THURSDAY Update: Region’s Case Count Rebounding

July 22nd, 2021 Comments off

Pa. Dept. of Health (DOH) reports just one new COVID-19 coronavirus case in Potter County over the past four days. DOH also released a report showing that there are five confirmed “active” cases in the county, and the department expressed concern about Potter County’s relatively low testing and vaccination rates. Active cases include four in the Coudersport area and one in the Ulysses area. DOH considers a case to be active, and the victim contagious, if a positive test result occurred over the past 14 days. The department also advises that the actual number of COVID-19 infections in a locale is likely four or more times higher than the detected cases. Because fewer people are being tested for the disease, it is impossible to assess its current rate of penetration. Testing is available at UPMC Cole for physician-referred patients. Tests are also being administered at Buchanan Brothers Pharmacy (visit the website here or call 1-800-635-8611) and Rite Aid Pharmacy (visit the website here or call 814-274-0439). Since the pandemic was declared, some 1,232 county residents have been infected and there have been 25 COVID-related deaths.

Meanwhile, neighboring Cattaraugus County, N.Y., had a surge of 20 more confirmed cases and another COVID-related death between Saturday and Wednesday, for new totals of 5,758 cases and 92 fatalities. Cameron County had three more cases and a ninth COVID-related death. There were 27 more cases in Lycoming County, four in McKean, five in Clinton, one in Tioga and three in Allegany County, N.Y.

DOH has also expressed concern about the relatively low vaccination rate in Potter and several other Pennsylvania counties. Potter County’s rate (32.5 percent) remains far lower than the statewide figure of more than 64.5 percent, despite widespread availability of the vaccine. Entering Thursday, 4,336 Potter County residents were fully vaccinated and 626 were partially protected. An average of four vaccinations per day have been administered in the county over the past two weeks. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U. S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are now recommending that adolescents ages 12 and older be vaccinated against COVID-19 in advance of the new school year. They cite, among other factors, a rapid growth in infections across the nation from a new Delta variant of the disease. Buchanan Brothers Pharmacy in Coudersport administers the vaccine by appointment; call 814-274-8660. UPMC Cole offers two options for residents to set up vaccination appointments. One is a telephone hotline, 814-274-5460. The other is an online resource, vaccine.upmc.com. Rite Aid pharmacies continue to book appointments. To access the online reservation form, click here.

Potter County Investigating ‘Broadband For All’ Options

July 20th, 2021 Comments off

As has been made crystal clear by the coronavirus pandemic and other changes in society, high-speed internet service is rapidly evolving from a lifestyle option to a necessity across Pennsylvania. In response, the Revitalize Potter County Steering Committee has made the expansion of broadband service one of its highest priorities. It offers opportunities for economic development, expansion of health care and education, and many other public benefits, according to Potter County Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt. He is joined on the committee by Community Development Director Ellen Russell and Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Paul Heimel and Barry Hayman.

Many Potter County households and businesses have no high-speed internet service or lack sufficient capacity to meet today’s demands. Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative’s (REC) high-speed internet project, which has already connected more than 1,000 Potter County customers, is filling many of the gaps. The steering committee is focusing on areas that are not serviced by Tri-Co Connections.

County leaders learned through extensive public surveying related to the 2020-29 Countywide Comprehensive Plan that expansion of broadband service is a high priority. “We are now taking steps to identify gaps in broadband service in and around Potter County, and to help identify potential partners and funding sources to fill the gaps,” Hunt explained. He added that the committee will be reaching out to service providers, as well as school districts, townships and boroughs, to investigate partnerships.

The committee has compiled an assessment as follows:

Opportunities

  • Improving the quality of life for Potter County residents by closing the gap of the “digital divide.”
  • Providing, through strategic partnerships, services to residents who currently do not have access to internet service of 25mb or greater speed, both download and upload;
  • Accessing funds that are being made available from the federal and state governments to support the build-out in underserved areas.

Challenges

  • Identify the homes and businesses not adequately served.
  • Investigate partnerships and/or incentives to attract service providers.
  • Development of delivery infrastructure, spearheaded by the county government with private-sector partners.

Steps Forward

  • Conduct a feasibility study for development of expanded broadband service.
  • Identify public and private partners/consultants to serve on or advise the committee.
  • Research and analyze best practices from across the U.S.

Full Agenda For County Tourist/Recreation Work Group

July 3rd, 2021 Comments off

Potter County Tourism & Recreation Work Group dealt with multiple timely topics at its June meeting. The panel is part of the Revitalize Potter County campaign, a mission to reverse the population loss and rising median age in the county. For more information or to volunteer, contact Potter County Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt at whunt@pottercountypa.net.

Members Attending: Colleen Hanson, Ben Stone, Josh Roth, John Snyder, Lori Szymanik.

County Attendees: Will Hunt, Ellen Russell, Paul Heimel, Barry Hayman.

Guests: Nicole Faraguna (DCNR Policy/Planning Director); Bob Wicker (Potter County Education Council); Jason Childs, (Potter County Conservation District).

Potter County Canoe & Kayak Launch Sites. Jason Childs detailed the development of canoe/kayak launch points in several Potter County locations. Latest is under construction along the Allegheny River at the A&W West End Grill, east of Coudersport. Other Allegheny sites are in Roulette and Burtville. Also, launch sites have been built at the Genesee Community Park and along Pine Creek on Galeton’s east end. Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has provided funding. Members discussed options for providing information for canoe/kayak enthusiasts on local attractions and history.

‘Pa. Engage’: Data from Hospitality/Tourism Industry. Bob Wicker presented a preliminary summary of findings from an intensive survey of four lodging facilities, seven restaurants and one tourist-based business. A more detailed summary and action plan will soon be released. Among the conclusions: a.) employers are unable to attract/recruit workers; b.) those in the hospitality and tourism market need to re-think how they are conducting business to adapt to changes in visitors’ expectations and to tap potential for business growth.

Denton Hill/Cherry Springs State Park Updates. Ben Stone (Bureau of State Parks) reported that three prospective partners/concessionaires to develop and operate Denton Hill State Park as a four-season attraction have toured the facilities. Deadline for proposals is July 9. He noted that state park visits to date have been lower than in 2020, and on par with trends prior to the pandemic. Ben also noted that plans are moving forward for the Cherry Springs State Park improvements and the Galeton Rotary Club Woodsmen’s Show will be held there Aug. 6-8.

Visit Potter-Tioga Overview/Update. Colleen Hanson said the agency has observed similar trends with fewer visitors than in 2020. Campgrounds have enjoyed a solid year so far, but traditional lodging facilities have not. VPT has launched its summer advertising campaign, emphasizing family fun in the outdoors and the appealing natural and peaceful experience available in Potter and Tioga counties. Click-through numbers on the VPT website are still high and requests for visitors’ guides are increasing, indicating strong interest in the two counties by prospective tourists.

Maryland Air Force National Guard Low-Level Training Flights. DCNR’s Nicole Faraguna reported on continuing research into the proposal. She said that once the air space from 100 to 8,000 feet is open, it could be used by other aircraft in addition to the Maryland Air Force National Guard A-10 Warthog. DCNR and others are still calling for a comprehensive environmental impact statement to be prepared prior to any decisions being reached on allowing the flights. Nicole suggested that those who are concerned about the impact of the flights consider options for educating the public on their potential impact.

Report on Northcentral Pa. ATV Pilot Project. Potter County Planning Director Will Hunt provided an update on the state’s regional all-terrain vehicle connector trail project. He noted that  a new video on ATV safety and legal operation is now posted online. Lori Szymanik (Susquehannock Trail Club) said STS is concerned about the impact of increased ATV traffic on forest ecosystems.

Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. Josh Roth (administrator) said attendance has been excellent since the museum’s reopening. A full-time educator position will be filled; Lori Szymanik is serving on an interim basis this summer. One emphasis of the museum is to encourage guests to get outside for forest-based recreation and to observe sites that are related to the region’s lumber heritage.

 NEXT MEETING: Monday, July 26, 11 am by Zoom or call-in

 

County Shifting To New System For Managing Jail

June 20th, 2021 Comments off

History was made on Thursday when Potter County Commissioners Nancy Grupp, Barry Hayman and Paul Heimel voted unanimously to adopt a new system of management for the county jail. Potter is one of just two counties in the state that still require their elected sheriff to serve in a dual role as jail warden. Under the plan was approved on Thursday, a seven-member “prison board” will be seated on or about Aug. 1 to assume responsibility for jail operations. Members include the sheriff, president judge, district attorney, treasurer and commissioners. That panel will hire and supervise a warden, who is responsible for day-to-day management — to include safety, security and orderly operation — while ensuring the county’s risk of civil litigation is minimized and the rights of the detainees/inmates are protected.

The sheriff-as-warden system harkens back to an era when operating a jail was geared toward punishment, confinement and removing menaces from society. That system was not designed to administer state-mandated services such as mental health/addiction treatment and other changes in the corrections field. At the same time, duties of a county sheriff have expanded in areas unrelated to operating a jail.

Commissioner Hayman pointed out that McKean will be soon be the only Pennsylvania county where the elected sheriff is also required to serve as jail warden. “These are two separate jobs and this action is no reflection on the current sheriff, Glenn Drake,” Hayman said. “History is leaning toward more accountability and having more public eyes on the operation of a county jail.”

Commissioner Heimel said the prison board model provides greater opportunities to address some of the factors that have landed people behind bars. “Providing mental health and addiction treatment, GED assistance, life skills, employability, housing assistance and other services in a jail setting have been proven to reduce the likelihood of a person ending up back in jail once he gets out. It can save the county a lot of money — the jail is the single highest expense to the taxpayers.”

“Those are our neighbors sitting in there and what kind of neighbor do you want?” Commissioner Grupp added. “Do you want a neighbor who is going to go back to the criminal activity that got them there in the first place?”

Investigation of the prison board option has been in the works for more than a year. The commissioners studied best practices from more than two dozen counties where prison boards operate and conducted other research prior to casting Thursday’s vote. (Source: Endeavor News.)

County, Local Governments To Receive ‘Impact Fee’ Checks

June 18th, 2021 Comments off

Pa. Public Utility Commission this week announced the 2021 Pa. Act 13 shale gas-drilling “impact fee” allotments to county and local governments. They are based on 2020 gas drilling and production reports from energy companies and state regulatory agencies. Potter County’s allotment is $207,015, down considerably from last year’s $317,600. Most of the township/borough payments will also be lower. Market factors and the lack of transmission infrastructure prompted firms to scale back operations beginning in 2019. There is still a glut of natural gas and prices remain low. Recently, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted another reduction in gas production this year, followed by at least a modest rebound in 2022.

Township and borough allotments this year will be as follows: Sweden Twp., $46,613; Ulysses Twp., $43,873; West Branch Twp., $32,609; Summit Twp., $25,079; Eulalia Twp., $21,891; Clara Twp., $17,446; Pleasant Valley Twp., $16,967; Coudersport, $13,517; Pike Twp., $13,107; Keating Twp., $12,197; Harrison Twp., $12,029; Wharton Twp., $11,902; Allegany Twp., $11,149; Sharon Twp., $8,737; Sylvania Twp., $8,554; Hector Twp., $8,475; Hebron Twp., $7,788; Roulette Twp., $7,772; Bingham Twp., $7,602; Genesee Twp., $6,382; Galeton, $6,256; Abbott Twp., $5,728; Oswayo Twp., $4,752; Homer Twp., $4,444; Ulysses Borough, $3,533; Austin, $3,381; Shinglehouse, $2,885; Stewardson Twp., $1,555; Portage Twp., $1,271; and Oswayo Borough, $529.

County and local governments can use the money for preservation and reclamation of water supplies; improvements to roads and bridges; construction and repair of water and sewer systems; delivery of social services; tax reduction; housing; conservation districts; emergency preparedness, public safety and flood plain management.

 

County Commits To Pollution Reduction; Survey Launched

June 13th, 2021 Comments off

Potter County is stepping up to do its part in the multi-state mission to reduce the volume of pollutants that enter headwater streams and ultimately foul the Chesapeake Bay. Leaders from Potter, Tioga and Bradford counties have joined forces to develop a plan that will take effect later this year. It not only calls for reduction of nitrogen and phosphorous “loading” of waterways, but also addresses sedimentation, overall water quality, flooding issues, and stream stabilization.

Potter County Conservation District staff and the county’s Planning/GIS Department are spearheading the work. The three counties have contracted with an engineering firm, Larson Design Group. A website that provides details on the Cleanwater Action Plan (CAP) includes a survey form and other avenues for public feedback and engagement. To access the site, click here. Plans call for the CAP to be completed in September and implemented over a five-year period.

“We are hoping for a high level of public participation in the development of this CAP,” said Potter County Planning/GIS Director Will Hunt. “We are identifying area of significant nutrient impacts and are encouraging landowners to participate in the survey found on our website. It is a convenient way for them to provide feedback and share insights on local issues, as well as solutions and results. It only takes about five minutes to complete.”