The Murrysville Council voted to approve the Titan Well Pad with conditions on December 18, 2019. We are still waiting on the final document with the full list of conditions to determine whether an appeal would be appropriate or not. However, the land development approval document lists two waivers the Murrysville Council has granted Olympus for the Titan Well Pad.
These waivers are for landscaping and noise. (What is a waiver? A waiver is a request by the developer for the Municipality to waive restrictions or protective measures enacted in the local ordinance.) The Murrysville Council granted Olympus a significant landscaping waiver, requiring Olympus to only plant 63 trees (57 evergreen and 6 deciduous) and 18 low-level shrubs instead of the 81 trees and 401 low-level shrubs required in the Murrysville Ordinance.
Landscaping requirements for this type of development are extremely important to restore the integrity of the ecological systems being disturbed. While Olympus argued that they are not removing trees to build their pad because they have chosen an open field, that does not change the fact that they are still significantly changing the landscape by creating a large flattened impervious surface (a surface that does not permit water to seep into the ground) that was previously a green, natural space.
Additionally, the lack of landscaping could have serious impacts on storm-water runoff, which could lead to flooding and other problems. The Westmoreland County Hazard Mitigation team, which has been analyzing potential hazards in Westmoreland County and developing a new plan for combating those hazards, has stated that flooding is one of the top safety threats to residents in Westmoreland County.
Why is flooding such a concern? According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory, as little as 6 in. of fast-moving water can sweep almost any vehicle off a roadway. Flash floods are the number one weather-related cause of death in the United States (National Weather Service).
Planting trees is one way to help mitigate storm-water buildup and reduce the risk of flooding. An evergreen tree absorbs an average of approximately 75 gallons of water per year, according to the Tree Benefit Calculator. If Olympus planted 81 trees instead of only planting 63, that could absorb an additional 1350 gallons of water per year. Moreover, Murrysville Council is giving Olympus a pass on their own ordinance, which requires that an operator plant 401 low-level shrubs. The Murrysville Council is only requiring Olympus to plant 18. This type of landscaping is crucial for the absorption of rainwater, which is something that Olympus (formerly Huntley & Huntley) has struggled with in the past. In 2019 alone, Olympus had 218 violations, 143 of which pertained to erosion and sedimentation controls.
Picture right: Evergreen Tree Storm water Benefits (Tree Benefit Calculator)
In addition to absorbing storm water, trees bring other benefits to air quality and reduction of atmospheric carbon. According to the Tree Benefit Calculator, trees absorb pollutants like ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide as well as particulate matter like dust, ash and smoke. They also lower the air temperatures and release oxygen produced through photosynthesis. Who doesn't want to breathe clean air?
In summary, trees are important! Lowering the required number of trees and shrubs is not in the best interest of the Murrysville Community.
Tree Benefit Calculator: http://www.treebenefits.com/calculator/
National Sever Storms Laboratory: https://www.nssl.noaa.gov/
National Weather Service: https://www.weather.gov/pbz/floods