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County to distribute $8.2M in CARES monies

SUNBURY — Northumberland County plans to distribute $8.2 million of approved federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act monies between nine of its departments. County departments that have been approved to receive funding include jail, elections, courts, public safety, children and youth, District Attorney’s Office, probation, Controller’s Office and other miscellaneous.

“SEDA-COG is the administrator of our grant funds,” explained Commissioner Chairman Sam Schiccatano. “We’ve already allocated some of the monies to those departments, including $65,000 to (the Northumberland County Jail) and $24,000 to (Board of Elections).

“We meet with SEDA-COG every Tuesday to discuss the specific allocations and what will be eligible,” Schiccatano said.

According to Schiccatano, all of the CARES Act monies are related to COVID-19 spending in one form or another, such as facemasks, face shields and laptop computers for employees to work from home. The monies must also be used by the end of the calendar year.

“We’ve already set aside $1.25 million for expansion of Northumberland County’s broadband internet services through upgraded and new infrastructure, such as communications towers and satellite dishes, in order to help establish faster, more reliable internet access for our students and patients who require telemedicine,” he stated.

Schiccatano said that some of the funding requested by the courts may also be used to construct a fourth courtroom in the courthouse.

“It’s purpose would be to expand and provide additional space for court hearings due to an increased caseload relative to the COVID-19 backlog. We’re in the process of getting bids for that project in order to see how much it would cost and also to make sure that it can be completed by the end of the calendar year, which is the deadline for the CARES Act funding to be used by,” he said.

With regard to the CARES Act funding, Schiccatano stated that a total of 14 municipalities ($500,000), four school districts, 43 nonprofits and 25 small businesses had also sent in requests for the grant monies. The combined total amount of those requests was roughly $10 million.

“We will go over each request individually with SEDA-COG in order to verify whether they would be eligible or not,” he concluded.


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'Keep the ball rolling': Kulpmont recreational field receives $70K grant

KULPMONT — Young athletes keeping in shape, dog owners tossing a ball for their canine companions and just about anyone of any age looking for a quiet place to enjoy nature — that’s who makes use of the Veterans Memorial Field off of South Sixth Street.

Next spring, work is expected to begin to bring substantial improvements to the complex, by way of a $70,000 grant bestowed Thursday from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

“We want to keep the ball rolling,” borough Councilman Steve Motyka said of the pending additions to the park, which now offers to the public a half-mile walking track, large grassy field and a baseball diamond.

The latest grant will help provide for the construction of a comfort station, parking area, pedestrian walkway and stormwater management measures, as well as the installation of utilities, access for those with disabilities, landscaping, project signage and other related improvements.

The plan is to create a “properly sloped 5-foot wide sidewalk” leading from new handicapped accessible parking areas and restrooms to a viewing area overlooking the baseball field, which will allow people with disabilities to more comfortably view the games.

The complex currently lacks restrooms and running water, Motyka wrote in the application for the grant, on which he spent about 100 hours. Both would be provided for at a site “close to the baseball field, along the first-base line,” he said Thursday.

The Mount Carmel Area School District also uses the borough-owned complex for baseball and cross-country practice, games and matches.

“All ... who use the park will benefit from public restrooms,” Motyka wrote in the application.

The restrooms will include special designs that receive a nod of approval from the state department.

“DCNR wants to include a lot of environmentally friendly features,” Motyka said.

Therefore, the grant will cover the implementation of a rain water collection system. That water then will be used to flush the toilets and to provide irrigation for nearly landscape plantings. The collection system will be designed into the restroom roof structure and could result in the harvesting of more than 34,000 gallons of water each year.

Any overflow rain water will be directed into an adjacent rain garden.

Other environmentally friendly features include the use of solar-powered and LED lighting, motion sensors, native plant landscaping and recycled plastic lumber.

“We’re happy for the improvements,” exclaimed Diane, an area resident who declined to provide her full name.

“It’s beautiful here,” added Stan Shevock, of Wilkes-Barre. “We come down here frequently.”

Shevock’s daughter’s golden retriever, Henry, and Maya, a black Lab that Diane exercises, frolicked outside the baseball field.

“The dogs love to run,” Shevock said.

Veterans Memorial Field was constructed in 1981 through funding from the Rural Abandoned Mine Program. No major, grant-funded improvements have been made since then, but donor-funded and volunteer-supported projects have been completed. These include benches placed at every tenth of a mile around the walking track, distance markers, dog waste stations and the addition of a 60-foot long pedestrian bridge.

Volunteer hours are also included in the newest project. Members of the Carpenters and Laborers Union of Northeastern Pennsylvania “have promised a certain amount of hours as an in-kind donation,” Motyka said, and area students will help plant landscaping.

The design phase of the project begins right away and is expected to continue into the early part of 2021.

“By spring, we’ll be ready to break ground,” he said.


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Pipeline company to give $100K to SCRA

KULPMONT — The Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance (SCRA) will receive $100,000 from the Transcontinental Gas Pipe Line Co. LLC (Transco) to fund two water quality improvement projects, the state Department of Environmental Protection announced Tuesday.

The $100,000 will go toward projects in the Shamokin Creek watershed along Quaker Run and Buck Run in the Borough of Kulpmont in Northumberland County.

“This is great news for the upper Shamokin Creek valley and the Shamokin Creek Restoration Alliance, our area’s only environmental group,” said Steven Motyka, borough councilman and director of the alliance.

He said the project will focus on stormwater management and will involve the addition of a wetland to hold runoff.

Quaker Run begins near Kulpmont and flows through the Veterans Memorial Sports Complex, which is the site where the wetland will be constructed. It will be on land owned by the Susquehanna Coal Company.

“There are voids in the creek bed that go into the mine,” Motyka said, explaining that water in the channel at the pedestrian bridge doesn’t make it very far “with the creek bed being so porous.”

“Part of that fix would be to add a clay base” to the creek bed, he explained.

The wetland also will work to hold water. It will be created toward the west end of the Veterans Memorial field, along the creek channel behind the “Stonehedge” monument and near where a pollinator garden is under construction.

Officially, the wetland project involves “targeted restoration efforts” by the SCRA to “reduce water quality impairments,” according to court documents, and “to help achieve the total maximum daily load requirements (TMDL)” for the Shamokin Creek Watershed.

TMDL refers to the maximum amount of a pollutant allowed to enter a waterbody so that it still meets water quality standards.

The funds for the alliance’s project are in addition to a civil penalty of more than $736,200 levied against the company for violations associated with the construction of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline in Northumberland, Schuylkill, Columbia, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Lycoming, Susquehanna and Wyoming counties.

The $100,000 is not part of the civil penalty, but rather considered a “community environmental project.”

Funding

Last July, state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Patrick McDonnell was on-site to examine the effects of acid mine drainage and what the alliance has done to remediate the issue.

“We were told then that they were very impressed” with what the alliance has done, Motyka said, and would work to get the alliance funding through penalty cases.

The funding was processed early this month, he added, and work will begin “as soon as we receive the check.”

The alliance will work with its watershed wetlands specialist; engineering firm, Brinkash & Associates, of Locust Gap; and Susquehanna Coal Co., as well as the Northumberland County Conservation District.

Meanwhile, the civil penalty will provide DEP with $680,000, while the remainder of $56,294.11 will be distributed among the county conservation districts that inspected the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline during its construction to reimburse the costs they incurred during the inspections.

“Impacts from construction activities that harm or have the potential to harm waters of the commonwealth are unacceptable, and we will continue hold operators accountable,” said McDonnell said in a news release.

The violations included failure to properly maintain erosion and sedimentation best management practices, inadvertent returns of drilling fluids at drilling sites in Lebanon, Luzerne and Wyoming counties, and sediment discharge into waters of the commonwealth.


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Southern Columbia mounts defense against lawsuit filed by student athlete

WILLIAMSPORT — The Southern Columbia Area School District said a claim in a federal lawsuit that its athletes are treated differently than students involved in non-sport extracurricular activities is “simply not true.”

The district has mounted its defense against Thomas Waltman and Karen Wojtowicz, who allege that a one-year suspension of their son, senior Tyler Waltman, from sports for a violation of the district’s Drug and Alcohol Policy constitutes a violation of equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The plaintiffs, who are represented by attorney Chad Sweigart, filed the complaint in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on Sep. 16. The next day, they filed a motion seeking a temporary restraining order requiring Waltman be reinstated to the football team, pending the court’s decision on a motion for preliminary injunction. On Sept. 21, they filed an amended complaint, adding a procedural due process claim.

Waltman is suspended for one calendar year from athletics based upon his alleged presence at a social gathering with adults on Sept. 5, although he tested negative for drugs and alcohol. The district claims that his suspension is permissible, based on its policy in the student handbook.

The district, which is represented by Levin Legal Group, emphasized in its response to plaintiffs’ request for a temporary restraining order that Waltman was not suspended or expelled from school, and that his only punishment was the removal from athletics.

Citing Vernonia School District versus Acton, the district said, “The Supreme Court flatly stated that by voluntarily choosing to participate in extracurricular activities, students agree to accept certain limitations on rights that they may have otherwise.”

The plaintiffs argue that the case involved the constitutionality of a school district’s drug testing policy under the Fourth Amendment, which has no application to their case.

The district said students in all extracurricular activities are subject to the penalties outlined in the handbook and “many students in non-sport extracurriculars have been disciplined.” The rules, it said, were enacted in an effort to combat student drug and alcohol use, while also making discipline among various student activities consistent.

The district said it has applied the discipline uniformly. For example, while the rules refer to missing a certain percentage of “games” for certain violations, the same idea is carried over to other activities.

“And while some extracurricular activities do not neatly fit into the discipline regime, students in some non-sport extracurricular activities have been barred from drama club practices or been prevented from attending the prom for various infractions,” the district stated. “As such, the allegation that only student-athletes are disciplined under the rules is factually incorrect.”

Citing commonly-used language in the policy, such as “games,” “season” and “athlete,” the plaintiffs reiterated that the policy speaks only in terms applicable to the punishment of athletes.

“The district has a Drug and Alcohol Policy that claims to apply to all student participants in extracurricular activities. Yet, when it comes to punishment of student participants in those activities, the district’s Drug and Alcohol Policy, on its face, punishes participants in one — and only one activity: athletics,” the plaintiffs assert.

The plaintiffs also argue that Waltman did not consume alcohol or use any controlled substance in the incident for which he was suspended for one year.

The district responded, “This is immaterial. The student handbook provision prohibits students participating in extracurricular activities from ‘attending any event at which underage drinking, smoking or drug use is occurring.’ Here, the (plaintiffs have) failed to show that the district, in making the classification between students in general and students in extracurricular activities, acted ‘arbitrarily’ or ‘invidiously.’”

Plaintiffs allege the school board exceeded its authority under Section 510 of the Public School Code, which allows districts to establish rules regarding the conduct of all students when they are under the supervision of the district. However, the district said it was instead acting under Section 511, which does not contain the same time or place restrictions found in Section 510.

The district’s suspension of Waltman violates the due process rights as parents to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their child, the suit states.

The district said, “This argument is unavailing. Indeed, schools impose many rules on athletes — and students in general — prohibiting a wide range behavior that is lawful but discouraged.”

The plaintiffs’ final claim is that the district violated procedural due process because Waltman was not given notice and an opportunity to respond before being suspended from athletics.

The district says Waltman had no protected property interest in participation in extracurricular activities. His parents, it said, were afforded an opportunity to respond to the allegations and met with the high school principal, but refused to respond.

“Even after the removal from sports was imposed, the district gave the plaintiffs a second chance to request a hearing,” the district stated. “Not only did they not avail themselves of the opportunity, but the parents admitted the factual basis for the removal, as they do in this litigation.”

Plaintiffs claim that, in the absence of injunctive relief, Waltman will suffer irreparable harm by losing “the opportunity to compete in athletics during his senior year in high school” as well as the possibility of earning an athletic scholarship to college. They say that preliminary injunctions are intended to relieve the deprivations of temporally isolated opportunities.

The district stated, “Counsel for plaintiffs conceded during the conference call on Sept. 21 that (Waltman) is much more likely to get an athletic scholarship for wrestling than for football. As such, the risk of irreparable harm for the fall football season is reduced. Meanwhile, if (Waltman) is permitted to compete in district athletics and this case is not ultimately decided until the spring of 2021 after wrestling season has concluded, even if this court rules against him, (Waltman) will have effectively eluded any discipline for his repeated violation of district rules designed to keep students safe.”


Shamokin Area football senior Micah Miller speaks with his father, Dr. Wayne Miller, as they watch the junior high football game Thursday night at Kemp Memorial Stadium. Micah, as well as older siblings Josiah, Aaron and Nathan, had major impacts on the field while playing for the Indians.


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Leschinskie charged with terroristic threats relating to disturbance after city council meeting

SUNBURY — Joseph J. Leschinskie Jr. was charged Thursday morning with threatening to kill and/or assault Shamokin Councilwoman Jennifer Seidel and her husband, Erik Seidel, following a Sept. 14 city council meeting.

Leschinskie, 36, of 518 E. Pine St., Shamokin, was taken into custody on a warrant at his place of employment in Shamokin by two state troopers and transported to Magisterial District Judge Michael Toomey’s office in Sunbury, where he was arraigned at about 11:30 a.m. on two misdemeanor counts of terroristic threats, three misdemeanor counts of disorderly conduct and three summaries of disorderly conduct.

The defendant, who vehemently denied committing the offenses filed against him by Northumberland County Detective Degg Stark, avoided going to jail after his wife, Tonya, was able to make arrangements to post $5,000 cash bail set by Toomey.

Supervised bail conditions set by Toomey prohibit Leschinskie from having contact with the victims and possessing a firearm. Leschinskie also must undergo a mental health evaluation.

He is scheduled to appear for a preliminary hearing Tuesday morning before Magisterial District Judge John Gembic III.

According to a 10-page affidavit of probable cause, Leschinskie, who campaigned with Seidel in her 2019 successful bid for city council, was escorted from the council meeting in the Shamokin Emergency Squad conference room at about 9 p.m. by Shamokin Police Chief Darwin Tobias III after an alleged confrontation with Seidel and her husband, who alleged that Leschinskie threatened to harm them and their family.

The next day, Tobias requested the case be referred to the county district attorney’s office to avoid a conflict of interest with Seidel being a councilwoman.

In a statement issued to Stark on Sept. 17, Jennifer Seidel said Leschinskie approached her seat after the meeting was adjourned and began questioning her about a situation that supposedly occurred in February.

After Seidel swore on her life and her children’s lives that she didn’t know what Leschinskie was talking about, the councilwoman said Leschinskie responded, “I hope your kids die.”

Seidel said Leschinskie added, “You don’t deserve that seat on city council,” while pointing his finger in her face. After telling Leschinskie that 700 other people (voters) disagree with him, Seidel said Leschinskie kept leaning closer over the table before stating, “You only won the Fifth Ward (where Leschinskie lives) because of me.” Seidel said she responded, “I won every ward.”

At that point, Seidel said Leschinskie “exploded” and called her a derogatory name.

Seidel said she felt threatened and was concerned Leschinskie was going to escalate his threats from a verbal attack into a physical attack.

Upon hearing the exchange between his wife and Leschinskie, Erik Seidel came over to the table and got between his wife and Leschinskie, according to the affidavit. Seidel said Leschinskie pointed in her husband’s face and yelled that she didn’t deserve a seat on council.

According to a criminal complaint, Erik Seidel asked Leschinskie, “Why should she step down?” Leschinskie responded, “That should be my seat.” Erik Seidel then responded, “You can’t even hold a seat. You’re a convicted felon.”

The complaint states at that point, Leschinskie became extremely aggressive and moved toward Erik Seidel while screaming he would punch him in the face.

The councilwoman said her husband then stepped back to move away from Leschinskie, but never raised a hand.

At that point, Tobias escorted Leschinskie from the building as the defendant continued to scream.

Stark said Jennifer Seidel also told him that her mother, Jacqueline Klemick, who was waiting in a parking lot for her daughter, witnessed Leschinskie making threats outside and recorded most of the incidents on her cellphone.

The councilwoman said Leschinskie threatened to kill her and her husband at least twice in the presence of four witnesses.

Erik Seidel confirmed his wife’s description of the incidents and the death threats allegedly made by Leschinskie.

Erik Seidel said he believes Leschinskie is capable of carrying out the threats he made against his family.

Jacqueline Klemick said she was extremely afraid for the safety of her daughter and son-in-law. Klemick said she heard Leschinskie state, “I’ll get him in a dark alley. I will bury him. I will bury both of them.”

Other witnesses who provided Stark with statements corroborating alleged threats by Leschinskie included Shamokin Administrator Robert Slaby, Shamokin Patrolman James Filko and Jamie Yerkes.


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Leschinskie maintains his innocence, claims he was 'set up'

SUNBURY — A Shamokin man charged Thursday by Northumberland County Detective Degg Stark for making alleged terroristic threats toward Shamokin Councilwoman Jennifer Seidel and her husband, Erik Seidel, following a Sept. 14 city council meeting maintained his innocence and claimed he was “set up” during a 30-minute arraignment before Magisterial District Judge Michael Toomey.

“I’m 110% not guilty,” Joseph J. Leschinskie Jr. said. “These are false allegations. None of this stuff happened. I was set up, your honor.”

While urging Toomey to release him on unsecured bail, the 36-year-old Leschinskie told the judge, “I’m not a flight risk. I provide for my family and I’m involved in the community. I work in the health care field helping elderly residents. I’m not going to run from anything. I will prove my innocence.”

When asked if he had a prior criminal record, Leschinskie, who said he suffers from severe anxiety, admitted being convicted of possessing with intent to deliver a controlled substance in 2008. Since that conviction, Leschinskie said he’s been able to straighten out his life, but believes he’s being targeted by the district attorney’s office.

Leschinskie also was charged by Stark with misdemeanors of unlawful use of an audio or video device in court, obstructing administration of the law and disorderly conduct relating to a Jan. 4, 2019, incident in which he’s accused of using his cellphone to record a summary appeals hearing regarding a speeding offense before Judge Paige Rosini.

That case is still pending in Northumberland County Court of Common Pleas.

Leschinskie told Toomey he has always cooperated with authorities and attended his court proceedings and vowed to do so again on the terroristic threats and disorderly conduct charges filed against him.

“I’m not a criminal,” he said. “I keep getting hit with stuff like this. I’ve been targeted by Detective Stark and the district attorney’s office for many years.”

Prior to setting bail at $5,000 cash, which was later posted by Leschinskie, Toomey referenced a section of the criminal complaint in which Jennifer Seidel claimed Leschinskie’s vehicle (blue car with tinted windows) swerved over the center double yellow lines in the 300 block of Independence Street in Shamokin at 7:31 p.m. Sept. 18 into her lane of travel and came directly at her before swerving back into the westbound lane. Seidel was traveling east on Independence Street in her silver Camaro when the incident allegedly occurred. Her husband was a passenger in the Camaro.

The councilwoman said she couldn’t identify who was driving the blue car that almost hit her because of the tinted windows.

“I’m troubled by that incident and the seriousness of these charges,” Toomey said.

The judge said he took Leschinskie’s ties to the community and his work with assisting elderly residents into consideration when setting a bail amount. He warned Leschinskie to abide by all the supervised bail conditions.

In reference to the Sept. 18 incident in downtown Shamokin, Leschinskie replied, “That’s not true. My wife and I were at the Shamokin Area football game at that time and we have witnesses to prove it.”

Leschinskie said, “Jen (Seidel) is a proven liar. She lied to council and the people of Shamokin. When it’s proven these allegations are false, I’m going to ask the DA’s office to investigate her for making false statements to law enforcement.”

Leschinskie unsuccessfully ran for Shamokin mayor in 2017 and campaigned with Seidel in her 2019 successful bid for councilwoman.

Attempts to reach Seidel for comment about Leschinskie’s arrest and remarks were unsuccessful.


The Facebook logo is displayed on an iPhone on April 23, 2019.