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Potter County Natural Gas Resource Center Revitalized

June 22nd, 2017 Comments off

Potter County is resurrecting the award-winning Natural Gas Resource Center (NGRC). It will be jointly administered by the county’s Planning and Community Development departments and supported by the Potter County Board of Commissioners. An advisory committee comprised of environmental, educational, energy industry and government representatives has been reassembled. Members are Will Hunt, Potter County Planning Director; Jason Childs, manager of the Potter County Conservation District and chairman of the Potter County Water Quality Work Group; Kim Rees, executive director of the Potter County Education Council; Bryan Phelps, police/emergency services; Commissioners Susan Kefover, Doug Morley and Paul Heimel; Jennifer Rossman, Potter County Community Development Director; Terry Cole, Pennsylvania CareerLink; Curt Weinhold, Potter County Planning Commission; and industry representatives Scott Blauvelt from JKLM Energy and Al Haney from Gas Field Specialists Inc. A seat on the committee is also being held open for the new water resources educator to be hired soon by Penn State Extension.

The NGRC leadership will confer with the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection, the Triple Divide Watershed Coalition, Penn State University Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research, and other resources. A new website, recently launched at naturalgasresourcecenter.com, is being built  incrementally.

Potter County Education Council oversaw the NGRC for several years. It was recognized as a model by the County Commissioners Assn. of Pa. and the National Assn. of Counties. The center is designed as a one-stop shop for all kinds of information about the region’s gas industry. At its peak, NGRC had about 560 businesses and agencies signed on to be listed on the center’s website. Public education, as well as development of business liaisons, will remain high priorities. The advisory committee will be reviewing possible topics to be covered when NGRC resumes its public meetings about gas drilling issues, opportunities and concerns later this year.

24/7 Monitors Distributed To Public Water Systems

June 21st, 2017 Comments off

Kurt Logue (left) from Austin Borough was among water system operators receiving instructions as they picked up the 24/7 monitors at the Gunzburger Building.

Monitoring equipment will be installed on nearly every source of public drinking water in Potter County no later than mid-July. Triple Divide Watershed Coalition chair Charlie Tuttle and Campbell Scientific representative Steve Gunderson this week distributed the monitors to operators for installation on wells, springs and surface water sources supplying their water systems. Shinglehouse Borough is the only TDWC affiliate not participating. Sixteen monitors are being placed on the other 10 public water systems in the county. The monitors will capture and archive data on water temperature, flow, and contents to create a baseline and sound an early warning in the event of contamination. The state’s settlement with JKLM Energy for its 2015 environmental violation at a shale gas drilling site off North Hollow Road has yielded $100,000 for the monitoring systems.

On a related note, coalition members discussed the need to update each system’s certified Sourcewater Protection Zone Plan. Mark Stephens, geologist with the Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) regional office in Williamsport, said most of the elements in the current plans will not change and updating them should not pose a stiff challenge. Assistance is available through the Potter County Planning/GIS Department and the Pa. Rural Water Assn. Stevens said that the plans will be taking on increased importance when DEP begins to incorporate Sourcewater Protection Zone Plans into the department’s permit review process and other maps/records maintained by the department.

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.”

AmeriCorps NCCC Team Now Focusing On Austin

June 17th, 2017 Comments off

A nine-member AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) team completed the first stage of its Potter County assignment and will report for duty at Austin in the coming week to work in the borough and at the Austin Dam Memorial Park. Nine NCCC members and a supervisor are in the area through June 24. An appreciation dinner will be held for the team on Friday evening, June 23, at the Ulysses Free Methodist Church. NCCC is a community service program for 18- to 24-year-olds. College students and other volunteers receive modest compensation as well as help with college expenses and/or student loan relief. Drawn from the models of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s and the U.S. military, NCCC is built on the belief that civic responsibility is an inherent duty of all citizens. Each team member gets a small living allowance.

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.