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$20K grant to fund creation of Shamokin brownfield inventory

SHAMOKIN — The City of Shamokin is the beneficiary of a $20,000 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant awarded to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to prepare a brownfields inventory.

DEP was awarded the Small Technical Assistance Grant to work with the city on brownfields, which is defined as “real property, the expansion, redevelopment or reuse of which may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant.”

DEP officials held a public informational session Thursday afternoon at Mill Square to discuss the purpose of brownfield redevelopment, process, potential reuses and funding.

According to DEP, the Small Technical Assistance Grant was prepared in consultation with the city, the Anthracite Region for Progress (ARP), DEP and Northumberland County Planning and Economic Development.

A long history of commercial and industrial activities have resulted in brownfields within Shamokin and city leaders want to have an understanding of where they are located and what could be done to facilitate their productive re-use, according to DEP.

Randy Farmerie, DEP environmental program manager, said the department will hire a contractor to create an inventory report, which will be developed using databases and information from the city and local community organizations.

The report, he continued, will include a ranking system that should consider location, zoning, utility access, proposed development plans for the immediate area of the brownfield and risk posed by any known contamination.

DEP said the report must be completed by Aug. 1, 2020, and should be presented at a public meeting.

The next step, Farmerie said, would be to identify outreach opportunities with the community and businesses, and potential funding sources to further assess specific sites.

Kathy Jeremiah, director of the Franciscan Center who had been involved in the grant application while working with the Northumberland County Planning Department, said she has reached out to Bucknell University, which expressed interest in having students canvass the city to find out what residents want done with brownfield sites.

One audience member questioned whether the Shamokin Creek, which is polluted by acid mine drainage (AMD), is considered a brownfield.

The Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance has constructed various treatment sites in an effort to rid the creek and its tributaries of metals, such as aluminum, but more money is needed, the man said.

Farmerie said brownfield funding has never been used for mining reclamation.

John Brakeall, DEP regional coordinator, added that the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation does award funding for such projects, but noted brownfield mechanisms can’t be used to address AMD.

Farmerie presented a brief overview of funding opportunities, such as the Industrial Sites Reuse Program, a partnership between DEP and the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), that provides funds for environmental assessment and remediation at sites where industrial activity was conducted prior to July 1995.

Kim Hoover, DEP environmental group manager, said DCED administers the grant, although it is DEP funded.

“It’s something to think of down the line,” she said to city officials, “for assessment to find out more about the properties that you identify from this process.”

She explained that there would be another round of grants the city could apply for in order to remove contaminants.

“To some degree, from my experience, grants seem to be self-perpetuating in that once you get past the first one (application), it tends to help make it look better as you apply for the next one and the next one,” Farmerie remarked. “It’s a lot easier, sometimes, to start with one and kind of snowball it up, than the people who are dropping in from above.”

Brakeall said municipal leaders have overall say what brownfield sites to further assess and that the properties can be either publicly or privately owned.

“I am not in a position to tell anybody in this room what properties or where to focus brownfield grant,” Brakeall said to city officials. “You know Shamokin way better than I ever will.”


Local
Interest grows in establishing community center in Mount Carmel

MOUNT CARMEL — Interest continues to grow in establishing a community center in the borough.

Jake Betz, director of the Mother Maria Kaupas Center who is among the volunteers working on creating a community center, said attendance at recent meetings has increased to approximately 20 people.

“We have been meeting every month since June and gathering ideas from people who are sincerely interested in establishing a community center,” said Betz. “We are considering four sites in the borough for the center that can be purchased or leased.”

Betz said the next meeting, which is open to anyone interested in establishing the center, will be held at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Shops on the Corner at Fourth and Oak streets.

He said Joanne Troutman, executive director of the Greater Susquehanna Valley United Way, will present a financial workshop to the group at a special meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Shops on the Corner.

Betz said Troutman is assisting the group in developing ways to raise funds for the center.

He said the group, which doesn’t have a formal name at this point, is comprised of community-oriented volunteers, including representatives from the Mother Maria Kaupas Center, Mount Carmel Downtown Inc., Mount Carmel Area Ministerium and Mount Carmel Borough government.

Betz said the group has determined that a community center, which would serve as a multi-purpose facility where community events and meetings can be held, is definitely needed in the borough.

The group said there is no place for teens to gather and there is a need for more activities for them. People of all ages could benefit from social, cultural and educational programs offered at the center.

Questions or suggestions regarding the center may be addressed to Betz or Cathy Besser, president of Mount Carmel Downtown Inc.


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Local property owner seeks to preserve historic inn

COAL TOWNSHIP — A local property owner met with the Coal Township Uniform Construction Code (UCC) Board of Appeals on Wednesday afternoon to request an exemption for a 200-year-old building, which she recently purchased at 2125 State Route 54, and is seeking to restore as a public venue.

On May 17, 2018, Mary Lenig, of Coal Township, purchased the former C.Q. McWilliams Stone House, which was constructed in 1810, and is located directly across the highway from the Roaring Creek Tract of Weiser State Forest. She indicated to the board that she would like to reopen it to the public as a tavern/restaurant with upstairs lodging without having to perform significant reconstructive work necessary to comply with the UCC, which would essentially require her to demolish or significantly alter many parts of the historic structure.

“I want to preserve the original integrity and intent of the building, which was built over 200 years ago by a German immigrant named John Adam Gilger, in order to provide a place of food, drink and public lodging for travelers passing through this area along the former Centre Turnpike,” explained Lenig. “At one time, this building also served as a turnpike toll station and my goal is to allow visitors to our area of the coal region to experience firsthand its authentic rustic beauty, along with the history behind it, reminding them that it represents another piece of our local heritage, which is definitely worth preserving. So many of our former historic buildings are gone and I don’t want to see another one disappear.”

Lenig expressed possible interest in making the outdoor area of the venue available in the future for public outings, special events and activities. She stated that the foods served inside the tavern to patrons would be a light menu of local ethnic fare.

At the hearing, Lenig, accompanied by her attorney Joseph Michetti, was asked a series of questions by the township’s UUC board, comprised of Jerry Waugh, George Zarick and Russ Feese. In addition, township manager Rob Slaby, code officer Chris Petrovich and clerk Susan Burns were also present and seated at the table with the board members. Also present was Joseph Berarducci, an attorney for Building Inspection Underwriters of Pennsylvania Inc. (BIU), which serves as the township’s inspection company for the state Uniform Construction Code (UCC), who was present, along with plan reviewer Joseph Supulski.

The first witness called by Michetti was Michael Catino, a registered professional engineer for 50 years, whom Lenig asked to perform an assessment of the structure.

“I needed to produce updated drawings, so I went out to the Old Stone House. The first issue was that she wanted to put a commercial use on the first floor and have a residence area for lodging on the second floor,” stated Catino. “As time went on and she presented to me the historical information about the property, I felt it would be better served to go the historic route. Is it going to conform to every detail of the current UCC? No, but I believe this property to be a very special case and that’s why she’s here today, to ask for an exemption.”

Michetti then questioned Catino, “Based upon your analysis of the building, would the construction work necessary to comply with current UCC requirements destroy the historical nature of the building?”

Catino responded, “Yes. Is her request reasonable? From a code aspect, no, but from a common sense aspect, yes.”

Michetti then called a second witness, Steven G. Bielskie, to testify. Bielskie, who is a certified third-party master code professional with International Codes Council (ICC) and Labor & Industry (L&I) certifications, has been employed as an administrator and residential, commercial building inspector/plant examiner for Tri-County COG Inspection Service based in Bloomsburg for the past 15 years. He was also questioned by Berarducci.

“I observed the property about two months ago at Mary’s request,” said Bielskie.

“What did you observe?” asked Berarducci.

“It’s constructed primarily of stone. The bathroom is not currently ADA-compliant and needs a handicap ramp installed outside. A 200-amp Square D panel is already there, along with an advanced alarm system. In my opinion, it would be hard to do any major code changes without destroying the integrity of the building’s history. The ceilings are constructed of large beams of one-inch thick chestnut, which is one of the hardest and most durable woods available.”

Berarducci then questioned, “Do you know why we’re here today? Do you disagree with the findings of Mr. Supulski?”

“His blueprints were missing the 200-amp service panel, which was previously installed,” Bielskie answered.

Bielskie also indicated that, in his professional opinion, he would approve the building as is because of its age and the owner’s intended usage.

“No further construction work is planned that would affect code compliance,” he stated.

Following further testimony and discussion, the matter was tabled, pending submission of a detailed business plan that informs the board of her specific intentions for the use of the building, an engineer-approved document showing the fire rating of the existing materials between the first and second floors of the structure, along with any additional pertinent information for the BIU to review.

At that point, the BIU will perform a final review with all available information and determine compliance. If the property is still not compliant with the UCC, the board will reconvene and rule on Lenig’s appeal.

“Our hope is that this appeal can be completed by the end of October or early November at the latest,” concluded Slaby.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO  

Joshua Dombrowski, a senior member of the Shamokin Area High School band, carries an urn holding the ashes of his father, John Dombrowski, while escorted by his mother, Gina Latsha, during senior night recognition prior to the Indians football game against Selinsgrove Friday night at Kemp Memorial Stadium. John Dombrowski passed away exactly one year ago today at the age of 51.