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Residents along Route 61 say speeders are cause of accidents

SHAMOKIN TOWNSHIP — Residents along a section of Route 61 near Stonington have expressed concern that accidents near their homes are the result of speeders.

Their unease was heightened Tuesday evening when state police at Stonington allege the operator of a Honda Civic was speeding when the vehicle went out of control near Manor Drive and struck a PennDOT sign and utility pole.

According to a witness who lives near the scene, the vehicle was traveling south between 70 and 75 mph when the driver lost control just beyond the crest of a hill at Joe’s Road, where 72-year-old George Kovaschetz was struck and killed by an SUV on May 8 while attempting to retrieve his mail.

In that incident, Trooper Christopher Kolosinsky stated that Kovaschetz had been on the southbound shoulder of the state highway and was struck by a northbound 1997 Jeep Liberty while attempting “to cross the highway in front of” the vehicle at about 1:36 p.m.

Kolosinsky has not released the driver’s name or whether charges were filed. A call to the trooper to seek the status of the investigation was not returned Wednesday.

Wayne Shinskie, a long-time resident of 3974 state Route 61, located between the scene of the fatal pedestrian accident and Tuesday’s crash, said there have been at least four other accidents that have occurred near his home. The speed limit in the area is 50 mph.

“They just fly over the hill,” he said, as he watched emergency personnel treat the occupants of Tuesday’s crash. “A lot of accidents occur because they don’t watch.”

Trooper Jordan Judson stated in a public information release report that a 17-year-old female from Montandon lost control of the Civic near Manor Drive at 8:13 p.m. The vehicle slid sideways as the passenger-side of the rear bumper struck a PennDOT sign. The operator was unable to correct the steering, the trooper added.

The vehicle crossed the northbound lane, then struck the utility pole before coming to a stop in the northbound lane with the front of the vehicle facing northeast.

Judson charged the driver with speeding, driving on roadways laned for traffic, careless driving, driving while operating privilege is suspended and operation of vehicle without inspection. A passenger, Tessa Berlew, 20, of Dallas, was charged for not wearing a seatbelt.

The driver suffered an apparent arm injury and was transported to a hospital. Berlew had a minor injury and was also transported. A 17-year-old male from Coal Township who was riding in a backseat was not injured.

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Zerbe supervisors approves Trevorton name change

TREVORTON — At their monthly meeting, Zerbe Township supervisors unanimously ratified a proclamation designating that Trevorton be renamed “Abbyton” this past Sunday in honor of Abby Menko, who won four silver medals in the Special Olympics recently held in Seattle, Washington.

Motions to hire Craig Scott as a township street department employee and Bob Marciniak as a part-time office clerk were approved.

A total of 37 properties were posted for sewer delinquency, with 29 being water shutoff notices and eight magistrate notices. Of the 29 water shutoff notices, 18 were paid in full totaling $9,137, six on a payment arrangement which are almost paid off and five turned over to Aqua for water termination.

Out of the eight magistrate notices, three paid off in full totaling $3,929.64, one on a payment arrangement and four were sent to the magistrate. Total amount of sewer delinquencies for the properties posted was $29,664.36 and now the delinquent amount is $16,597.72. As of Aug. 1, another round of water shutoffs will begin for anyone owing over $240.

A June 29 repository sale of a property located at 703 Scott St., Trevorton, was held by Northumberland County Tax Claims Bureau. Permission was granted to the county to accept whatever bid they receive on the property in order to get it back on the tax role.

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HUD hurdle helped scrap building plans for county

MILTON — Northumberland County’s decision to scrap plans to build a new office for District Judge Michael Diehl on land owned by the Northumberland County Housing Authority and purchase an already existing building on Locust Street in Milton came about over the last month, according to Commissioner Chair Rick Shoch.

The commissioners on Tuesday voted to spend $130,000 to purchase the building owned by Evangelical Community Hospital. Democratic Commissioner Kym Best voted against the purchase.

Shoch said the Central Susquehanna Intermediate Unit (CSIU) will be moving programming it operates out of that building to the former Watsontown Elementary School.

Previously, Shoch said the county was targeting a cost of around $500,000 to build the structure on the property owned by the authority on Filbert Street in Milton.

However, Shoch said the county recently learned there may have been a number of hurdles in developing that site.

“There was going to be some potential holdups because the property is controlled a bit through HUD,” Shoch said. “They had changed what they initially told us what we could do.”

He believes the county had spent around $2,500 on design work of the building which had been proposed for land owned by the authority.

Shoch said the purchase of the Locust Street property is expected to close in late August.

He’s not yet sure how the purchase will be funded. However, Shoch said excess funds should be available from what was borrowed for the construction of the new county prison which can be applied to renovating the building on Locust Street.

Shoch expects renovation costs will not exceed $200,000. He said there are some questions if excess funds available from the prison project can be used to purchase a property.

According to Shoch, the county is currently paying $2,500 per month to lease space for the district judge’s office from Milton Downtown Investors.

Shoch said that space is not big enough.

“(The owners offered us) a couple of different options, all of which required us to put money up front to renovate that space,” Shoch said. “Under option one, which was offered, we would have had to pay $100,000 up front to renovate space that we don’t own.”

Under that option, Shoch said the current judge’s office space would have been expanded into an adjacent vacant building.

That would have given the office slightly more square footage than what it will be obtaining from the Locust Street property, Shoch said.

However, he said the space would not have been configured to meet the needs of the office. In addition, he said the county would have been locked into a lease until the 2030s, with the lease amount “constantly increasing.”

The new building is largely open inside, and will be configured to meet the needs of the district judge’s office, Shoch said.

He said the county learned the building was available for purchase about a month ago after someone approached Diehl about it.

He has since visited the space, along with a committee which had been looking to develop the new office space.

Shoch also addressed concerns that the Locust Street property is in the flood plain, as was the case with the current judge’s office location.

According to Shoch, 90 percent of buildings owned by the county are located in the flood plain, including the courthouse and administrative building.

Shoch said the county does have plans in place should a catastrophic flood strike the area.

“We do have contingency plans in place where we could go to operate out of the flood plain,” he said. “We do have (computer) system backups in place... Where we live at, we live in the river valley.”

Shoch believes the county is getting a good deal on the Locust Street property as he said the original asking price was $150,000, and the building was appraised at around $180,000.

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Ralpho sups to use grant money for flooding issue

ELYSBURG — The Ralpho Township Board of Supervisors have agreed to use $69,445 in Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds for the fiscal year 2018 to mitigate flooding near West Center Street.

On the advice of Linda Sterling, project coordinator of community development for SEDA-COG, and township engineer Brad Aurand, the board voted to certify the name of the project as the “West Center Street Flood Mitigation Project,” pending survey results. Voting in favor were supervisors Blaine Madara Jr., Vincent Daubert, Stephen Major and Dan Williams. Supervisor Blaine Madara Sr. abstained because he lives in the area.

Project funds must improve the quality of life and meet one of three criteria: urgent need, elimination of blight and benefit low/moderate income families.

Past CDBG funds were used for Phase I of a stormwater project, which corrected water deficiencies in the “south channel” near South Market Street by removing debris, installing rip-rap and capping the top of stable sections to prevent water intrusion and vegetation growth. Supervisors had perviously expressed interest in completing the next phase of the project, known as the “north channel,” located east of North Market Street and North of Center Street, which would have involved securing right-of-ways and easements from about 10 properties.

Prior to the vote, Sterling informed the board that she and Aurand viewed the area near the north channel and concluded some property owners may not perceive a problem, adding that there is established landscaping and other features that would need to be removed. Aurand noted that the channel is already well maintained.

She told the board that a project name needed to be certified at the meeting and that it could not be changed once approved.

In related business, Sterling followed-up on a request by a resident affected by the south channel project who had requested the township install a split three-rail fence for safety purposes and has since demanded the project be “un-done” and his yard returned back to pre-construction status.

She reminded the board that the township provided the resident choices for fencing and that he chose a type of fence that existed prior to construction, but later requested his yard be restored.

A letter, sent by township solicitor Todd Kerstetter and signed by Sterling on behalf of the township, has since been sent to the resident explaining ample time was provided to clearly state intentions and that he failed to do so. The letter also included wording that if the township decided future action is needed it would be done without his input.

The board then approved a motion for a construction change order in the amount of $5,300 for split three-rail fencing.

In other business, Kerstetter recommended to the board that they re-approve the “Via Dante subdivision” because the developer would not meet the 90-day timeframe to record the plan due to township recently receiving a developer’s agreement and bond.

The subdivision, which would create four new lots along Hillside Avenue, was approved 3-2 in April with supervisors Madara Sr. and Daubert dissenting. Supervisors and township officials held an extensive discussion at that meeting over concerns that some developers are “transferring the burden” of building retention basins to the homeowners, leaving the township without escrow funds to review future plans.

The Via Dante developer’s agreement requires a bond of $1,000 for each on-lot storm water management system, for a total of $4,000.

The subdivision was re-approved 4-1 with Madara Sr. voting against.

“I just have issues,” he commented prior to the vote.

Code enforcement officer Mark Lyash informed the board that a draft of an amendment to the storm water management ordinance that would add subdivisions as an “regulated activity” is under review by the Planning Commission.

“This doesn’t let (developers) off the hook,” Lyash said.

The board also approved hiring MA Landscaping at a cost of $865 for tree and shrub cutting around the municipal complex. At the beginning of the meeting, Major, who serves as chairman, swore-in David Tomtishen as a full-time police officer with the township. The officer was hired last month by the board.

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Prison complex on schedule to be completed by end of month

SUNBURY — The Northumberland County Prison Board met Wednesday morning for its monthly meeting.

A status report of the new Northumberland County Prison construction was provided. According to Commissioner and Prison Board Vice Chairman Sam Schiccatano, construction of the new prison complex remains on schedule to be completed by the end of this month.

“We’ve been informed that the only item which will be delayed are the prefabricated electronic gates which are on special order form a company in New York. However, that is not anticipated to change our target date for opening the new correctional facility and we’ve told the contractors that as long as the prison construction itself is completed by the end of this month, they’ll be fine,” said Schiccatano.

Last month, when Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel toured the construction site at the new facility, he offered a few recommendations which included the installation of protective cages above shower stalls. A few staffing recommendations were also made, and it was determined that those would be discussed with the warden at a later date.

In another matter, Commissioner Richard Shoch stated that an individual who recently attempted to access the prison construction site without written or verbal permission was questioned and subsequently removed from the area.

Prior to the prison board meeting, an executive session was held for approximately 20 minutes.

In other county business, Schiccatano stated he wanted to make it clear that a decision to acquire an existing property located at 45 Locust St. in Milton at a cost of $130,000 for relocation of District Magistrate Michael Diehl’s office will result in an estimated savings of nearly $500,000 for Northumberland County taxpayers.

“We received several proposals for long-term monthly rental agreements through 2032 from a local property investment firm in Milton that would have cost the county over $600,000 in total rental fees and at the end of the day we still wouldn’t even take possession of the new property,” he said.

(Updated July 12 to correct an error.)