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Archive for June, 2017

Potter County Criminal Justice Reforms Seen As Model

June 17th, 2017 Comments off

Attorney Barbara Zemlock describes the “whole new world of county jail administration.”

Potter County was represented during a daylong workshop in State College on a series criminal justice reforms that have been spreading throughout the state and across the nation because of their demonstrated success. When the changes are implemented effectively, they have been shown to reduce costs, lower jail populations, enhance public safety, and create a positive ripple effect on families and communities. At the foundation of the reforms are new ways of dealing with criminal offenders who are addicted to alcohol or other drugs, as well as those with diagnosed mental illness. Approximately 70 percent of a typical county’s criminal court docket is comprised of offenders who meet one or more of those criteria.

Friday’s workshop was sponsored by the Pa. Comprehensive Behavioral Health/Criminal Justice Task Force. Potter County Commissioner Paul Heimel is a member of the task force and was joined at the workshop by Colleen Wilber, director of drug and alcohol programs at Potter County Human Services; Angela Milford, deputy warden at the Potter County Jail; and Danielle Gietler, assistant administrator with the Potter County Probation Department. Heimel presented an overview of his role as the county’s liaison with national and state organizations dedicated to criminal justice reforms, as well as a researcher focused on best practices and networking with peers in multiple states. Wilber summarized the county’s early forays into innovative programs such as “specialty courts” for drug/alcohol addicts who meet criteria, and a pre-trial diversion program that can steer some offenders toward alternatives to prosecution and incarceration. She emphasized that reforms can only work when all elements of the criminal justice system work as a team. Wilber also pointed out the importance of seeking state, federal and/or foundation grants to cover the expenses.

Attendees heard a detailed and eye-opening report from attorney Barbara A. Zemlock from the County Commissioners Assn. of Pa. on “risk management,” and the greater scrutiny that county jails are facing as the result of recent court decisions and changes in state laws. She emphasized that county jail administrators who fail to meet the standards for medical care — including treatment for addiction and mental health issues — officer training, and disciplinary procedures can be found liable for the consequences. There are now precedents for multi-million dollar judgments against counties and/or third-party providers who fail to comply, Zemlock added. She urged jail wardens and solicitors to fully familiarize themselves with what she termed “a whole new world of county jail administration.”

PSU Extension Restructuring Plan Taking Effect

June 14th, 2017 Comments off

From left, Tony Siliano, Don Tanner and Melissa Sankey.

Penn State Extension’s many services to farmers, forest land owners, families and others are under scrutiny as the organization undergoes a major restructuring brought on by belt-tightening and retirement incentives. Among the veteran employees who are calling it quits at the end of June is Don Tanner, director of what has been a five-county district. This week, Tanner introduced Potter County Commissioners Doug Morley, Susan Kefover and Paul Heimel to two administrators who will be responsible for the new nine-county PSU Extension Area 2. Counties of Cameron, McKean, Elk, Clearfield, Jefferson, Clarion, Warren and Elk are also in the new region. Tony Siliano has come aboard in the new position of business operations manager and will be based in Warren. He has a strong resume in business management and entrepreneurship. Melissa Sankey, whose background in in agribusiness, has been named client relations manager for Area 2 and will be based in Clearfield.

In response to an inquiry from the commissioners, Tanner confirmed that the university does plan to hire a new water resources educator/assistant to succeed another recent retiree, Jim Clark, who was active with several Potter County organizations, including the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition, Water Quality Work Group and Natural Gas Resource Center. No decision has been made on another position that is currently unfilled — horticulture specialist.

Penn State Extension is housed at the Potter County Education Center on Water Street, sharing the offices there with the Potter County Education Council. While the majority of funding for Extension comes from the state, the Potter County Commissioners support the agency by providing the facility — complete with classrooms, a kitchen and videoconferencing technology — as well as an annual allotment.

Shale Gas ‘Impact Fee’ Allotments Announced

June 14th, 2017 Comments off

impact_feeLocal governments now know how much money they’ll get this year as a result of the “impact fee” on shale gas drilling. Potter County’s allotment is $226,437 — up by $36,000 from the 2016 and close to the amount received in 2015. The county will receive another $25,000 that can be used only for certain environmental and/or recreational projects. At the local level, top recipients are West Branch Township at $53,687; Sweden Township, $39,329; Eulalia Township, $31,570; and Clara Township, $26,743.

Other Potter County municipal allotments are: Abbott, $6,261; Allegany, $22,756; Austin, $3,702; Bingham, $8,292; Coudersport, $14,761; Galeton, $6,872; Genesee, $6,936; Harrison, $13,184; Hebron, $8,517; Hector, $9,254; Homer, $4,843; Keating, $17,171; Oswayo Borough, $582; Oswayo Township, $5,162; Pike, $3,369; Portage, $1,362; Roulette, $8,491; Sharon, $9,535; Shinglehouse, $3,162; Stewardson, $1,708; Summit, $22,846; Sylvania, $9,170; Ulysses Borough, $3,886, Ulysses Township, $14,970; and Wharton, $18,217.

Amount of each allocation is based on gas production that took place in 2016. Separate shale gas impact fee allotments will go to County Conservation Districts, Pa. Conservation Commission, PUC, DEP, Fish and Boat Commission, Emergency Management Agency, Dept. of Transportation and Office of State Fire Commissioner.

Under Act 13, 60 percent of the total fees collected go to counties and local governments and 40 percent to the state. The state’s portion is to be used for emergency response planning, training and other activities; water, storm water, and sewer system construction and repair; infrastructure maintenance and repair; as well as environmental initiatives. County and local governments can use the funds for preservation and reclamation of water supplies; improvements to local roads and bridges; construction and repair of water and sewer systems; delivery of social services; local tax reduction; housing; conservation districts; emergency preparedness and flood plain management.

The 60 percent of the fees not retained by the state are distributed as follows: 36 percent to county governments with wells subject to the fee; 37 percent for host municipalities with wells subject to the fee; and 27 percent for all local governments in counties with wells. Both the PUC and the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection have posted information about the Act 13 impact fee and related topics on their websites.

Potter County Water Quality Work Group’s Mission Expands

June 13th, 2017 Comments off

A research project of historic proportions is now underway in Potter County. Details were reported at Monday’s meeting of the county’s Water Quality Work Group. A state grant has been approved to cover the bulk of expenses in a detailed study that will document where much of the county’s groundwater comes from, its characteristics, and its movement patterns. The information will be invaluable for public policy-makers, industries, regulatory agencies and many others. Through the testing of between 45 and 50 wells in strategic locations, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) will be able to amass and share detailed data. This will be a valuable tool for protecting water when sites are chosen for certain types of development. Well data will be assembled and analyzed in a cumulative fashion, with the identity of individual well owners protected. Confidential findings from the analysis will be provided to each owner. Groundwater can contain a variety of suspended and dissolved substances such as bacteria, minerals and gases. These substances are often naturally occurring, but can also be influenced by activities occurring on the land surface. A comprehensive list of water quality parameters will be analyzed for each well.

Justin Boatwright

In other business, Justin Boatwright, waterways conservation officer with the Pa. Fish & Boat Commission, has joined the work group. Since his assignment to Potter County last summer, Boatwright has also been working with the Potter County Conservation District and local watershed associations to coordinate their activities with the commission’s work. Charlie Tuttle, chair of the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition (TDWC), updated the work group on plans to install 24/7 monitors on the supplies of nearly every source of public drinking water in Potter County. Funding for the monitors was obtained through the state’s settlement with JKLM Energy following a 2015 shale gas drilling infraction and pollution incident in Potter County. TDWC will hold its next public meeting at 9 am Wednesday, June 14, at the Gunzburger Building.

Water Quality Work Group Chairman Jason Childs and Jared Dickerson, both from the Potter County Conservation District, detailed a lengthy list of habitat improvement, aquatic organism passage/stream connectivity, dirt and gravel road stabilization, and agricultural assistance projects the district is working on this year. Childs explained new measurement tools being used to verify county-by-county reductions in agricultural nitrogen and phosphorus entering the Chesapeake Bay watershed. He added that considerable progress is being made in Potter County through the cooperation of local farmers.

Updates were also presented on the activities of the Upper Allegheny, First Fork, Genesee and Pine Creek watershed associations, as well as a significant levee improvement project on Mill Creek in Coudersport Borough and the June 24 Trout Unlimited “Snapshot Day” water quality assessment by Trout Unlimited on the West Branch of Pine Creek. Seven sampling sites to document water characteristics in Potter County have been selected.

More information on the Water Quality Work Group is available from Jason Childs at 814-320-4012. Next public meeting is scheduled for 8 am on Aug. 14 in the Gunzburger Building.

Lt. Gov. Stack Compliments Local Veterans’ Support Efforts

June 13th, 2017 Comments off

Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack visited Potter County last week. He hosted a meeting with the Potter County Veterans Service Committee members, as well as veterans affairs directors from three counties and representatives of local American Legion and VFW posts. Lt. Gov. Stack was so impressed with what he learned about local services for military veterans that he established a seat representing Potter, Tioga, McKean and Cameron counties on his new statewide task force for veterans’ advocacy. Stack (right) was joined by retired Brigadier General Frank Sullivan (left), a Galeton native; and the lieutenant governor’s assistant, Wiliam Geigot. The team also toured Cherry Springs State Park International Dark Sky Preserve and met with local representatives of tourism, business, government and criminal justice.

‘Cleaning Up Potter County’ Showing Results

June 6th, 2017 Comments off

Potter County is scoring some major wins in its concerted effort to eliminate unsafe, environmentally unsound and illegal dumpsites. A 2011 study that identified 56 dump sites in the county spread over 22 municipalities got the ball rolling. Funding fell into place three years later when the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) and Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company worked out an $800,000 settlement for environmental violations during the company’s construction of a pipeline in the region. Some of that money was reserved for remediating illegal dumpsites. Over the past two years, the Potter County Conservation District has partnered with the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), Potter County Solid Waste Authority and DEP to clean 30 sites throughout the county. Some 2.8 tons of trash and close to 150 tires have been removed.

Among the sites addressed so far were dumping areas off Pinneo Road near Oswayo, along Pine Creek in Galeton and the Old Colesburg Road in Coudersport. Volunteers have come from the LEEK Hunting and Mountain Preserve, Upper Allegheny Watershed Association, Galeton VFW Post 6611, Galeton Area School and Potter County Probation, among others. Inmates from the Potter County Jail have also taken part. Four more Potter County sites could see work this year once teams of volunteers and/or community organizations are engaged. They’re located along Rt. 44 in Eulalia Township, Loucks Mill Road in Hector Township, Rowley Road in Bingham Township, and Burleson Avenue in Roulette Township. More than 20 other sites that have been identified still need to be addressed. To volunteer or report an illegal dumpsite, contact PEC at 570-718-6507.