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Winds push through county

Emergency and utility crews have been quite busy since Sunday afternoon, as winds picked up and continued to gust through this morning.

The winds, which gusted anywhere between 40-60 at the height of the event, caused crews from utility companies and local fire companies to respond to numerous reports of downed trees, limbs and power lines throughout the afternoon and evening Sunday and through the overnight hours.

According to Mike Colbert, meteorologist with the National Weather Service bureau in State College, explained that as temperatures warmed up Sunday, the winds started to gust and continued to do so as a cold front passed through the area.

“Altoona got one of the highest wind gusts at 62 mph at around 7:09 p.m. Sunday,” said Colbert. “With the passage of the cold front, the winds were gusting around 40 mph through the rest of the night and this morning.”

Information from weather reports at the Huntingdon County Emergency Management Agency indicated that Huntingdon saw winds as high as 43 mph and Williamsburg Mountain saw gusts up to 50 mph. Most of the reports from around the county ranged from 31 mph in Wood to 39 mph in Mapleton and Alexandria.

Colbert explained why the winds were so high.

There was a strong cyclone passing up through the Great Lakes and Canada, and with the high pressure system building in behind the cold front, the gradient was formed and the air needed to flow from the high pressure to low pressure,” he said.

Doug Roles, vice president of member services at Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, said during the overnight period into Monday, approximately 1,123 members in Huntingdon County were without power.

“We’ve been working to restore service as quickly and safely as possible,” he said. “We first started getting reports of outages shortly after 3 p.m. Sunday, especially in the northern part of the county.”

As of 8 a.m. this morning, Roles provided a breakdown of municipalities that have members without power, including Barree Township, 11; Cass Township, 17; Clay Township, 20; Dublin Township, seven; Henderson Township, 9; Hopewell Township, 46; Jackson Township, one; Lincoln Township, 39; Logan Township seven; Oneida Township, one; Penn Township, one; Shirley Township, 9; Smithfield Township, 97; Tell Township, 26; Todd Township, five; Walker Township, 7; and Wayne Twp., Mifflin County, 244.

“Overnight, we had as many as 700 members out of power in Jackson, Penn and Todd townships,” said Roles.

Roles said crews working to restore power in affected areas are coming across downed limbs, tree tops and several broken poles, and he reminded people never to approached downed wires.

“You can’t tell just by looking at it that it’s energized,” he said. “If you see one, call 911 or a local utility.”

According to information from the Huntingdon County EMA office, around 516 Penelec customers were still without power as of early this morning.

Some area businesses were also without power this morning, including Sheetz at Fourth Street and William Penn Highway in Smithfield Township. A number of Comcast customers were also without cable and internet services, but those were restored in most places by 8 a.m. today.

Jeff Speck, public information officer for Huntingdon County EMA, said the biggest issue is making sure utility crews are safe while they restore power.

“They’re working to get the power restored,” he said. “I know people are asking me why they’re seeing trucks, but they’re power isn’t restored, but it may be difficult to get up in the bucket to restore power with these winds.”

Additionally, while there are reports of minor structural damage throughout the county, there were no reports of major damage.

“The heaviest we have heard about is a car port in the Orbisonia area,” said Speck. “I do know that just about every fire company was involved in some kind of incident call (related to the wind) last night.”

Speck said EMA officials are asking local municipality emergency management coordinators to report any storm damage to the EMA office as soon as possible.

After the wind settles, Colbert said Tuesday will be calmer, but much chillier, but another storm system is expected to hit the area Tuesday night through Wednesday.

“It will be sunny with a high of 34 degrees Tuesday,” he said. “It looks like there will be scattered snow showers Tuesday night through Wednesday, but no significant accumulation is expected.”

Another storm with more significance is expected Thursday night through Saturday.

“That will be a snow to rain situation, where it will start as snow and mix with rain Friday,” said Colbert. “That storm will linger through the first half of the weekend, but the temperatures will be around 50 Saturday. With this storm, rain is expected to be heavy at times. This storm will be bigger, but a lot of that will be in the form of rain, especially Saturday.”

Guests gather to support future of Camp Golden Pond

A celebration of a vision restored and hope for the future took place Sunday afternoon at Camp Golden Pond in West Township as guests gathered at Legacy Lodge to learn more about the facility.

“There have been several of us working for almost a year,” said Sharon Bloom, who serves on the board of Friends of Golden Pond, a group which was formed in April 2018 after the camp’s previous owner Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania (GSHPA) announced its intention to sell the facility and closed it in July 2018. “It’s been a joint effort and we’ve worked very hard to get to this point.”

Bloom, along with board president Megan Roberts, Ann Dunlavy and Joan Geleskie, established a lease agreement with the new owner of the property, John Sabella of Sabella Land and Forest Products, who purchased the camp facility and surrounding property in December.

“We know this wasn’t the perfect time to have a reception,” she said. “It’s February and what worse week could we have had than this week, but we also know that cookie sales are in progress and troops are going to have to start planning when and where they are going to camp. They will need to make reservations and if we don’t let them know that this is going to be available, then they lose out and we lose out.”

Under the operation of the Friends of Golden Pond, the camp facilities will once more be open to scouts and youth organizations, with reservations opening Friday, March 1.

“We believe in the camp and it’s worth the work we’ve been doing,” Bloom said. “We are leasing it for a year and then we have a second year on the lease if we need it, but we really need donations to allow us to buy the camp.”

The lease, and hopefully eventual purchase, will cover 55 acres of the original 291.62 acres and will include Lake Louise, the lodges, outer camp units, maintenance shed and the ranger house.

“We need to get this purchased. The price is $600,000,” she said. “There is already a buyer for the rest of the acreage.”

Roberts shared that the lease agreement was signed Feb. 16 and is effective Friday, March 1.

“As of March 1, this camp is the Friends of Golden Ponds’ camp,” Roberts said. “It is our camp and it is ours to lose. That lease requires us to pay $3,800 a month. We have sent the security deposit and March’s rent. We’ve been looking at our bank account and we have rent through July 1. We are hoping that come July 1, all of our wonderful supporters will agree that this camp should be used for the Girl Scouts and other youth and will help us.”

The goal is to convert the lease into a purchase as soon as possible.

“That will be a much better financial position for us,” said Roberts.

For more information or to learn more about the Friends of Golden Pond, visit or on the group’s Facebook page. Rates and reservation information will be posted there as well in the near future.

Weather shifts impact maple trees

Volunteers took to the forest around the Juniata College Raystown Field Station Saturday morning to begin the work of tapping maple trees to harvest sugar water — also known as branch water — to be used for syrup production.

The time-honored, seasonal rite of setting out into the woods as winter’s grasp begins to slip to begin the first step in the process of making maple syrup has been impacted by climate change.

“There are a lot of factors involved,” said Chuck Yohn, director of the Juniata College Raystown Field Station. “One of the most frustrating things as a producer is the disruption of the normal weather patterns. It used to be fairly predictable as to when we would be making maple syrup.”

The ideal weather conditions in which to tap the trees is when the days are above freezing and the nights are below freezing.

“Typically, this would be in late February throughout March,” Yohn said. “I can remember times where we were making maple syrup all the way through the beginning of April. Now, it’s just so much harder to predict because we get these warm pulses coming down and then really cold and really warm and that makes it really hard to tell when to tap.”

Experienced harvesters watch the weather carefully this time of year, awaiting the perfect combination of temperatures, but in recent years, tapping has begun as early as late January.

“Slowly, the season is moving earlier and earlier and shorter and shorter,” he said. “The long-term forecast is that this may be a dying art for the southern part of the range and that we may not see maples here as temperatures shift.”

Changes in precipitation have also impacted the trees.

“High emission scenarios essentially have our northern hardwoods and trees that like the colder weather moving farther north,” Yohn said. “There are greater stresses on the maples. One of the things that came out of Harvard forest in the fall was that 40 percent of the maples in New England were showing root damage because of the loss of snow cover. Those are ways in which climate change is affecting this.”

In the alternative, efforts to mitigate the phenomenon of acid rain have proven successful in aiding maple trees.

“The Clean Air Act tackled acid rain, so there are areas where there have been improvements,” said Yohn.

The warmer air during the day, when combined with freezing temperatures at night, trigger the tree to begin to send sugar water — not sap — up from the roots to swell the buds in anticipation of spring.

“When the French arrived, they learned to harvest sugar water from the Algonquins. This was something that was a Native American tradition passed on to the pioneers,” he said. “All summer, the trees were photosynthesizing making sugars in the leaves. They send that down to the roots and they store that. As spring starts to come on, they remobilize that and send that back up.”

The maples used in syrup production at the Field Station originally belonged to the members of the Grove family, who owned the land prior to the completion of Raystown Lake in 1974. They first began to tap the trees around 1925 and managed an operation with around 2,000 taps.

The tapping process consists of boring a small hole into the sapwood and inserting a spile (a small metal or plastic spout) to which a bucket is attached to collect the sugar water flowing freely through the tree.

“When it is coming out, it should have just a little sweetness to it,” Yohn said. “At the start of the season, they have the highest concentration at around three percent and that declines over the season and eventually goes so low it’s not worth it.”

As the season wanes, the sugar water transitions into sap, which has a sticky consistency and an unpleasant taste. It takes an estimated 40 gallons of sugar water to make 1 gallon of maple syrup.

“Sap is not what we are collecting. We are collecting sugar water,” he said.

The sugar water collected at the Field Station will be used for maple syrup production in the coming weeks.

Fire tax query to be on ballot

Due to the recent passage of an ordinance that puts a question concerning a fire tax on the ballot in Logan Township, members of the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Co. held the first of three meetings Saturday evening to educate township residents on why they feel the fire tax is necessary.

In December, Logan Township Supervisors advertised the ordinance and officially passed the measure that township residents who are registered to vote will answer whether “They favor the imposition by Logan Township of an annual tax at a rate of 1.5 mills to support fire companies serving Logan Township.”

Township supervisor Paul Sneath explained why they decided to allow Logan Township residents to decide whether they would want a 1.5-mill fire tax.

“While they may not add a lot now, what would happen if property values were reassessed and the assessed value of a property goes up? Then they would pay even more, plus the millage increase,” he said. “We need the assistance of the fire company, and we want to help, but we also want to be fair to our residents, so this is why we’re taking the route of putting it on the ballot.”

Petersburg Volunteer Fire Co. president Wendy Dunmire said they’ve held multiple public meetings to educate the public on the proposed fire tax in the past, but they’re holding three more because they want residents to be as informed as possible before heading to the polls to vote Tuesday, May 21.

“In addition to public meetings, we’ve also been meeting with Logan Township Supervisors about monthly,” she said. “Petersburg Borough enacted a 3-mill tax increase at the end of 2017, and I know that people have given us other ideas on how to raise money, but none of those ideas have come to fruition, so this is a last choice for us.

“Right now, we make enough money to maintain each year, but if we want to buy new equipment or replace old equipment, we won’t be able to at this rate,” she added.

Fire chief Chad Taylor outlined an eight-year plan for the fire company for purchasing new equipment.

“For this year, we want to purchase seven air packs and spare bottles, and the estimated cost for those will be around $55,000-$60,000,” he said, adding they were originally going to try to purchase a new tanker, but decided to hold off on purchasing a new tanker until 2022.

“The estimated cost for a tanker would be $140,000-$320,000,” said Taylor. “The cost would be used versus a new tanker.”

Other equipment needs on the eight-year plan include a new rescue tool they hope to purchase in 2024 that would cost around $20,000 and a new engine they hope to purchase in 2026 that would cost between $150,000-$700,000.

Taylor also outlined current equipment dates from 31 years old with a FMC engine and a tanker that’s 31 years old to a QRS unit that’s just five years old.

Dunmire outlined the current funding sources of the fire company, which includes a 3-mill tax from Petersburg Borough, a $5,000 donation from Logan Township, the Petersburg Catering Club, a fund drive and grants.

“We sent 576 letters for our annual fund drive in 2018, and 97 of those were returned, and we got an average of $5,505,” she said. “We held 45 fundraisers in 2018, which is 3.75 fundraisers per month.”

She also pointed out they started to bill insurance companies for incidents, and they billed for two incidents in 2018 totaling $2,933, but they collected only $52.80.

The total money spent for the fire company in 2018 was around $122,000, and they received around $133,000, which also included a grant they receive that will aid in the purchase of the air packs this year, but has been used to pay down debt and purchase equipment in the past, according to Dunmire.

“We are an open book,” she said. “If anyone wants to look at our financial statements, they are more than welcome to do so.”

Taylor also told residents he wants everyone in the township to register to vote to be able to have a say in whether they want this tax, and he also addressed the concerns for potential assessment in the future.

“Right now, as I see this, if we did a 1.5-mill tax increase, we’d collect around $13,000 more from Logan Township, so if there was reassessment, we may get $20,000,” he said. “Is that a bad thing for the fire company?

“What would happen in the future if the fire company can’t afford to do it,” Tyalor asked. “What if Shavers Creek or Alexandria can’t take over?”

Dunmire pointed out that all but one fire company member would also be subjected to the tax, whether they live in Logan Township or they live in Petersburg Borough, where they already have a 3-mill fire tax.

She also pointed out numbers that would indicate approximately how many parcels would pay certain amounts.

“Around 196 parcels would pay $25 or less, 144 parcels would pay $26-$50, 52 parcels would pay $50-$75, 12 parcels would pay $76-$100, 39 parcels would pay $101-$125 and only five parcels would pay $126,” she said.

Fire company members also provided those in attendance with voter registration forms if they weren’t registered to vote, and residents who were curious as to how much they would pay in a fire tax were provided information on exactly how much they would pay.

The second and third meetings will both be held at 7 p.m. at the Petersburg Fire Hall Tuesday, March 19, and Thursday, April 25.

Pharmacy contract to save DOC money

A recent announcement from the state Department of Corrections stated a new pharmacy contract will save an estimated $1 million in prescription drug costs over the next year. The DOC’s current budget is roughly $48 million a year for prescription drugs for inmates at all facilities.

The DOC recently entered into a new contract arrangement through the Minnesota Multistate Contracting Alliance for Pharmacy (MMCAP) to continue to purchase prescription drugs through Diamond Pharmacy Services.

Under the new contract, the DOC will pay a reduced price for each prescription dispensing fee, which is incurred for each prescription filled. The agency will also not have to pay for transmission fees, which has costs associated with getting prescription data from the pharmacy to electronic health records.

Another benefit for the DOC is, the contract will provide access to generic drugs whenever possible. The contract will also offer same-day delivery to all prison facilities to ensure swift commencement of therapies prescribed.

According to DOC spokesperson Amy Worden, SCI Huntingdon and Smithfield make up approximately 9 percent of the overall prescription expenses.

“The budget for pharmacy is based on aggregate historical data to predict future spending. All major medical contracts are managed at central office and are part of the medical appropriation. The facilities budget does not include any of the major medical contracts within the medical appropriation,” said Worden. “With that said, SCI Huntingdon’s spend is approximately 6 percent and Smithfield’s is approximately 3 percent of the total spend in pharmaceuticals and pharmacy services.”

Created in 1985, the MMCAP is a free voluntary group purchasing organization operated and managed by Minnesota’s Department of Administration for government healthcare institutions. Its mission is to provide, through volume contracting and careful contract management, the best value in pharmaceuticals and related products to its members, which includes eligible governmental health care facilities such as the state DOC.

“This agreement is a win-win for the DOC,” said Christopher Oppman, the DOC’s deputy secretary for administration. “It will provide more efficient pharmaceutical distribution services to our facilities, while also achieving cost-savings for the commonwealth.”

According to Worden, the savings of nearly $1 per prescription will not affect the overall budgets at either of the local SCIs.

“The main financial impact to the DOC will be the savings of 76 cents per prescription/refill and not having to pay an electronic transmission fee for data exchange related to the prescription information at a cost of 20 cents per transaction,” said Worden. “Since the appropriations for pharmaceutical and pharmacy services are part of the medical appropriations fund managed by central office, and not the SCIs, this contract will have no financial impact on the facility.”

The savings however is fairly a large impact when considering the amount of prescriptions that are active within the local institutions.

“Inmates are only prescribed medications when it is determined medically or psychiatrically necessary. Currently, between the (SCI Huntingdon and SCI Smithfield), there are 2,026 inmates out of 3,542 who have active prescription orders. For obvious reasons, this changes daily,” said Worden.

Worden told The Daily News the new system will maximize treatment accessibility for inmates, thanks to the same-day delivery.

“Besides the cost savings, all DOC facilities will now have same-day delivery services which improves our health care services. Each SCI has a central medication room from where all medications are dispensed. Once an SCI receives the medications, they are processed and administered to the inmate as ordered,” said Worden.

The surplus funding due the savings, according to Worden, will be cycled into other programs.

“Saving on the pharmaceutical and pharmacy services contract will be utilized for other medical programs managed by central office,” said Worden.