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Only Latrobe firefighter to fall in line of duty could be added to national memorial

Lawrence “Skeets” Huber — the only Latrobe firefighter to ever perish in the line of duty, according to Latrobe Fire Chief John Brasile — is being considered for addition to the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Brasile told Latrobe City Council Tuesday night that the Latrobe Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) submitted paperwork for Huber to be considered for the honor last year, but the organization which manages the memorial had some staffing issues and the submission apparently was misplaced.

He said a member of Huber’s family, his grandson Patrick Huber, was able to provide a death certificate so that the paperwork could be submitted again. Brasile said the memorial hosts a special ceremony around Fire Prevention Week in early October, so he suspects that the determination likely will be made sometime before October of next year.

Huber, a former assistant fire chief at the Latrobe VFD’s Goodwill Hose Co. 1, died while attempting to rescue a young woman, Adronica Lampropolis, in the raging waters of the Loyalhanna Creek on Aug. 3, 1935, following a terrible flood.

“His was the only line-of-duty death that Latrobe has ever had, which is a good thing, even though you strive to have none,” Brasile said.

He noted that it is a prestigious honor to be enshrined at the memorial, and having visited it himself, he said it is “really something else to see.”

Huber already is memorialized locally. Huber Hall, 300 S. Alexandria St., is named after him, and features plaques that honor his bravery.


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A look back in history: Lawrence Huber's heroism

Following is the text of the article that appeared in the Saturday, Aug. 3, 1935, edition of the Latrobe Bulletin, describing the heroics and tragic death of Lawrence Huber and the young woman he was trying to save, Adronica Lampropolis:

TWO DROWNED NEAR KINGSTON

Just when the worst of the flood seemed over Saturday night, with the roads being reopened and with everybody feeling that the flood had passed without tragedy, word came from Kingston that Miss Adronica Lampropolis, only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William Lampropolis, and Lawrence Huber, Latrobe councilman, also a member of the fire department, had been drowned while trying to get from the Lampropolis cottage, located on an island, above Kingston, to the main bank of the creek.

Members of the Lampropolis family were marooned in their cottage, as they did not realize the seriousness of the flood until they had been cut off from escape.

Members of the Latrobe fire department, including Mr. Huber, had hurried to the Lampropolis cottage, after hearing a report, later proved to be false, that the Latrobe reservoir, located several miles above Kingston, was in danger of breaking.

Mr. and Mrs. Lampropolis with their daughter, Adronica, a friend, Kitty Hammer, of Greensburg, and the Lampropolis’ maid, were in the cottage.

When the firemen reached the cottage a rope was thrown across the stream, and securely fastened on each side, so that it would be possible to cross over on it.

Mr. Huber and Luke Burke, a fireman from the First Ward, Latrobe, crawled across the rope hand over hand to the cottage.

It had been the intention that those in the cottage would make their escape by using a seat attached to a trolley run over a cable, similar to the device used by linemen. One of these had been sent for, but before it arrived Miss Adronica decided not to wait.

She started to cross over the rope hand over hand, with Mr. Huber coming directly behind her. When the two had negotiated about half the distance of the perilous crossing, Miss Lampropolis’ strength seemed to leave her, and she appeared about to fall.

Mr. Huber put his legs around her in an attempt to support her, but almost at once, while the terrified crowd looked on helplessly, both of them dropped into the water.

They were badly buffeted in the swift current, and apparently were too exhausted to swim to shore. The bystanders believed they had seen Mr. Huber wade up to the island.

Before the rope had been stretched across the creek, an unsuccessful effort had been made to reach the cottage with a boat, but the current was too swift, and the creek kept rising at the rate of a foot an hour.

Those who from the bank watched the fall of Miss Lampropolis and Mr. Huber into the water, were helpless to give aid. The two were swept swiftly along in the current, and it would have been folly for anyone to have attempted to swim in the turbulent stream.

Men were stationed along the stream below the cottage, at the Kingston Dam and elsewhere, to watch for the bodies. At midnight they had not been located.

Also attempts were being made to communicate with those still in the cottage. Realization of the terrible strain which they were under spurred the efforts of the rescue crew.

For several hours it was impossible for those on the opposite bank to make themselves heard by those in the cottage above the roar of the water.

Shortly before midnight, when the waters began to recede, communication was finally made between the cottage and the shore.

It was learned that six persons including Mr. Burke were in the cottage, but that Mr. Huber was not there. In addition to these persons, a dog was also in the cottage.

Some time after news of the drowning reached Latrobe, rumors were circulated that Mr. Huber had gotten safely to shore and had been seen. This, however, proved to be a false hope.

As far as can be learned, there was no reason for Miss Lampropolis coming across but she was always an athletic girl and probably regarded it as a lark. Those in the cottage did not see the tragedy and several of them could be seen playing bridge later in the night, showing that they were unaware of what had happened, and not concerned about the high water that surrounded the cottage.

Miss Lampropolis, aged 23 years, graduated from Latrobe high school with the class of 1929, and from Radcliffe College in 1932.

She is survived by her parents, and three brothers, Milton, Pete and George. It was just several weeks ago that an uncle of the victim, a brother of Mrs. Lampropolis, died suddenly, as the result of a heart attack.

———

No One Drowned at Buttermilk

A false report was circulated about town in the evening to the effect that two youths had been drowned at Buttermilk Falls. The report originated as a result of an accident which occurred while two boys were crossing a swinging bridge at the falls. Jack Need, aged 14 years, of Swissvale, and William Snyder, aged 20, of Buttermilk were crossing the bridge when a cable broke and they were thrown into the high waters. The youths swam to shore and were none the worse for the incident.

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FRACTURE ANKLE

Joe Checkoski of R. D. 1. fractured his left ankle when he fell while wading at Kingston this afternoon.

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NOTICE TO FIREMEN

All able firemen are asked to be at the Engine House, tomorrow morning, at 8 o’clock to form parties to go out and search the banks for the missing bodies.


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GL’s Teppert to retire; Porembka promoted to superintendent

Greater Latrobe School District will have a new superintendent in January, as the school board reluctantly accepted the resignation of Dr. Georgia Teppert at Tuesday’s Committee of the Whole Meeting.

Teppert will retire on Jan. 3, but the board didn’t have to look very far for her replacement as the board voted to promote Assistant Superintendent Michael Porembka to fill the position for a term of five years, at an initial salary of $170,000.

Teppert, who has been with the district for 23 years, read the resolution granting her resignation, calling it “bittersweet.”

Her reasons, she said, were purely personal.

“It’s time to spend some time with my family and take a little better care of my well being,” Teppert said.

The resolution was approved, although not unanimously. Board vice president Paul McCommons, who led the meeting, voted no. Porembka was pleased his promotion was unanimous.

“I’m just glad Mr. McCommons didn’t vote no,” he joked.

Following the vote, Teppert and Porembka, who have worked closely over that last few years, and especially during the pandemic, embraced and the board and all those in attendance erupted in applause.

“I just want to thank the Greater Latrobe School District, the Greater Latrobe community for the past 23 years that I’ve had the opportunity to serve this wonderful school community,” said Teppert. “I am beyond humbled that I had the opportunity to work with so many wonderful students and families and a wonderful supportive board of education.”

Teppert has been superintendent for two-and-a-half years since being named the replacement for former superintendent Judith Swigart when she retired. She served the district as assistant superintendent for five years, but has been with the district in a number of administrative roles since 1999, including assistant high school principal, high school principal and director of support services.

Porembka, meanwhile, has served as the district’s assistant superintendent since August 2019 and as director of safety and security since July 2013.

He has also served in a variety of administrative roles since 2005, including director of teaching and learning for six years, Baggaley Elementary School principal for four years and interim director of facilities.

Porembka began his career in education at GLSD in August 1998 as a social studies teacher and taught at both the junior and senior high school and served as social studies department coordinator for five years.

He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history and his teaching certification from St. Vincent College in 1997, and continued his education at Gannon University, earning his master of education in curriculum and instruction with distinction in 2001, principal certificate in 2003 and superintendent’s letter of eligibility in 2011.

Porembka said the promotion is “bittersweet” and he accepts it with a ”heavy heart” because he will certainly miss working day-in and day-out with Teppert. But he did make one promise.

“I will work my rear-end off for this school district as I have for the last 24 years,” said Porembka.

He also added that seeing many of Teppert’s visions and goals for the district come to fruition during his tenure will be an integral part of his plans and motivation moving forward.

In addition, the board also went over items that will be discussed and voted on at the board’s regular meeting on Oct. 19. Those items included:

• Various agreements with outside agencies and organizations for education and planning;

• Overnight and out-of-state field trips for the marching band, National Honor Society, Forensic Team, Vietnam Studies, Varsity Wrestling Team, Varsity Baseball Team and chamber and concert choirs;

• Changes to the school calendar related to the power outage at Baggaley Elementary School earlier this year;

• Various gifts, grants and donations;

• Tax appeal settlement proposal;

• Motions related to the Westmoreland Intermediate Unity Joint Purchasing Consortium.

In addition, announcements were made regarding some upcoming events and activities. They included:

• Red Ribbon Week is Oct. 25-29;

• The end of the first quarter is Nov. 1 and a two-hour late start is planned for Nov. 2;

• Parent/teacher conferences will be held in all buildings from 5 to 8 p.m. Nov. 10;

• Schools will be closed for Veterans Day on Nov. 11;

• An ACT 80 Day will be held Nov. 12 with parent/teacher conferences planned all day on Nov. 12 at the elementary schools;

• The next school board meeting is 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 and there is only one meeting in November at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 16. Both meetings will be held in the Center for Student Creativity at the high school.


Covid19
AP
Next on FDA's agenda: Booster shots of Moderna, J&J vaccines

WASHINGTON (AP) — With many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations already rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot, millions of others who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait anxiously to learn when it’s their turn.

Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week.

On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra doses of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when. The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week.

After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency itself will make a decision on whether to authorize boosters. Then next week, a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them. Its decision is subject to approval by the CDC director.

The process is meant to bolster public confidence in the vaccines. But it has already led to conflicts among experts and agencies — and documents the FDA released Tuesday suggest this week’s decisions will be equally difficult.

In one earlier vaccine dispute, the CDC’s advisory panel last month backed Pfizer boosters at the six-month point for older Americans, nursing home residents and people with underlying health problems. But CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky overruled her advisers and decided boosters should also be offered to those with high-risk jobs such as teachers and health care workers, adding tens of millions more Americans to the list.

Some health experts fear the back-and-forth deliberations are muddling the public effort to persuade the unvaccinated to get their first shots. They worry that the talk of boosters will lead people to wrongly doubt the effectiveness of the vaccines in the first place.

When the FDA’s panel meets to review the Moderna and J&J vaccines, experts will discuss whether a third Moderna shot should contain just half the original dose and what’s the best timing for a second shot of the single-dose J&J vaccine.

The panel will also look into the safety and effectiveness of mixing-and-matching different brands of vaccine, something regulators have not endorsed so far.

An estimated 103 million Americans are fully vaccinated with Pfizer’s formula, 69 million with Moderna’s and 15 million with J&J’s, according to the CDC. Regulators took up the question of Pfizer boosters first because the company submitted its data ahead of the other vaccine makers.

Tim Anderson, a U.S. history teacher at a high school outside Louisville, Kentucky, already had his two Moderna shots months before he came down with COVID-19 in August. While his symptoms hit him “like a sledgehammer,” he is convinced that the inoculation saved him and his girlfriend from the more severe effects of the disease.

The two are now awaiting clearance of a Moderna booster shot.

“Until we can build up enough immunity within our own self and, you know, as a group of humans, I’m willing to do what I need to do,” Anderson, 58, said.

The FDA meetings come as U.S. vaccinations have climbed back above 1 million per day on average, an increase of more than 50% over the past two weeks. The rise has been driven mainly by Pfizer boosters and employer vaccine mandates.

While the FDA and CDC so far have endorsed Pfizer boosters for specific groups only, Biden administration officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, have suggested that extra shots will eventually be recommended for most Americans.

In a new review of Moderna’s data, the FDA did not indicate Tuesday if it was leaning toward clearing the company’s booster. It said vaccines used in the U.S. still provide protection, and it raised questions about some of Moderna’s data.

The two initial Moderna shots contain 100 micrograms of vaccine each. But the drugmaker says 50 micrograms ought to be enough for a booster for healthy people.

A company study of 344 people gave them a 50-microgram shot six months after their second dose, and levels of virus-fighting antibodies jumped. Moderna said the booster even triggered a 42-fold rise in antibodies able to target the extra-contagious delta variant.

Side effects were similar to the fevers and aches that Moderna recipients commonly experience after their second regular shot, the company said.

As for people who got the J&J vaccine, the company submitted data to the FDA for different options: a booster shot at two months or at six months. The company said in its FDA submission that a six-month booster is recommended but that a second dose could be given at two months in some situations.

J&J released data in September showing that a booster given at two months provided 94% protection against moderate-to-severe COVID-19 infection. The company has not disclosed patient data on a six-month booster, but early measures of virus-fighting antibodies suggest it provides even higher protection.

Even without a booster, J&J says, its vaccine remains about 80% effective at preventing COVID-19 hospitalizations in the U.S.

Scientists emphasize that all three vaccines used in the U.S. still offer strong protection against severe disease and death from COVID-19. The issue is how quickly, and how much, protection against milder infection may wane.

In one recent study, researchers compared about 14,000 people who had gotten their first Moderna dose a year ago with 11,000 vaccinated eight months ago. As the delta variant surged in July and August, the more recently vaccinated group had a 36% lower rate of “breakthrough” infections compared with those vaccinated longer ago.

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AP Writer Bobby Caina Calvan contributed to this story from New York.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


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City manager: No tax hike expected in 2022 budget

Latrobe City Manager Mike Gray on Tuesday night gave Latrobe City Council a brief report on the draft budget for 2022, which is currently up for review and comment by council, and while he could not reveal specifics yet, he did have some good news for city residents.

“No, there won’t be a tax increase,” Gray said.

He said the budget likely will end up looking similar to the 2021 budget, but it’s not quite complete yet. He said he currently does not project a loss of revenue like the shortfalls that have hindered the city the past couple of budget years during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.


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Latrobe moves forward on projects made possible by COVID relief funding

Communities across the nation have been struck by financial hardships caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and the City of Latrobe is no different — but thankfully, there’s a silver lining, as the city is set to receive a total of more than $800,000 in federal relief funding.

The city’s 2021 budget includes an allocation of $409,000 in Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, and a similar amount is expected for the second portion of the total relief funding slated for Latrobe.

Latrobe City Council took steps toward utilizing that funding at its regular meeting Tuesday night, moving forward on several projects related to infrastructure and computer and equipment upgrades.

Council authorized consulting engineer Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. to prepare a hot mix paving project proposal using the federal relief funding.

Latrobe City Manager Mike Gray said there are no specifics yet regarding which streets or areas of the city may be targeted for the paving work.

Meanwhile, council likewise gave Gray authority to seek bids for upgrades to the downtown surveillance camera system, as well as proposals for virtual meeting software and cybersecurity upgrades and equipment. City officials previously listed those items as things that could be paid for using money from the federal relief funds.

Wajdic said the proposed surveillance camera upgrades likely would target James H. Rogers Memorial Park — which is located near the Latrobe Municipal Building (Latrobe City Hall) and features a fountain and other amenities — and some nearby intersections.

“It’s going to be based on price, what they can do,” Wajdic said.

Virtual meeting software would enable both council members and — more importantly, according to councilman Ralph Jenko — the public to participate in local government meetings remotely.

Gray said the city is considering restrictions regarding virtual attendance for council members, to ensure that they don’t take the convenience for granted and stop attending meetings in person. He noted that virtual attendance could not count toward forming a quorum for the purpose of voting on official business.

Council also voted to award a contract to low bidder McMahan Construction LLC for the replacement of a sidewalk located at a city parking lot adjacent to Adams Memorial Library, Lot J.

Gray previously explained that the bricks in the sidewalk are prone to shifting during the winter freeze-and-thaw cycle, creating a hazard for pedestrians.

“This has been a long time coming,” said Latrobe Deputy Mayor Eric Bartels.

Latrobe Public Works Director Scott Wajdic said he didn’t have the total contract price on hand Tuesday night and would provide it later.

In other business:

• Karen Meholic was appointed as the city’s new director of finance and administration and city secretary. She has been serving as acting city secretary since the departure of Roxanne Shadron, who previously held the position.

• In an email read by Gray, Latrobe Police Chief John Sleasman reported that the Latrobe Police Department applied for a no-match, $49,000 Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) grant that would be used to upgrade police computers, to purchase patrol car computers and radios, to upgrade the voice analysis computer, to purchase forensic software for data extraction for mobile and cellular devices, and to add two Visual Alert police record software licenses.

• Sleasman also noted that the body-worn cameras recently acquired for city officers have been in service for a few months now and have “proved to be a great asset,” enabling officers to review footage to prepare more detailed reports and assisting supervisors with performing officer evaluations or reviews of critical incidents.

• Gray reported that the rehabilitation project for several of the underpasses beneath the Norfolk Southern railway that passes through Latrobe will begin “relatively soon.”

• Council amended the city ordinance concerning street excavations, in order to prohibit underground directional boring and drilling in the downtown business district.

• A code variance was approved regarding the requirements for the trimming of trees overhanging streets, alleys and sidewalks, for a property located at 629 Walnut St.

• The city is interviewing candidates to fill two positions at the city transfer station which will be opening up soon, and Wajdic said his department also likely will have to replace a mechanic who likely will be retiring in another year or so.

• Wajdic said a troublesome turning light on Depot Street is being addressed later this week, and the elevator in the parking garage should be up and running sometime today (Wednesday). He also noted that the public works department is busy painting lines, doing some tar sealing and repairing potholes.

• The city’s initial order for road salt for the winter has been submitted, according to Wajdic.

• Jenko said the new welcome sign being installed between the Lloyd Avenue Bridge and the Latrobe Post Office is set to be finished soon, “hopefully by the end of the month.”

• Jenko also reported that a solar-powered light has been installed on the Lincoln Avenue Trail near Weiss Furniture Co. on a trial basis, and the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program is seeking feedback on the fixture.

• Wolford said she feels the city should do something to recognize the continued accomplishments and hard work of the Latrobe Community Revitalization Program (LCRP), after a city resident spoke during public comment to praise the organization.

• Gray noted that he has put together materials to help residents deal with skunk problems in the city, including tips on how to get them to move out of the area, which are available to the public at city hall. He urged residents who find skunk dens to notify the city.

• Latrobe Fire Chief John Brasile reminded residents that the city’s annual Halloween observance will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 30.

• Council held an executive session prior to its regular meeting to discuss matters regarding litigation.


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Smarto to lead county airport authority board

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority board has a new chairperson at the helm after two county commissioners’ recent vote to oust a pair of board members.

Janice Smarto will take over as board chair and Vince Finoli, who previously served as secretary, will be vice chairman.

Last month, Commissioners Gina Cerilli Thrasher and Doug Chew appointed Rich Pologruto and Paul Whittaker to the airport board in place of chairman Paul Puleo and Donald “Doc” Giffin, whose five-year terms had expired. Commissioner Sean Kertes voted against the board changes.

Smarto, an area realtor, has served as chairwoman and vice chair at past authority meetings. She said at Tuesday’s monthly meeting that the authority “will move forward. We’re here to serve the county and make the best decisions that we can. We work hard and give our time.”

Thrasher, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said her vote to replace Puleo and Giffin was “not personal” after they and five other board members in June moved to extend a lease with DeNunzio’s Italian Chophouse, which has had exclusive rights to run the facility’s dining concession for the last 17 years.

Thrasher has repeatedly expressed issues with the board’s unwillingness to meet with commissioners ahead of making that decision.

“We asked to meet with the board to go over ideas to make this (restaurant) contract more airport-friendly. We made it very clear that, if they want to continue with DeNunzio’s, they can do that,” Thrasher said.

“The airport authority refused to meet with us. They rushed this contract through a year in advance.”

Thrasher has said she will seek to remove other board members who opposed efforts to open the space to a new vendor, or at the very least, renegotiate a better lease before approving it.

She has also said that authority board appointments aren’t intended to last a lifetime.

Puleo’s term expired in January, while Giffin represented Palmer on the board for years and replaced the Latrobe golf legend on the board following his death in 2016. Although his term expired in January 2020, Giffin continued to serve on the board.

Giffin’s replacement is Rich Pologruto, a Scottdale businessman, and Paul Whittaker, a contractor who owns a private airfield in New Alexandria, will replace Puleo.

DeNunzio’s manager Anthony M. DeNunzio II spoke during Tuesday’s public comment period and expressed disappointment in Puleo and Giffin’s removal from the board.

“Often times, their contributions do not get the recognition they deserve. With Paul and Doc, we’re losing two great contributors and we will sincerely miss them,” he said.

Reading from a statement, DeNunzio said he is concerned about the long-term future of his restaurant and the Unity Township airport. He also said commissioners’ are not upholding the values of Palmer, whom DeNunzio said he idolized growing up.

“My positive and inspirational thoughts born from our airport’s namesake have been erased by our county commissioners,” he said. “I’m greatly concerned that the foundation that was set, established and carried out by Arnold Palmer and the airport authority board members is in jeopardy.

“I’m concerned with the long-term future of Denunzio’s Italian Chophouse and the well being of our employees. Furthermore, I’m concerned with the airport and its future. Gabe (Monzo) and the airport authority board know how to run this place … I’m hopeful that our county commissioners will use common sense and educated decisions to benefit our county moving forward.”

Under the new five-year lease, DeNunzio’s will pay $7,447.50 per month for the restaurant space, which includes utilities and is subject to adjustment with each renewal of the lease. The restaurant also pays $500 per month for the use of a banquet room and $750 for the snack bar.

Prior to the contract, DeNunzio’s had been paying just $4,000 per month for rent and utilities and $500 a quarter for the banquet room.

In other business Tuesday, authority executive director Gabe Monzo said rapid COVID-19 testing is expected to be available for outbound passengers at the Arnold Palmer airport in about two weeks. The 30-minute PCR swab test, administered through PAS Medical Laboratory of Jeannette, costs $120 and results will be available the same day.

“This is available now, and we’re going to take advantage of it,” he said. “They can do a 30-minute test where the people can sit in their cars and wait for the results."

Passengers can schedule to be tested at the airport by calling 1-800-524-3414 or visiting www.pamedlabs.com. Monzo stressed that those interested in the testing should not call the airport.

Also, engineer Scott Kunselman reported the authority has been awarded a $600,000 state grant toward a pair of airport projects, including the installation of upgraded electronic advertising and promotional signage at airport property at routes 30 and 981. The other portion of the funding will be used for new safety features for storing de-icing fluids at the airport fuel farm.

Kunselman added that the lone outstanding issue with the second phase to widen and strengthen the airport runway is being addressed. The issue is tied to precision approach path indicator (PAPI), which are visual lights on each end of the runway that help guide aircraft individually. Kunselman said the lights were slightly out of alignment when first installed, but were within Federal Aviation Administration parameters and will be adjusted to meet project specifications. 

The board will also consider taking action on refinancing the airport authority’s existing debt.

During a presentation Tuesday, Jay Wenger of Susquehanna Group Advisors Inc. said the authority’s current debt runs out in 2031 and suggested that it initially pursue a bank loan and bond issue to find the best result. He noted that debt refinancing savings would be approximately $200,000, or about 4% of the authority’s outstanding debt.

In the monthly traffic report provided by the authority, the Arnold Palmer airport served 15,765 passengers in September and 185,210 passengers this year to date.


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