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Residents voice strong opposition to proposed rails-to-trails project
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SUNBURY — A contingent of Shamokin Township and Snydertown residents voiced their strong opposition Tuesday to Northumberland County commissioners over a proposed rails-to-trails project by the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) that would traverse through their properties while disturbing the peace and quiet they have enjoyed for years in the rural area.

Concerns were aired about ownership rights, safety and liability issues, and motorized vehicle regulations before an alternate route was presented to the commissioners by Coal Township resident Bill Knapick.

Some property owners described the AOAA Authority as “bullies” and a “Good Old Boys Club,” while condemning authority members for infringing on their properties without taking into consideration their concerns.

Two public meetings were held last month in Sunbury and Shamokin to discuss the proposed rails-to-trails project that would cover 36 miles on abandoned railroad property from Sunbury to Mount Carmel. The trail would be 10 feet wide.

Steve Baker, an engineer and the manager of the proposed project, presented the concept of the rails-to-trails initiative at the meetings.

He explained that the project was in the fourth step of a “master plan” and was not a “set-in-stone design.”

With an estimated population of 40,222 people living in the proposed trail’s surrounding area, Baker said the trail could potentially see more than 2,000 excursions per week and more than 100,000 treks per year.

Shamokin Township resident Mike Yucha, who presented a petition to the commissioners containing the names of 500 people opposed to the rails-to-trails project, told Commissioners Sam Schiccatano, Joseph Klebon and Kym Best that they are the landlords of the AOAA and appoint members to the AOAA Authority.

“You do ultimately have the power to stop or approve the proposed trail,” Yucha said. “The confiscation of senior citizens’ private property for a recreation trail is not necessary when the original AOAA master plan promised the citizens of Northumberland County miles of walking and biking trails on AOAA land that is not in use at this time. Additionally, we already have 21 walking and biking trails at Weiser State Forest in Bear Gap that our proposed alternate trail route will connect to.”

Yucha said if the proposed trail project was approved, it would cause a “nightmare” for local citizens who travel Routes 487 and 61 toward Shamokin and lead to a bigger traffic jam at the Cameron Bridge.

Yucha said he has attempted to contact county solicitor Frank Garrigan to seek answers about the trails project, but has not been able to do so. Garrigan, who was not in attendance at the meeting, also serves as solicitor for the AOAA Authority.

Knapick said he was asked by landowners from Sunbury to Shamokin who would be adversely affected by the project to develop a map of an alternate walking and biking trail that wouldn’t impose on property rights.

He said the alternate route would utilize 2,300 acres controlled by the AOAA that are located north and northeast of Route 125 and south and southeast of Shamokin.

The first trailhead would start in a developed location in Shamokin and use Big Mountain Road. The second trailhead would use the recently built AOAA facility that contains a paved parking lot and would accommodate walkers and bikers.

Knapick said either trailhead would gain access to the 2,300 acres that the original AOAA master plan promised to the public.

His alternate route calls for the walking and biking trail to exit the AOAA property and cross Route 901 just east of Excelsior, which would be the safest way to access the abandoned railroad bed.

Once the trail enters the former abandoned railroad bed east of Excelsior, it would head east toward Mount Carmel without any landowner issues, Knapick said. Halfway to Mount Carmel, he said the trail could “fork off” onto county land and head north into Kulpmont, where the Veterans Memorial Field is located.

The trail would then continue east toward Mount Carmel.

Knapick said there are several locations that the trail could head in a northerly direction into Marion Heights and Natalie through county property.

Once the trail is near Natalie, he said it could easily link up to many beautiful trails in Weiser State Forest.

He said accessing the 7-mile road through Aqua PA property from Route 54 west to Geisinger-Shamokin Area Community Hospital could also be a possibility.

He said staging areas for the approximate 44-mile alternate trail could be developed in Shamokin, Excelsior, Kulpmont, Atlas, Mount Carmel, Marion Heights, Natalie and Tharptown. He said the staging areas far outnumber those in the rails-to-trails feasibility study.

Knapick pointed out that businesses in the communities along the alternate trail would greatly benefit and that law enforcement and EMT services would be in close proximity to the trail.

“This proposed trail system could be a win-win possibility only if the AOAA has the vision to invest the grant money available to do so,” Knapick said.

Best said she supports the alternative route and was definitely against any project that would infringe on residents’ property rights.

Schiccatano and Klebon both agreed that an alternate trail should be considered to avoid causing problems for landowners along the trail proposed by the AOAA.

Schiccatano said he was aware that the county obtained a grant to conduct a feasibility study for the rails-to-trails project, but had no idea where the trail would be located until recently. The commissioner said he was informed by the AOAA that the project was about a year or two away from being developed.

Shamokin Township resident Lisa Polan voiced opposition to the proposed trail because it would take away the peace and privacy of living in a rural area and would cut off access to part of her property.

John Kurtz, another resident of Shamokin Township, said he was concerned about privacy issues and land rights and strongly encouraged the commissioners to stop it.

Kurtz called the AOAA “bullies” and told the commissioners to talk to their tenant about how they conduct themselves.

Snydertown resident Rene Bernier said the AOAA was a “Good Old Boys Club” that had no right to the properties along the proposed trail.

A very emotional Linc Fox, who experienced a similar proposal many years ago to create a rails-to-trails project on his Shamokin Township property, said, “Nobody has a right to take that land.”

Also voicing opposition to the proposal were Snydertown resident John Smink and Shamokin Township residents Randy Ritzman and Dr. Duane Donmoyer, who all stressed the need for more transparency about the project.

The commissioners agreed to meet with members of the AOAA Authority to seek an alternate route for the rails-to-trails project and possibly have authority members meet with landowners to further discuss their concerns.

Patricia Zablosky, of Citizens United to Stop the Timber Project, thanked the commissioners for stopping a timbering project proposed by the AOAA above the south side of Trevorton Road in Zerbe Township.

Zablosky said she believes the all-male AOAA Authority should be more diverse and contain at least one female. She said the commissioners appoint authority members and should be better informed of their actions.

Best recommended having one of the commissioners appointed to the authority.

Alberta Reynolds, of Hill Road in Lewis Township, who displayed a portrait of her late husband, Donald, at the meeting, complained about the closure of a county-owned bridge about 100 yards away from her home near the Lycoming County line.

Reynolds, who broke down crying a few times while addressing the commissioners, said the bridge has been closed for about four years and the township roads leading to it have been in deplorable shape for many years.

She claimed her husband, who died in a hospital Sept. 12 after experienced health issues the day before, possibly could have been saved by ambulance personnel if the bridge wasn’t closed.

Reynolds was accompanied to the meeting by her daughter-in-law, Nicole Walburn.

Klebon thanked the Keystone Fish & Game Association for donating $13,212 to the Northumberland County Veteran’s Relief Fund and commended all veterans for their service.

The commissioners authorized payment of approximately $442,521 to retirees for health and welfare benefits for 2021.

Charles Hopta Jr. was reappointed to the Wyoming Valley Levee Raising Mitigation Board for a one-year term, beginning Jan. 1.

The commissioners approved change orders in the amounts of $9,137.99, $22,535.25 and $14,270 for the furnishing and installation of lighting protection for the county courthouse clock tower, exterior and interior courthouse repairs, asbestos testing and added corbel repairs, and additional coating to the courthouse clock tower finial and dome, respectively.

The change orders relate to the courthouse exterior rehabilitation and heating, ventilation and air conditioning/electrical project.

The commissioners approved the leasing of a Copystar printer from CSP Office Equipment in Shamokin for the juvenile court office at a cost of $55.43 per month for 60 months.

The board unanimously approved an agreement with Union County regarding an Appalachian Regional Commission grant for regional broadband improvements and awarded a contract to Service Electric Cable Services to serve as internet service provider for the regional broadband improvement project.

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9/11 monument gifted to Coal Township to be on display Sunday at Ashland church

ASHLAND — A monument crafted from the remnants of the World Trade Center following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, will be on display between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday at Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ, 2400 Centre St.

The Rev. Dean Luther, pastor of the Zion’s Reformed United Church of Christ, and Lynn Wolfgang, consistory president, are pleased to announce that the artifact will be on display during the church service, which starts at 10 a.m.

First responders are invited to the service, during which parishioner Dave Sage, a Coal Township patrolman, and R. Craig Rhoades, a Shamokin firefighter who works with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation, are expected to speak.

The foundation sponsors mortgage-free homes to families of veterans, police officers and firemen who were injured or killed in the line of duty. These homes have been built across the country and are built in such a way to accommodate any service-incurred injury.

In summer 2019, Sage and Rhoades led a line of emergency vehicles escorting the 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit that traveled through three counties while en route to Ralpho Township Community Park in Elysburg, where people were invited to learn about the foundation and terror attacks.

Sage said he and Rhoades worked with the Stephen Siller Tunnel to Towers Foundation to secure two nearly identical monuments that were donated to Shamokin and Coal Township during the 20th anniversary remembrance march and program at Claude Kehler Community Park in Shamokin.

Sage said Shamokin Area Middle/High School students, under the direction of industrial arts teacher Tony Lesher, are constructing housing units for the monument that was gifted to Coal Township.

Lesher explained there are three separate pieces being built: A permanent display case, which will be housed at the Coal Township municipal building, a transport case and a cart for the transport case.

Sage was thankful for the school’s support, adding that the monuments honor those who died during the terror attacks, the first responders who have suffered from the effects of the attack and service members who lost their lives in the subsequent wars.

Luther and Wolfgang invite the public to be a part of Sunday’s special service as the church remembers those who died on 9/11 and all of the first responders and volunteers that helped “in the minutes, hours and days ahead to help the community in their recovery process.”

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Coal Township native elected judge in Chester County

WEST CHESTER — Coal Township native and West Chester resident Alita A. Rovito was elected judge of Chester County Court of Common Pleas on Nov. 2.

Rovito, who has been an attorney for 33 years in Chester County, collected 27% of the vote in defeating three other candidates. The Democrat tallied 72,463 votes, which were approximately 7,000 more than her nearest challenger.

She cited her experience and ability to be a compassionate and fair judge on the Court of Common Pleas during her campaign.

The 59-year-old Rovito, who is a graduate of Shamokin Area High School, is a second-generation attorney. She is a daughter of the late Attorney Vincent and Agnes Rovito, of Coal Township.

Her brother, Vincent V. Rovito Jr., is a longtime and well-known attorney in Shamokin. Other siblings include Dr. Peter F. Rovito, of Allentown; Lisa A. Rovito-Roscher, of Harrisburg, Dr. Marc A. Rovito, of Phoenixville, and the late Maria J. Rovito.

She and her husband, Kevin Lawrence, reside in West Chester. They have two daughters, Mary and Aggie.

Rovito served as an assistant district attorney in Chester County from 1988 to 1994. She was the first managing assistant district attorney of the Chester County Child Abuse Unit.

In 1994, Rovito was appointed a hearing officer in Chester County Family Court. She was one of five family court masters in Chester County until 2009.

From 2009 until the present, Rovito was a founding member of a family law firm serving Chester County.

She has served as a lecturer for the Chester County Bar Association, Family Law Institute and Pennsylvania Bar Association, and a panel member for the Chester County Advocacy Academy, Four-County Family Law Practice and Pennsylvania Bar Institute.

Rovito served as a fellow for the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers from June 2018 to the present and a council member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section form 2016 to the present.

Rovito was on the rules committee of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section in 2017 and has been a member of the Pennsylvania Bar Association Family Law Section from 2009 until the present. She also was an appointed member of the Chester County Local Rules Committee in 2003, 2004, 2011 and 2012.

She has been very involved in her community through the years.

Rovito served on the Crime Victims Center of Chester County Board of Directors and Maternal and Child Health Consortium Board of Directors in West Chester.

She has been a Girl Scout leader, CCD instructor at Ss Peter and Paul Church in West Chester, mock trial attorney coach, mock trial judge and volunteer with the Salvation Army.

Rovito earned a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University in 1984 and graduated in 1987 with a law degree from Dickinson School of Law in Carlisle.

Southern Columbia’s Riley Reed controls the ball at the center of the field as Harrisburg Christian’s Hannah Costa trails the play in a PIAA Class 1A first round playoff game Tuesday at Tiger Stadium.

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Senate to consider removal of Schuylkill County commissioner

HARRISBURG — Sen. David G. Argall, R-Schuylkill/Berks, has introduced legislation to remove Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage from office.

In May 2021, a judge granted two sexual violence Protection from Abuse (PFA) orders against Halcovage, according to Argall.

An investigation conducted by the Schuylkill County Human Resources Department in June determined that Halcovage violated county sexual harassment and discrimination policies. The investigation concluded that had Halcovage been a county employee, he would have been fired, Argall explained.

In October, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that Halcovage had subjected and continues to subject female employees to discrimination, retaliation and harassment.

“Almost every single state and county elected official representing Schuylkill County has now called upon Commissioner Halcovage to resign,” Argall stated in a news release on Tuesday. “We must take bipartisan action to address this situation. That’s why I have introduced this resolution.”

The resolution would establish a Senate Special Committee to pursue Article VI of the Pennsylvania Constitution, which states that civil officers elected by the people shall be removed by the governor for reasonable cause, after due notice and full hearing, on the vote of two-thirds of the Senate.

Following a comprehensive investigation by the Senate Special Committee, if two-thirds of the Senate votes against the commissioner, the governor is required to remove him from office.

The Pennsylvania House of Representatives is considering a similar effort, at the request of State Reps. Jerry Knowles, Tim Twardzik and Joe Kerwin. The resolution calls on the House Judiciary Committee to begin an investigation into Halcovage’s actions and to determine whether impeachment is necessary due to the alleged actions and violation of public trust by the commissioner.

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Police: Three people charged with trespassing for refusing to leave high school

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP — Three Catawissa residents were each charged Monday with misdemeanor criminal trespass for allegedly refusing to leave the Southern Columbia Area High School after not complying with a face covering policy at a school board meeting on Sept. 13.

Officer Donald Spotts, of the Locust Township Police Department, filed complaints against Gary Krum, 70, of 1779 Scenic Drive; Kathrine Detwiler, 45, of 136 Church St.; and Elaine Barnhart, 71, of 33 Mercy Road, in the office of Magisterial District Judge Craig Long, Catawissa.

According to the affidavit, school police Officer David Townsend and district Superintendent Jim Becker told five individuals inside the high school’s cafeteria that they were in violation of a face covering policy and were advised to remedy the situation.

The policy was explained again, adding that violators would need to comply or leave the building. Two unnamed individuals complied with the directive, but the three defendants did not. Townsend then advised that law enforcement would be contacted if they remained inside the school.

Spotts arrived on scene at 7:18 p.m. and, after being briefed by Townsend, contacted Krum, who asked if he was being given a lawful order to leave. Spotts responded in the affirmative and Krum left the cafeteria.

Detwiler and Barnhart continued to argue the legality of the commonwealth’s face covering mandate and the district’s policy. Spotts advised he responded to a call for people refusing to leave the building and would not debate mandates or policies. The two defendants refused to leave, the affidavit says.

The officer contacted Chief of Police Allen Breach, who emailed a copy of a directive from the Columbia County District Attorney’s Office that stated incidents of this nature are considered trespassing.

Townsend located the directive in his email and first informed the alleged violators they could be charged with criminal trespass, a misdemeanor of the first degree. The board, which had been in executive session, then entered the cafeteria. An unidentified member of the public asked the violators to leave the building in fear the meeting would be canceled. The violators then left.

According to the affidavit, it is believed Krum, Detwiler and Barnhart were in non-compliance of the district’s order to leave the school for 41 minutes.

Spotts noted that the district, including the school board, has requested the defendants be charged. The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office also recommended the department proceed with the cases.