Cleanup and repair work continues today in the area of Mountain Road in Penn Township after a gasoline spill was found early Monday morning.
Huntingdon County Emergency Management Agency director Joe Thompson said right now, officials from Laurel Pipeline Co., the owners of the pipeline in the area, are still trying to determine how much gasoline leaked from the pipeline.
“There is an estimate, but it’s a general estimate,” he said. “They measure it in barrels and in gallons, so right now, it’s estimated that there were hundreds of barrels, thousands of gallons spilled, but there’s a lot of work going on to pin that number down.”
Thompson said officials from Laurel Pipeline Co. said they’ve discovered the area of the leak.
“It was from a main underground transmission line,” he said. “The leak was discovered 800 feet up the mountain on Mountain Road. As soon as the leak was detected, the valves were closed to secure the leak and booms and other materials were deployed by the the first pipeline workers on the scene. Containment and cleanup crews were dispatched, and there is some contamination to the pipeline right of way.”
State Department of Environmental Protection officials have been at the site since early afternoon Monday, and as of today, they’ve been constantly assessing and have determined there’s no immediate threat to public drinking water supplies at this time.
“There are some old clay mines and wells close by,” said Thompson. “There are 20 wells within one-mile radius of the area, and company representatives and DEP officials are working to make contact with those people regarding that.”
The pipeline will remain shut down until all repairs are made and the area has been deemed safe by all officials involved in the situation.
“Product has been pulled out in the area of the pipeline,” said Thompson. “They’ve drained the pipe from the top of the mountain to the area of the leak so they can start work to get access to where the leak occurred.”
Thompson said there’s environmental monitoring taking place throughout the operation, as contractors hired to cleanup the area by Laurel Pipeline Co. have been and are placing precautionary booms as needed.
“There are a couple of small streams in the area, but they’re constantly monitoring for any potential evidence that product has made it to those streams,” he said.
Right now, Thompson said cleanup crews, as well as DEP officials, a representative from the state Emergency Management Agency, a representative from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as local officials have been there 24 hours a day since the spill occurred.
“I know there are local concerns about the situation and emergency efforts, and as a representative of the county, we are right there on site and at the command post (at the Marklesburg Fire Hall),” he said. “They’ve been open with us with information we’ve requested. Though we’re not playing a role in the actual cleanup and response, we’re there, and we have a PEMA representative there so we have another set of eyes on the scene. Our concern for this is to be handled safely and correctly for the sake of our residents.”
Members of the Southern Huntingdon County School Board heard a report from the elementary and high school principals regarding the PSSA and Keystone Exam results for the district.
Brent Pistner, elementary principal, said with those scores for third graders, they found with English Language Arts (ELA) that there was less students who were considered basic and below basic and more who were proficient and advanced. The same goes with math scores as well.
With fourth grade, scores remained mostly the same from the 2017-18 school year to the 2018-19 school year, but they hope the new math curriculum they introduced this year will help to improve math scores for all students.
For science for fourth graders, Pistner said that is their highest scoring area.
In fifth grade, students did a little worse in the 2018-19 school year than in the 2017-18 school year, he reported, but the numbers weren’t so significant.
Struggling with math scores seems to be the same for the middle/high school, as high school principal Clint Heath said math is something they’re working especially hard to improve, though they are working to improve all areas.
“Algebra I is our number one concern,” he said. “Our ELA program is growing exponentially, and we continue to do strong in science, as we’re well above the state average in science. We just keep plugging in all areas for mediation, but we have a special focus on math.”
Pistner said the goal is to move those students who are below basic to basic categories, and then move those from basic to proficient categories.
“If they don’t grow step by step, then these students won’t be able to move from proficient to advanced,” he said. “We want to see the students growing.”
Stanley Hall, maintenance supervisor, told the district the roofing project is complete and work continues on the dehumidification project.
“All rooftop units have been placed, and the electrical contractor is determining places for the units,” he said, adding that when placing some of those units, there was some damage done to the roof, but the repair of that will not cost the district extra money.
Northcraft noted that with the elementary building project, no major decisions will be made until new board members take their posts after December.
“We want EI Associates to come to the next meeting to give a refresher of where we’re at so anyone can answer questions,” he said.
Board member Joann Wakefield was also honored by Andrea Christoff, a Mount Union School Board member who also serves as the Section 6 adviser for the state School Board Association, for her 16 years of service on the board.
Board member Michael Brown was also honored for eight years of service.
Walker Township residents will see no tax hike in 2019, as the supervisors approved the preliminary version of the 2020 budget Tuesday night.
It is anticipated the budget will be adopted at the supervisors’ December meeting. Until then, the fiscal plan will be advertised and will be on review at the township office on Bouquet Street from 8 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday.
Secretary Julie Johns noted the local services tax, which was adopted in the spring, will take effect in January. This is a $52 tax for those who work in the township. The tax was previously $10 per person, and will remain that for those whose income is less than $12,000 annually.
According to preliminary numbers, the township anticipates it could gain as much as $7,000 in revenue from the increased tax.
Also included in the budget is a $100 annual fee that would be charged to the tax collector if they wish to use the township offices to collect taxes.
“That fee can be reviewed on an annual basis,” said township supervisor and board chairman Rodney Johns.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the supervisors noted PennDOT has agreed to conduct a speed study in the area of Fairgrounds Road and Route 26 intersection. The study will include 8,375 linear feet of road. The speed limit is currently 55 mph, but a reduction to 45 mph was requested.
If the reduction is granted, PennDOT would be responsible for providing the signage.
While the topic of a proposed new municipal building and maintenance shed has dominated the township meetings in recent months, few updates were available Tuesday.
Municipal authority member Sandy Kleckner offered a brief update on the New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc. property on Fairgrounds Road. At their October meeting, the supervisors agreed to consider the property as a potential location for the municipal offices and maintenance shed.
“(Solicitor) Nick (Newfield) has moved forward to potentially make an offer on the property,” said Kleckner. Newfield was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.
The supervisors agreed it would be most appropriate to set up a time for involved parties to walk through the property and its garages and buildings for review. They hope to do that before the month’s end.
The supervisors also approved a subdivision and driveway agreement for a property belonging to Dale Miller. The subdivision will divide the USDA and Penn Highlands Community College buildings, which are currently on the same deed.
Maintenance supervisor Kirk States updated the supervisors on his work over the last month, noting all township vehicles are ready for winter and plowing.
“Our plows are ready to go and our spreaders are on. The salt and antiskid are full. We’re just waiting on the snow,” said States, who reminded residents Orchard Road will be closed after the first winter storm.
Also Tuesday, Johns and supervisor Steve Felton approved a $250 donation to Home Nursing Agency. Supervisor Joe Harford was absent from the meeting.
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A couple of items concerning finances were passed at the weekly meeting of the Huntingdon County Commissioners Tuesday morning.
One item on the agenda was discussion of a cost recovery plan for expenses for the Children and Youth Services department.
“This would be the cost of operating expenses with a process and procedure,” said commissioner Mark Sather. “This could mean additional resources and funding to be recouped by the county.”
Ed Zack, from Susquehanna Accounting, explained further what that meant.
“(With a recovery plan), the county could recoup costs through grants if they provide things to CYS like payroll services,” he said. “If the county isn’t allowed to do that directly, but if there’s a cost allocation plan in place, this will allow them to do that.”
The cost for doing that, at least for the next few years with Susquehanna Accounting, which includes 2018 since CYS payout for monies refunded to counties is behind the current fiscal year, is for $8,000 for the 2018 fiscal year, $8,420 for the 2019 fiscal year, $8,487 for the 2020 fiscal year and $8,742 for the 2021 fiscal year.
“Hiring a firm to do this is long overdue,” said commissioner Jeff Thomas.
Sather added having this resource is a welcome relief.
Commissioners also accepted a bid from First National Bank for the 2020 Tax Anticipation Note (TAN) for $1.75 million, which will cover the period between January and March where no revenue comes in to help pay for county expenses.
The bid was for 1.76% interest with a 1.8% interest-bearing account from First National Bank.
Five other bids were also received, including one from Community State Bank for 2.34% interest and an interest bearing account for 1.45%; one from Kish Bank for 2.62% with a variety of rates on an interest bearing account, depending on how much was held in the account; one with CBT Bank for 2.06% interest with tiered rates with investment of funds; one with Juniata Valley Bank for 2.43% interest with a 1% interest bearing account; and one with Mifflin County Savings Bank for 2.21% interest with no interest bearing account proposed.
Commissioners also agreed to go with another accounting firm for the state audit, pending solicitor review, as commissioners explained they are required to go with another firm every five years. They agreed to go with Zelenkofske Axelrod LLC at a rate of $38,000 for 2019, $39,140 for 2020, $40,315 for 2021, $41,525 for 2022 and $42,770 for 2023.
“This is an all-inclusive maximum fee,” said Sather.
Thomas wanted to make sure there was language in the contract with the accounting firm saying they can pull out of the contract at any time if the county isn’t satisfied with their services, which explains why it was approved pending solicitor review.
Michelle Heane, director of the Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP) for Employment & Training Inc. gave a brief overview of program fourth quarter.
“The trip rate is still $22.68 as of November,” she said. “We currently have 4,515 clients, and 1,860 of those use CART services and we serve around 502 people with disabilities, which means we help those people get to places like the grocery store and to part-time jobs.”
Heane also mentioned they have contracts with local busing and transportation companies, like Grubco and Go DEZI, Peck Transportation and Med Van, for services through MATP.
After the update, commissioners then approved the fourth quarter MATP for Employment & Training Inc.
Barbara Covert, executive director of Huntingdon County CareerLink, gave a presentation to students from Huntingdon Area High School about various youth employment opportunities through CareerLink.
Additionally, Tammy Thompson, elections coordinator, gave an overview of the 2019 general election process and also gave information about the importance of registering to vote early and some election deadlines for the spring primary, set for Tuesday, April 28, 2020.
A proposed project in Huntingdon Borough could bring more folks to the Flagpole Hill area in the future.
At Tuesday night’s monthly Huntingdon Borough Council meeting it was announced a community amphitheater will be built in the area in 2020.
The board unanimously approved a motion to use a $125,000 Keystone Communities Grant from the Commonwealth Financing Authority of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the project.
Board member and chair of the Community Development Committee Robert Jackson is looking forward to the venture.
“We’re at the beginning stages, but it’s very exciting. We’ve already accumulated significant funding for it,” he said. “It will be a wooden structure for the most part with seating for around 3,000-4,000 and there’s going to be some parking created up there.”
The Community Development Committee has been planning the project since the end of summer.
“It’s just a sketch right now and subject to change, but it’s going to be down the northwest slope,” said Jackson. “There’s going to be tiered seating where people can bring their own seating. There will be a section for disabled folks down at the front of the stage with ramps.”
Jackson imagines the amphitheater will be used for musical and other public events.
“With a venue this big we’ll have a chance to attract some some top level musical entertainment which we can’t really do now,” he said. “In the past, we’ve talked about other venues we could use it, like Portstown Park, but that wouldn’t really work because of the trains always going by and making noise. I imagine it would open itself up to other public events for the town, as well, maybe theater or something along those lines. And different groups in town, like local schools or Juniata might want to rent it for an event.”
While some parking spaces are expected to be installed at the venue, there are additional plans in place to accommodate the large number of potential attendees.
“We’ve also talked about having shuttles from downtown that could take people up to the event, and of course people physically able could easily walk there,” said Jackson.
The committee has already secured future funding for the project that is expected to cost around $300,000 total.
“There’s going to be future private donations, we’re just not releasing that information yet,” said council member Jonathan Hyde. “It’s going to be a multi-phased project, so we’ll get it approved and approved and approved. With the total cost, we’re obviously not going to want to go into our taxpayer dollars.”
“It’ll be facing up hill, obviously,” said Hyde. “The way, they’ll be doing it is so the sun will never be on the stage or the crowd.”
The project will very likely begin this coming spring.
“There’s enough funding to get well underway,” said Jackson.
In many ways Flag Pole Hill is well situated for such a project.
“We’re fortunate that we have water and electric already there, and sewage is a nearby hook up so that shouldn’t be too big of an issue,” said Hyde.
Also Tuesday, council member Jim Bair encouraged the public to come out for the Christmas parade at 7 p.m. Sautrday, Dec. 14.
In step with the holiday spirit, council has agreed to allow free parking in downtown Huntingdon starting Nov. 29 until New Years Day at all the downtown meters.
Borough manager Chris Stevens announced that the proposed 2020 borough budget has been completed and will be made available for public viewing this Friday, Nov. 22.
“There are no increases in fees, no increases in taxes, and you can greatly thank the councilmen and both unions of the borough for being so cooperative in lowering health insurance, uniform costs, that’s mostly why it was able to balance with no tax increase,” he said.
Huntingdon County planning director Mark Colussy addressed the board regarding an opportunity to work with the Army Corps of Engineers on doing analyses of flood prone areas.
“I know from personal experience that there area folks along Muddy Run where the mapping seems to be different than what people experience with flooding issues. So FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), in order to update FEMA maps you need to have hydraulic analysis done...but considering the Army Corps of Engineers can fund some additional analysis, I thought, hey, why not...there would be no cost to the borough,” he said.
Huntingdon Police Chief Jeff Buckley gave an update on the soon to arrive canine officer.
The male German shepherd originally hails from the Netherlands and is currently at a kennel in Sharpsville, where members of the police department visited him last Wednesday.
“Canine X is his name. We don’t get to participate in the naming of the animal,” said Buckley. “The kennel asked we don’t put up pictures until at least we begin the training. And yesterday we secured the vehicle for it. Starting next month, we’ll have an officer in the canine training and complete at the end of January and we should then be looking to have a swearing in.”
Huntingdon Borough Mayor David Wessels announced the return of a tradition Tuesday night.
“We are bringing back an age old tradition in 2020, the policemen’s charity ball,” said Wessels. “It will make a return Feb. 1, 2020, at the Huntingdon Country Club. Those tickets are now on sale. Anyone who would like them can contact my office and we’ll make them available at other outlets shortly.”
The tickets are $75 per person.
“It will be one of the best meals you’ve ever had and a night of revelry celebrating the police department and our first responders in our area,” said Wessels.
The event is to fund the M.H. DeForrest Award, given away every year to a student from Huntingdon Area High School that is pursuing a career in criminal justice.
“We would like to use this charity ball to create an endowment that would last in perpetuity,” said Wessels.
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