck floated on its waters and its Pirates broke a 20-year losing streak while its mayor played a disappearing act in his final months.

In the Murrysville area, residents supported veterans and soldiers as the PA Hero Walk came home. Officials battled at the polls, while those seated were critical of the status quo. And throughout it all, a sewage mess unfolded south of Route 22.

So here, the Murrysville Star counts down the top 10 local news stories of 2013.

10. Chickens, ducks and goats — oh my!

Chickens, ducks and goats — oh my!

In 2013, local battles over livestock made headlines throughout the year. Whether it was Murrysville residents crying fowl over the municipal chicken ordinance or a Delmont man dedicated to keeping his pet ducks, livestock led the news.

In Murrysville, officials squawked about regulating backyard chickens after a resident requested the municipality lower the land requirement for chicken owners from 100 acres. For months, chicken puns flew as the planning commission and council mulled the existing ordinance, only to leave it as it was.

In summer, a Delmont couple challenged a borough ordinance that classified their pet ducks in the same category as sheep, pigs and cows – under the classification of poultry. Moe, Larry, Curly and Fred — sorry, no Shemp — were a part of the family, James Kistler told Delmont officials. The borough threatened in May to fine the Kistlers $500 per day the ducks remained on the property.

Instead, Kistler opted to pay $400 to appeal the decision through the borough zoning hearing board. His feathered friends were worth it, he said.

The board ruled that the ordinance was vague, and it allowed the ducks to stay.

To close out the year, Murrysville officials said they were putting goats to work.

Officials last month said they plan to let goats loose on the iconic Murrysville tree sign off Pleasant Valley Road. The sign, which historically has been taken care of by the Sportsman and Landowners Alliance of Murrysville, is so overgrown that it simply reads “VILLE” from afar when it snows.

9. Homicide in Murrysville

Murrysville saw its first homicide in years in 2013.

In February, Michael Lunsford, 21, shot and killed Gina Llewellyn, 50, of Allegheny Township, before turning the gun on himself.

Lunsford had lured his wife, Ashley McHugh, to meet with him near an animal hospital along the Cozy In Cut-off. McHugh was with Llewllyn and her family, who brought her to meet her husband. McHugh was unharmed, however Llewellyn's daughter, Lynall, was also shot but survived.

Murrysville has a relatively low crime rate. Federal crime reports show that police responded to 21 violent crimes between 2007 and 2011. Police Chief Tom Seefeld couldn't recall the last homicide in the municipality.

8. Calder withdraws from election, then narrowly wins

The prospect of the drawing of lots, an offer to “settle this the old-fashioned way” and a slew of misspelled names kept the 2013 Export mayor's race interesting even weeks after the November election.

For the past dozen years, one of two men has been Export mayor. And throughout 2013, residents bounced back and forth between who would lead the borough of 917 for the next four years.

This fall, the mayoral race between Michael Calder and Bob Campagna could have come down to the luck of the draw — literally, to the casting of lots, a custom used throughout Pennsylvania when an election ends in a tie. Instead, it came to a single write-in vote.

Incumbent mayor Calder faced off against former mayor Campagna — whom he unseated in 2009 — in the primary election and lost the Demoratic nomination by five votes.

He did, however, receive the Republican nomination through write-in votes.

But Calder renounced that nomination and stopped regularly attending council meetings.

However, residents — including Councilman John Nagoda's wife, Michelle — launched a write-in campaign for the November general election.

On election night, it appeared that Campagna edged out a victory. Because of misspelled votes such as “Caulter,” “Mike Colden,” “Mike Climar” and “Michael Caldwell” that appeared as write-ins, the unofficial results indicated that Calder was five votes shy of a tie. Then the two candidates were notified by the election bureau that a winner, depending on how many of the write-in votes were certified for Calder, might be determined by the drawing of lots.

That prompted Calder to issue what might be the Star's quote of the year: “No real man would settle a tie with a game of chance. Tell the other guy I will meet him on Washington Ave. this Thursday, and we'll settle this the old-fashioned way.”

Once absentee ballots were counted and the write-in votes were certified by county commissioners, Calder was named mayor by one vote.

7. Delmont residents speak out against Speedway plan

Speedway made a speedy exit from Delmont last year, after dozens of borough residents protested the Ohio-based gas station chain's plan to build along Route 66.

Speedway officials submitted plans to build at the site of the former Carney's Corner along Route 66 and East Pittsburgh Street. But residents packed council and planning meetings and aired concerns about the potential pollution and noise — as well as just the overall presence of the convenience store and gas station.

That wasn't the only problem with the proposal. Officials who reviewed the plans found more than a dozen discrepancies with the proposal that didn't meet borough requirements.

After Delmont council shot down the plans in November, the borough still scheduled a zoning hearing board meeting to address one final application from the company that would allow a gas station to be built on the property.

If that application is granted, Speedway developers would have to revise and resubmit their plans to the borough, starting the process from scratch.

6. Piraino replaces D'Arcangelo at FR

After eight years, Franklin Regional officials traded a “D” for a “P.”

Superintendent Emery D'Arcangelo – lauded for the stability he brought to the district since 2005 – retired in April, passing the torch to new Superintendent Gennaro “Jamie” Piraino.

Piraino came to Franklin Regional from Greater Latrobe, where he had spent his entire teaching and administrative career. He spends as much time as his schedule allows in the schools — during the summer, he was a regular attendee at the district's elementary math camp – and said he plans to encourage officials to expand the technology available to teachers and students.

Piraino said he hopes to lead the district to continued excellence in academics, arts and athletics.

D'Arcangelo was one of two top-level administrators to retire in 2013. With him retired Shelley Shaneyfelt, director of instructional services and public relations, who had served as a teacher, principal and coach in the district since the 1970s.

Shaneyfelt was replaced by new assistant superintendent Mary Catherine Reljac, who came to the district from Pine-Richland.

But D'Arcangelo didn't say good-bye to education for long. In July, he took the reins at Mt. Pleasant School District as interim superintendent, a role he filled through Nov. 1.

5. Officials address seismic testing

The ground might be shaking around the Murrysville area as drillers prepare for a Marcellus shale boom in Westmoreland County.

Property owners — including local municipalities — received requests from Ion GX Technology and Cougar Land Services to conduct seismic testing throughout the region to begin mapping where underground gas pockets are located.

The process enables drilling companies to determine which areas are most suitable for hydraulic fracturing, the process by which natural gas is extracted during Marcellus shale drilling.

Using seismic waves, explosives or vibrating machines, the process creates a map to show companies where drilling is most profitable.

Two of the three communities in the Murrysville Star's coverage area have not granted permission for Ion to conduct testing on municipal property. Murrysville officials said they were not approached, despite Monroeville-based driller Huntley & Huntley's strong interest in drilling under Murrysville Community Park. In Delmont, officials blasted the idea and recommended that residents do the same.

But Export officials agreed to allow Ion to place sensors along roads throughout the borough to enhance the mapping it is conducting on DuraBond property.

Seismic testing will occur throughout the region, and Murrysville will profit from it. The municipality was the only community of the three to enact a seismic-testing ordinance. Companies now must pay $500 to obtain a testing permit.

The testing is just a precursor to drilling. Currently, Marcellus shale drilling isn't prolific along the western border of the county. The closest drilling sites to the Murrysville area are at Beaver Run Reservoir in Bell Township, which is the water supply for 150,000 people in Westmoreland County.

Officials with Huntley & Huntley — the drilling company that has initiated the majority of oil and gas leases near Murrysville — said drilling likely won't come to Murrysville for several more years.

4. Shoppes take root, golf course remains

It was a year of potential, as Murrysville residents looked towards proposed commercial and residential developments. But only one of those ideas came to fruition in 2013.

The Blue Spruce Shoppes opened at the end of October, with a Starbucks, a Moe's Southwest Grill and the Goddard School early childhood center. Developers aren't done with the 72,000-square foot complex yet — 2014 will bring the second phase of the shopping area, as work continues on a third building that will feature a new premium Wine and Spirits store, Burgatory's first foray out of Allegheny County and other specialty shops. But the mixed-use commercial development wasn't the only hot topic in the municipality. This summer, developer Richard Kacin submitted a proposal to Murrysville that would have converted Murrysville Golf Course along Sardis Road into an 84-home residential development. Kacin said he had eyed the property for years – he lives nearby – and when owner Jim Geiger applied for a rezoning of the property, he developed a plan of what could happen if the municipality granted the rezoning request.

That led golfers to question whether the course would continue to be open. Geiger told Murrysville Council that business wasn't so good as he presented his rezoning request. Kacin went through all of his ideas during a council meeting, assuring officials that the development would keep the property intact.

But less than a week later, Geiger notified the municipality that he was retracting the rezoning request and would continue to operate as a golf course. That was cemented last month when Geiger sold the property to neighbors – Barbara and Gary Bowser – who said they will lease the property to Recreation Inc., the group that runs the course.

3. FR election becomes months-long battle

It wasn't business as usual in the Franklin Regional School Board election this year.

Eight candidates — three of whom were incumbents — vied for four seats, but all eight remained on the ballot after a contentious primary election.

Ultimately, the incumbents — Kim Bondi, Dennis Irvine and Paul Scheinert — were unseated by four newcomers. But the nearly 10-month race became very contentious.

A new grassroots group, the Franklin Area Academic Boosters, decided to endorse the incumbents and a newcomer, Democrat Bobbi Watt-Geer. Meanwhile, the Murrysville-Export Republican Committee endorsed four Republican newcomers — George Harding, Susan Ilgenfritz, Gregg Neavin and Jeremy Samek. However, the booster group did not file the appropriate paperwork to become a political action group, which spurred an investigation by the district attorney's office.

During the primary, some candidates were outraged when a local 912 group consisting primarily of senior citizens hosted a “Meet the Candidates” night. The group asked the school board candidates their stances on abortion, gun rights and whether the Constitution was the “law of the land” or a “living document.”

The day of the primary, complaints were filed regarding whether or not several candidates had attributed who paid for their signs and literature. Sheriff deputies came to at least one polling place, requiring several candidates to reprint or write on their literature.

In December, Harding, Ilgenfritz, Neavin and Samek were sworn in for four-year terms.

2. FTMSA discharges sewage into Turtle Creek

Millions of gallons of sewage waste landed in Turtle Creek this summer, causing havoc for workers and developers.

A Murrysville Star investigation found that the Franklin Township Municipal Sanitary Authority dumped nearly 29 million gallons of sewage into the creek during a seven-week time period this summer.

State Department of Environmental Protection documents show that authority manager Jim Brucker reported 15 breaks to the force main — a sewage line that carries waste from the main pump station to the sewage treatment plant. In letters dating back to 2012, Brucker assured state officials that a fix was coming.

State documents show that construction, which was originally slated to begin in 2012, was to be completed by the first quarter of 2014. Brucker has said he hopes to begin construction by then.

The authority has been warned by the state. In a May 2012 letter from Samuel Harper, Clean Water program manager, the authority was told that there could be penalties if discharges continue.

“FTMSA is also required to take all necessary actions to prevent unpermitted discharges, basement flooding and the associated public health hazards,” Harper wrote, warning officials that they could be liable for civil penalties for violating the Clean Streams Law.

Members of the FTMSA board of directors said they had no knowledge of the problems or that Brucker had reported them to the state. Brucker later recanted and said the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that his board authorized payment for each break.

To assess the scope of disrepair, engineer Steve Polen recommended a $2.2 million study of the entire sewage system, a plan that board members weren't keen on.

The force main wasn't the only problem with the authority this year. When construction began on the Blue Sprue Shoppes along Route 22, developers said they found that the sewage system couldn't handle the waste from the development.

FTMSA serves about 9,465 residential customers in Murrysville, Export, Delmont, Salem Township, Penn Township, Plum and Monroeville.

1. Curriculum scrutinized throughout year

One of the biggest issues in the Murrysville area in 2013 was what was being taught throughout the Franklin Regional School District.

As many parents were apprehensive about the implementation of the Common Core State Standards — a set of academic standards that have been adopted in some form by 45 states across the country — others focused more closely on what curriculum decisions were being made by FR officials.

School officials removed a controversial poem from the curriculum in May after parents complained about its explicit language and graphic nature. “Howl,” a poem published by beat poet Allen Ginsberg in 1956, had been used in an English elective course since 2007. School officials said the poem had historic significance — it was the focus of a obscenity trial because of its language. But some parents and board members didn't agree about its importance, which ultimately led to its removal.

Throughout 2013, some board members criticized the district's curriculum.

Board members Larry Borland, Dennis Pavlik and Jane Tower spoke out repeatedly with concerns about new literature and social-studies textbooks that the district ultimately bought.

In April, the trio said a series of new social studies texts were biased and had that they had issues with how slavery, the Constitution and the role of government were presented.

Several months later, the trio had issues with another set of proposed textbooks — this time, for high school literature.

Borland and Tower said the books seemed biased and focused promoting an agenda.

Tower said the books focused too much on multiculturalism and not enough on American exceptionalism.

Two weeks later, Pavlik commented that his hometown was multicultural — with “blacks, Jews, Americans. It had Native Americans, and it had Polish and Slovaks and Serbians” — but he said it was driven into their heads that they were all, first and foremost, Americans.

The discussions on curriculum weren't limited to the classroom. In March, Murrysville's Cornerstone Ministries presented a six-week course questioning Darwin's theory of evolution and how it is taught in local schools

. The course, which brought in speakers from across the country, attracted about 800 people per night.

 

 

 
 


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