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Venna takes leave of absence

COAL TOWNSHIP — First-year Shamokin Area Superintendent Chris Venna has taken a three-week leave of absence.

Venna didn’t return calls Thursday seeking comment about the leave, but Shamokin Area School Board President Brian Persing and board member Charles Shuey confirmed that the leave of absence for personal reasons began last week and will continue until April 19.

Shuey said former superintendent and current transition administrator James Zack is fulfilling Venna’s duties during his absence. Shuey said if Venna needs additional time off, the school board will appoint Zack as acting superintendent.

Persing and Shuey both stressed that Venna is using sick or personal time during the leave of absence that didn’t require school board action.

Venna served as principal of Shamokin Area High School for 14 years before being unanimously hired by the school board as superintendent on Sept. 26, 2017.

He was given a five-year contract at an annual salary of $127,500 that can be adjusted by the board. Venna began his duties as superintendent on July 1, 2018, following Zack’s retirement.


Larry Deklinski / SUBMITTED PHOTO  

The Shamokin Area High School Marching Band performs at Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on Thursday. The orchestra performed Wednesday at Disney Springs. Students and staff will return from the Sunshine State on Monday.


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PennDOT employees give update on county projects

Modifications on the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway (CSVT), particularly those to avoid fly ash basins near Shamokin Dam, have extended the project completion date by two years and has added nearly $200 million more to the overall cost, according to PennDOT officials.

The thruway remains the largest of PennDOT’s projects in District 3, which consists of nine counties including Northumberland with an projected overall cost of $865 million. According to District Executive Sandra Tosca, part of the increase is due to inflation and pavement design increases in the northern region.

The largest portion of the $200 million increase are the unexpected changes made to move the road around the fly ash basin, said Tosca. When basins had closed in the late-1980s and late-1990s, it was anticipated they would drain and harden, but a lack of drainage left behind a “material with the consistency of a milkshake,” Tosca explained.

Alternatives were considered, including removing the fly ash, but the only feasible choice was to reroute the highway around the basins, she said. In January, PennDOT obtained environmental clearance for the approximately 2-miles of modified alternatives and are currently proceeding with the final design.

“We anticipate the first contract in 2022 and right now are anticipating a completion date for the fly ash section in 2027,” Tosca said.

The northern section of the project is expected to be completed by 2022 and opened independently of the southern section, which runs from the Winfield to Selinsgrove areas.

Upcoming projects

Upcoming PennDOT projects in Northumberland County are all located outside of the Shamokin area, with the closest being seal coating through Route 125 in Burnside and Gowen City and microsurfacing throughout the entirety of Route 890.

Corey Pisarz, acting maintenance manager, said the department force has 38.4 miles of service improvement scheduled in 2019 for Northumberland County. Of that, 14.3 miles will consist of resurfacing, with a full 38 miles of seal coats.

The largest road project remains the Duke Street and Front Street road construction in Northumberland Borough, which has gone over budget due to utilities located under the road that weren’t anticipated, according to T Jay Cunningham, assistant district executive in design.

Cunningham said the engineers planned to the best of their abilities, but construction crews located previously unmapped utilities and other items under the road. Construction and design crew were able to work through the findings without major issues, he added.

The bulk of the work will be completed this year, with the final surface to be laid down in 2020.

Costly winter

While the winter was mild in terms of heavy snow storms compared to the 2018 winter, PennDOT this year used 5,000 tons more of salt on roads across nine counties. With 72,000 tons of salt used this winter, the number continues to increase at a steady rate compared to 67,000 in 2018 and 61,000 in 2017.

Eric High, assistant district executive in maintenance, said to date they have spent $23 million in winter maintenance, an increase from the five-year average budget of $21 million.

The winter started out substantially with a heavy mid-November snow storm and featured smaller snow storms throughout, but the numerous icy events drove the budget up for PennDOT, High said.

It’s preferable to have large snowstorms with a cleanup consisting of mostly plowing rather then ice storms, which were responsible for the increase in salt and ice skid used on the roads throughout District 3.

AOAA

Following the success of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area’s first go at “taking it to the streets” on Nov. 3, serious discussion has been held amongst revitalization groups, Shamokin council and the director of the AOAA, Dave Porzi, about the possibility of opening a section of Route 125 for ATV usage to drive into Shamokin.

Marking Route 125 as multi-use highway would set a precedent for PennDOT, Sandra Tosca said. It currently isn’t allowed under PennDOT policy. However, the policy office is currently reviewing it and Tosca said they may soon have a final answer.

“The area is so economically depressed and anything that helps improve that, but how we implement some things sometimes, you weigh all the risks and consequences,” said Tosca.

Safety issues

Dave Thompson, PennDOT District 3 spokesman, detailed the amount of fatal crashes within the district during 2018, which resulted in 69 deaths in 62 incidents. Thirteen people were killed in Northumberland County, which was the second highest in the district, behind Bradford County with 14.

Thompson noted that the vast majority of fatal crashes could be attributed to human behavior, which includes distracted driving and driving while under the influence.

High said PennDOT’s attempts at reducing fatalities are reaching the point where they are systematic, which includes the installation of rumble strips, guard rails and other safety devices along roadways.


Larry Deklinski / LARRY DEKLINSKI/STAFF PHOTO 

Shamokin first baseman Connor Fenix stretches to record an out against Mount Carmel’s John Ayres Thursday at Doug Dobson Memorial Field in Coal Township.


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Olvany's hearing continued for third time

SHAMOKIN — A preliminary hearing for Northumberland County Correctional Officer Holly Olvany has been continued for the third time and is now scheduled to be held at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 30, before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III.

A hearing was initially scheduled for Feb. 12 before being moved to April 9. Tuesday’s hearing was then continued until April 16 before being rescheduled for April 30.

Two of the continuances were requested by Olvany’s attorney, Michael Rudinski, of Williamsport. The other continuance was requested by Northumberland County Detective Degg Stark, who filed the charges.

Olvany, who was charged with multiple offenses after allegedly fleeing from the county jail in a car Feb. 4 as an investigation into possible drug violations was taking place, was placed last month on unpaid suspension with benefits. She was previously on paid administrative leave since the incident.

Olvany, 48, of Spruce Road, Sunbury, who has been a county prison guard for many years, is charged with misdemeanors of recklessly endangering another person, obstructing administration of the law and disorderly conduct, and summaries of reckless driving and careless driving. She has not been charged in relation to the drug investigation.

Olvany is free on $20,000 unsecured, supervised bail.


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Feds charge Sunbury man for allegedly distributing child porn

SUNBURY — A Sunbury man who was charged last month by state police with multiple felony counts including aggravated indecent assault of a 6-year-old is now facing federal charges.

According to an indictment filed Thursday in United States District Court, Christopher Suarez, 32, has been charged with production of child pornography and sexual exploitation of minors relating to incidents in October 2018 in Northumberland County.

The indictment states that Suarez employed, used, persuaded, induced, enticed or coerced a minor to engage in sexually explicit conduct for the purpose of producing visual depictions of such conduct.

It goes on to allege, “Suarez did knowingly distribute and attempt to distribute a visual depiction ... (which) involved the use of a minor engaging in sexually explicit conduct ...”

In March, state police charged Suarez with two counts of aggravated indecent assault and one count each of corruption of minors and photographing, videotaping, depicting on a computer or filming sexual acts.

According to the state police’s affidavit of probably cause, Special Agent Ambers Wilson of the FBI was informed that Suarez may be in possession of child pornography at his residence. Suarez gave permission for Wilson to look at his cellphone, during which time the agent found illicit photos of a child, police said.

During a later interview with state police, Suarez allegedly admitted that he had child pornography and recorded videos of himself touching a 6-year-old girl’s genitals.

Suarez was then arraigned by Magisterial District Judge Michael Toomey and remanded to the county jail in lieu of $150,000 cash bail.


Handout from "Unplanned" 

Ashley Bratcher, right, in “Unplanned.”