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Fines issued for pipeline

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has fined Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) once again for construction activities related to work with the Mariner East II pipeline in various parts of the state, including Huntingdon County.

DEP fined ETP a total of $313,000 for two separate instances. The first citation, with a fine of $240,840, was for unauthorized discharges of drilling fluids on waterways in the state, including Huntingdon County, in 2018.

The unauthorized discharges, or inadvertent returns are the result of bentonite clay and water mixture used to widen bore holes used in the course of horizontal directional drilling to run the pipeline beneath bodies of water entering a roadway through a geological fissure.

Elizabeth Rementer, spokesperson for DEP, detailed where those unauthorized discharges were in Huntingdon County in 2018.

“There was a wetland in Shirley Township as well as the Aughwick Creek in Shirley Township that were impacted March 23, 2018, and June 21, 2018,” she said.

This isn’t the first time DEP has fined ETP for unauthorized discharges not only in Huntingdon County, but other counties throughout the state.

There have been other instances in Huntingdon County that resulted in reported being filed with the DEP July 6, 2017, Oct. 10, 2017, and Dec. 20, 2017, in areas including local wetlands, Aughwick Creek and Raystown Lake.

One of those incidents in 2017 resulted in the loss of 4,100 gallons of drilling fluid beneath the surface of a Union Township property.

Other waterways and wetlands impacted by unauthorized discharges in the state included the East Branch Conestoga River in Caernarvon Township in Berks County; two wetlands in Blair and Frankstown townships in Blair County; unnamed tributaries to Stewart Run, Hinckston Run and two wetlands in Cambria County; a wetland in Middlesex Township in Cumberland County; Chester Creek and a wetland in Middletown Township in Delaware County; Snitz Creek in West Cornwall Township in Lebanon County; a wetland in Toboyne Township in Perry County; an unnamed tributary to Peters Creek in Nottingham Township and an unnamed tributary to Little Chartiers Creek in North Strabane Township in Washington County; and an unnamed tributary to Sewickley Creek in Sewickley Township in Westmoreland County.

DEP also issued another citation, totaling $78,621, to ETP for violation of its permits and the Clean Streams Law that occurred in 2017 during construction activities that resulted in accelerated erosion and sedimentation at sites in Lower Frankford, Upper Frankford, Lower Mifflin and North Middleton townships in Cumberland County.

In February of this year, DEP placed a hold on all clean water permit approvals and modifications submitted by Energy Transfer Partners due to non-compliance.

“Energy Transfer Partners can move forward with all of their permit applications that have been approved,” said Rementer. “But, any pending approvals and any new applications won’t be considered right now. Anything approved prior to that order, but anything pending from that point on is on hold until further notice.”

The money from the fines will be split between conservation districts and the state’s clean water fund, said Rementer.

Gas prices remain low for weekend

For those who are hitting the road for the last summer trip for Labor Day weekend will likely be paying less at the gas pumps than last year.

According to AAA Central Penn, gas prices are currently cheaper than they were for Labor Day in 2018.

“Just looking at gas prices, they are 30 cents cheaper than they were this time last year,” said Doni Lee Spiegel, spokesperson for AAA Central Penn. “However, it’s not atypical to see short-term jumps in gas prices ahead of the holiday weekend. Demand may tick up a little bit, so that’s when prices are starting to tick up a little bit.”

Spiegel said though oil refinery utilization has been falling in the area, this is the third straight week the stocks have risen in crude oil due to imports, which has kept the overall gas prices down at the pumps.

Also, Spiegel said the switch from summer blend gasoline to winter blend gasoline has already begun, which also accounts for the lower price of gas.

“Refineries have started to go with the cheaper fuel, so that has also helped with gas prices,” said Spiegel. “The cooler temperatures allow them to utilize fuel with less additives, so that’s also a reflection in prices.”

Fuel prices are expected to continue falling.

“Barring any unseen circumstances, we can see prices continuing to drop (throughout the fall),” said Spiegel. “We dropped 4 cents in the state last week, and based on annual trends, we will continue to tick down after the Labor Day holiday.”

Some savings at the pump mean more to spend on any road trip for the unofficial end of summer.

“I think a little savings goes a long way, especially when you’re doing a long road trip,” said Spiegel. “It could mean something like an extra night out to eat or extra souvenirs.”

If anyone is interested in checking out gas prices in the county before heading out, visit www.gasprices.aaa.com, or download the AAA app that will give gas prices for any particular gas station in the county, state or the entire U.S.

Proposed closure to have little impact locally

The proposed closing of SCI Retreat in Luzerne County by the state Department of Corrections (DOC), could have an impact on the populations of SCIs Huntingdon and Smithfield, but the impact would likely be minimal, according to DOC officials.

DOC officials announced Wednesday they have proposed closing the prison due to budget saving measures and the overall decrease in the prison population.

According to a press release from DOC, there was a decrease in the inmate population of nearly 1,900, which is the largest one-year decrease in the history of the DOC.

Additionally, the DOC’s June 2019 inmate population was 46,482, which is nearly 5,300 inmates lower than its highest-ever prison population, which was 51,757 in June 2012.

Susan McNaughton, spokesperson for the DOC, said if SCI Retreat closes, the 1,100 inmates could go anywhere in the state.

“They could co anywhere in the state, so SCIs Huntingdon and Smithfield could have an impact, but it will be very minimal,” she said.

McNaughton also added that while the DOC is proposing to close SCI Retreat, there are things that need to happen before any final decisions are made.

“There’s going to be a hearing Thursday, Oct. 17, in Luzerne County,” she said. “No location or time has been set, but we will be collecting and reviewing information about SCI Retreat, and that will help us make the final decision that we’ll announce later.”

The process of a prison closure is set through legislation (Act 133 of 2018). The DOC is required to announce its intention to close a prison and then undergo a review process of at least three months before making a final determination on the proposed closure.

During this three-month period, DOC officials will gather and review pertinent information about SCI Retreat, including, but not limited to, physical plant age and condition, cost to operate and options for staff.

McNaughton also stressed there are no other proposals on the table to close any other SCI facility in the state.

“But, we have plans in place to reduce costs at all SCIs across the state,” she added.

Labor Day forecast calls for showers

The Labor Day weekend will be greeted with average temperatures and a little bit of precipitation, but there will still be plenty of time to get outdoors for that one last summer adventure.

Joe Ceiu, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Bureau in State College said there’s a very weak trough moving through today, but no precipitation is expected.

“This will continue (Saturday), with highs in to the mid- and upper 70s,” he said. “However, Sunday, we will see an upper-level low move through the region, and you’re going to see some showers move in Sunday, with only a slight chance of thunderstorms.”

Those chances of showers will continue into Monday, with thunderstorms possible Monday.

Ceiu also said the overall weather pattern is transitioning into an early-fall pattern, with highs mostly in the 70s and clear, crisp nights in the 50s.

“If we look at the temperature trends this weekend, it’s going to be in the mid and upper 70s throughout the entire weekend,” he said, noting that it will be warmer next Tuesday and Wednesday before it gets a little bit cooler again.

“We will see a little bit into the 80s Monday-Wednesday before dropping back down,” said Ceiu. “This weekend, temperatures Saturday will be slightly above normal, and temperatures Sunday will be slightly below normal. For the actual Labor Day holiday, temperatures are expected to be around 5-10 degrees above normal for this time of year.”

Hurricane Dorian, which as of 8 a.m. this morning was located about 255 miles east-northeast of the southeastern Bahamas, is something forecasters are keeping an eye out locally, but as to whether any remnants will have any impacts locally are too early to tell at this time.

However, those who live in the southeastern part of the U.S. are bracing for eventual landfall, as forecasters expect the storm to reach Category 4 hurricane strength before it approaches the southeast coast of the U.S. Currently, Hurricane Dorian is a Category 2 storm.

Lawmakers propose alcohol sale reforms

Pennsylvania lawmakers are contemplating changes in the regulations surrounding the sale of beer and wine at grocery and convenience stores.

The state House’s Liquor Control Committee began discussions this past Tuesday on a range of proposals.

“The proposals are really driven by convenience and what we see as archaic liquor laws in the state,” said state Sen. Judy Ward, who will vet the bill once it comes to the Senate’s Law and Justice Committee.

Reforms would include eliminating the requirement that groceries and convenience stores have a permanent restaurant seating area, letting stores display wine and beer in regular store aisles, end the requirement for separate checkout lines for beer and wine purchases, as well as end limits on the amount of beer or wine a customer can purchase in one transaction.

As the law now stands, a single purchase is limited to two standard six-packs of beer, or four standard bottles of wine.

“The residents get fed up with it sometimes, like when you’re buying beer and have to go put two six-packs in your car before coming back in to buy more,” said Ward.

Pennsylvania, which has been known for its strict alcohol laws compared to the rest of the country, only began allowing the sales of beer and wine in 2016 when Gov. Tom Wolf implemented Act 39.

State Rep. Matt Dowling proposed the changes to House Bill 1644, and sees this as a way to incentivize more businesses to enter the market while sparing customers the hold-ups that often occur with the current separate check-out system.

“Allowing additional retailers to enter the market gives choice to the consumer,” he said, according to Pennlive.com.

There is some concern that the changes would make it easier for teens and those prone to drunk driving to get alcohol.

Also according to Pennlive, Wendell Young IV of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents clerks in Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor stores, thinks privately owned businesses aren’t as diligent in enforcing the age-of-purchase requirements.

Dowling said he remains open to amendments and hopes to get the bill ready for a committee vote by the end of the year.

Nathan can be reached at nwoods@huntingdondailynews.com.

Shirley Twp. leaders discuss pipeline work

During their monthly meeting Thursday night, Shirley Township Supervisors discussed ongoing issues with roads that have been impacted by Michel’s, the company contracted by Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), to construct the Mariner East II pipeline that runs through the township.

Energy Transfer Partners and Michel’s signed an excess maintenance agreement with the township, noting their equipment has caused more damage that was insured by the bond and agreed to fix any roads that had excess damage.

Supervisor and chair Gary Frehn said someone informed him work to repair an excessively damaged road was to start Aug. 12, but that hasn’t happened.

They called the first of the month, and they told me there would be work the week of Aug. 12,” said Frehn. The week came and went, and there was no work. I called them the following week, and there was no answer (with the representative Frehn has been speaking with). I left a message. I called him again earlier this week and left another message. I had (secretary) Kathy (Varner) email them, but there was no response.”

Penn Township Supervisor Kevin Fluke also attended Thursday’s meeting, said they’ve been facing similar issues with not being able to contact Michel’s representatives regarding road work due to excess damage on roads.

Solicitor Nick Newfield from BMZ Law, who was in place of regular solicitor Jim McClure, told supervisors to send them copies of any email correspondence they’ve had with Michel’s and Energy Transfer Partners and document when phone calls to them have taken place.

“(McClure) can send a letter to them outlining what you guys are expecting from this,” said Newfield. “You shouldn’t have to chase them down, but I’d send out a letter to them to start.”

Fluke also suggested they find other townships in the county and neighboring counties that are in similar positions to pose some sort of united front.

“If several townships unite a little bit, they may see we’re not just going to back off,” said Fluke.

“I know there are several townships in the same boat we are,” said Frehn. “Maybe we can meet with them. We can’t have this pushed onto the taxpayers.

“Our one road is ruined, and they sat there and promised they were going to do things, and we’re not getting anywhere,” Frehn added. “We can do them, especially the roads that need blacktopped, and then have it snow in a week. The plows will kill the roads. I can see them not wanting to move equipment in and out, but they’re mostly done in Penn Township, and they’re mostly done here.”

Township supervisors also opened four bids for the Hogan Road project, as the township received a grant for $39,500 for the Dirt and Gravel Roads fund to fix the road with DSA stone.

Bids were from Glenn O. Hawbaker Inc. for 1,310 tons of DSA stone at $35.11 per ton for a total of $45,594.10; Grannas Bros. for 1,310 tons of DSA stone at $29 per ton for a total of $37,990; Hammaker East 1,310 tons of DSA stone at $34.22 per ton for a total of $44,828.20; and New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc. for 1,310 tons of DSA stone at $29.15 for a total of $38,186.50.

Secretary Kathy Varner said she’s in the process of putting together outlines for the 2020 budget, and she’s waiting for information from supervisors before an outline is presented for review.

Frehn said he spoke with someone who gave him a price for four security cameras on the property near the office and maintenance sheds, and it will be around $750-$800. Frehn added he also spoke with someone to see if they can replace the front door of the office, and the approximate cost to replace would be around $1,500.