Westmoreland Cleanways and Recycling’s planned move into a larger facility near Pleasant Unity has been temporarily put on hold.
The Unity Township Supervisors, at their regular meeting Thursday, voted to table approval of a final site plan for the local nonprofit after a neighboring resident expressed concerns earlier in the day.
Supervisors John Mylant and Mike O’Barto voted to table the site plan. Supervisor Ed Poponick was absent.
“You only get one time to get this right and I believe this is what we need to do,” O’Barto said of tabling the site plan.
The supervisors’ decision comes after the Unity Township Planning Commission recommended approval Tuesday for Westmoreland Cleanways’ planned move to an eight-acre property across from the Unity Township Municipal Authority building on Pleasant Unity-Mutual Road, not far from Route 130.
No residents spoke out against the site plan during that meeting.
Somerset County-based JVS Environmental, which has partnered with Westmoreland Cleanways to process collected recyclable electronics, is purchasing the property from Innovative Supply Company Inc.
For nearly six years, Westmoreland Cleanways has been headquartered at Innovative Park, located off Route 30 East near Beatty Crossroads.
Westmoreland Cleanways executive director Ellen Keefe said the planned move will provide more than 18,000 square feet of additional warehouse space.
The new site, which Westmoreland Cleanways will lease from JVS, includes seven buildings, some of which are interconnected. Keefe said the new location will have a larger drive-thru drop-off area for residents. The site, which is currently vacant, previously served as a metal recycling business.
At the planning commission meeting, Keefe said the heavily wooded, rural location would not interfere with any neighboring property owners. Westmoreland Cleanways is also seeking relief from the township’s landscaping requirements, a modification that must be approved by the township supervisors.
Once in the new facility, Keefe said the nonprofit will look to add additional materials to collect, including Styrofoam. She said organization hopes to purchase a Densifier, a piece of equipment capable of melting Styrofoam into plastic cubes, in the future.
Keefe said Westmoreland Cleanways will accept the same materials — such as televisions, glass bottles, scrap metal, tires, fluorescent bulbs, cardboard, paper and more — at the new facility.
Before Thursday’s decision to table the site plan, Keefe had hoped to close the Innovative Park location during the last two weeks in January and move all drop-off recycling to the new property sometime next month.
O’Barto said township officials received an email Thursday morning from a concerned property owner who lives adjacent to the proposed Westmoreland Cleanways site. O’Barto said the property owner, who wasn’t named during the meeting, cited “a list of issues” with the nonprofit’s plans for the facility, including odor concerns and problems regarding the burning of Styrofoam.
Keefe relayed to the supervisors that a Densifier is a common device for companies involved in recycling and processing items.
“Other companies use it,” Keefe said. “It’s a standard type of equipment that recycling processors use.”
“It’s commonly used, it’s a portable unit,” she added. “Businesses use them internally, it’s not an outside unit, and there’s no open flame or anything like that. It’s a unit that heats Styrofoam and melts it. There’s no odor.”
Keefe directed supervisors to the website FoamCycle.com for more information about the Densifier and Styrofoam recycling. Township solicitor Gary Falatovich said officials plan to pass that information on to the concerned property owner.
Keefe also questioned why the supervisors would delay Westmoreland Cleanways’ planned move over a piece of equipment the nonprofit has yet to purchase.
“We don’t have it yet,” Keefer said of the Densifier, adding that the device has an estimated cost of about $70,000. “If there’s any concerns from the board or any of the neighbors about what this piece of equipment is, we don’t have it yet. We won’t have it for another year.
“The fact that we don’t have it yet and we’re not going to be using it, to me, there would be no reason to stop (the site plan process) at this point.”
O’Barto said township officials plan to further discuss the matter with Keefe and the concerned property owner. Township solicitor Gary Falatovich said the supervisors are likely to hold a special meeting later this month to again consider the Westmoreland Cleanways site plan.
“We can put any fears to sleep and do this the right way,” O’Barto said.
In other business, township engineer Dan Schmitt of Gibson-Thomas Engineering Co. Inc. said the township’s new public works garage is expected to soon be ready for daily operations. Workers will likely move into the facility in late January, he noted.
“We’re pretty much done,” he said, adding that start-up work related to maintenance on the boiler system and related items, along with a sprinkler test, is currently being done.
Work on the township’s new public works building began in December 2018. The previous building was destroyed by a September 2017 arson. Since the fire, the township’s public works crew has worked out of two rented facilities.
O’Barto, who served as supervisor during the time of the blaze, is pleased that construction on the new building is finally nearing the finish line.
“It’s a really good feeling and I think it will put the township back where it needs to be,” he said. “I think it will allow us to be more efficient ... I really give the road crew kudos for everything they’ve done the last few years.”
Also related to the public works garage, the supervisors approved these pay estimates: $27,334.23 to general contractor Walter Mucci Construction Co. Inc., $19,359.10 to R&B Mechanical, $50,185.88 to Bob Biter Electrical Enterprises Inc., $51,358.90 to Newman Plumbing and $44,913.75 to Mongiovi & Son.
Supervisors also approved a change order for a deduction of $30,000 to Biter Electrical since allowances for alarms and power weren’t used. Instead, Schmitt said the township paid directly for security and alarms rather than through the contractor.
The supervisors also approved a tentative agreement, through the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC), related to litigation with Norfolk Southern for reimbursements for work on the St. Vincent High bridge.
As part of the agreement, Falatovich said Norfolk Southern is to reimburse the township for all costs incurred out of pocket for reconstruction of the bridge. The pact also calls for the elimination of the Buffenmeyer Road bridge at Norfolk Southern’s expense, he added, along with the township taking over maintenance responsibilities for the St. Vincent High bridge.
Also discussed at Thursday’s meeting:
In other business, supervisors approved:
A 20-year-old Hempfield Township man was jailed Thursday after failing to post bond on charges he raped two girls, ages 11 and 13, in Unity Township after meeting them through a social media app.
Kilian Aiden Thomas was arraigned Thursday before Magisterial District Judge Michael Mahady on three counts of rape of a child and two counts each of statutory sexual assault and corruption of minors, all felonies, along with one misdemeanor count of corruption of minors. He was ordered held in Westmoreland County Prison in lieu of $15,000 bond.
According to court documents, Thomas contacted the girls through the Snapchat app. He picked both girls up in Unity Township around 9:45 p.m. Dec. 19 and drove them to a location near Possum Hollow Road before taking them back to the location where he had picked them up, according to court documents.
Thomas allegedly admitted to police that he had sex with the girls and went with troopers to the scene. He claimed the girls lied about their ages.
“They are trying to put me in jail for a long time for something I did not know,” Thomas told reporters while being led out of the state police station at Greensburg in handcuffs. “They were lying about their ages.”
“We learned about this after the 13-year-old victim told her parents,” state police spokesman Tpr. Stephen Limani said.
Limani said Thomas allegedly raped the girls multiple times in his vehicle.
“We were able to interview the 13-year-old child and subsequently the 11-year-old,” Limani said. “Unfortunately it was at Children’s Hospital where we had the interaction. It’s horrific to have to talk to a young child about something as gruesome and gross and disgusting as that, but the investigators were able to get enough information from them to have an arrest warrant.”
According to court documents, Thomas told police he had sex with one of the girls about a week prior while a different 13-year-old girl was in the vehicle at a location near Bell Memorial Church Road.
Evidence retrieved from the scene is being analyzed at the state police forensics laboratory in Hempfield Township, Limani said.
Thomas is scheduled to appear before Mahady for a preliminary hearing Jan. 27.
The Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau (LHVB) this week announced the release of its 2020 Destination Guide. The 72-page full-color piece serves as the principal promotional brochure for Fayette, Somerset and Westmoreland counties’ tourism information.
“Every year, our LHVB team gets excited about working, designing and writing content for a new Destination Guide. 2020 is no exception,” said Ann Nemanic, LHVB’s executive director. “We enter a new decade of tourism promotion and this is our signature piece. 175,000 copies will be distributed in numerous outlets and serves as our primary fulfillment for visitors interested in coming to the Laurel Highlands. There’s a little something inside the guide for everyone to entice them to put our region on their ‘must visit’ list in the upcoming year.
Over the years, the Laurel Highlands Destination Guide has evolved in size, content, design and imagery.
“Some of the features that we’ve implemented in recent years are modern paper options, authentic large-scale photography that captivates viewers and compelling content that keeps visitors reading from cover-to-cover,” said Kristin Ecker, senior director of marketing and project management. “The content offers itinerary ideas, useful maps and quick reference lists and editorial-style features from across the region that not only highlight the attraction, but also the story of the people behind the business. The design is clean and organized, which makes the piece easy to read and visually appealing.
The 2020 Laurel Highlands Destination Guide’s magazine-quality content showcases some of the region’s newest attractions, tourism entrepreneurs and local history and heritage.
Feature stories include:
Visitors will also find traditional favorites, including a 2020 calendar of major festivals and events, a regional map and valuable coupons.
Sourced from the LHVB’s annual photo contest, the winning images from the 2019 photo contest are showcased on Page 43 of the guide, as well as information on how to enter the 2020 Laurel Highlands Photo Contest, which will accept submissions from Feb. 1 through July 31.
The Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau publishes the destination guide for distribution at numerous consumer travel shows, Pennsylvania Welcome Centers, Pennsylvania Turnpike Visitors Centers, 85 regional brochure racks, Pittsburgh International Airport, Arnold Palmer Regional Airport, VisitPittsburgh Welcome Centers, Laurel Highlands Visitors Centers, regional chambers of commerce and at LHVB tourism partner businesses.
To order a free copy of the 2020 Laurel Highlands Destination Guide, call 724-238-5661, ext. 101, or fill out an online request form. A flip-through digital version is also available online.
When evaluating the possibility of merging the once separate Ligonier Borough and Ligonier Township police forces, advisors said it would take about five years for a joint department to find its roots.
Assistant police Chief Michael Matrunics now sees that five-year plan as a reality, based on the successes of the Ligonier Valley Police Department’s inaugural year.
Matrunics and councilman Jeff Craig spoke at the Ligonier Borough Council meeting Thursday about the department’s experiences this year and its key goals for 2020.
While final numbers are not yet available, the Ligonier Valley Police Department’s finances ended 2019 in the black, Craig said.
“All it all, it was a very good year,” Craig said.
Craig credited Matrunics and police Chief John Berger for keeping the budget in check, as the pair accumulated “a significant number of hours to make that happen” by picking up shifts.
While the borough and township police departments have historically collaborated, functioning as an integrated team meant they did not need to call in outside help with major cases that hit both municipalities last year, Matrunics said.
“Without a doubt, I think that’s just been one of the best things that I’ve seen and it’s easy for John and I to lead that type of organization,” said Matrunics.
In addition, the consolidation enabled the department to offer more full-time positions rather than hiring part-time officers who may leave for other opportunities.
“We pay for their service, we pay for their training and then they go elsewhere. Our goal is to keep our officers to be dedicated to our community,” said Matrunics.
Thanks to grant funding, the department also provided the Ligonier Valley School District with a school resource officer, Shawn Knepper, who rotates his time between the high school, junior high and elementary school.
Matrunics said he has received positive responses from both kids and teachers who love having Knepper in their schools, where he counsels learners, handles security and visits classes, as junior councilwoman Izabella Wentzell attested.
The Ligonier Valley High School senior said Knepper attended her political issues class during a drug law discussion and gave interrogation and handcuffing demonstrations.
“He’s doing wonderful and I really do hope that continues for the following years,” said Wentzell.
In 2020, the Ligonier Valley Police Commission will focus on establishing a new headquarters for the department that will provide resources for the department — from interview rooms and offices to holding cells — needed to protect its officers and supply good service to the community.
The Hill Group Inc. of Pittsburgh will begin a formal evaluation of potential sites for the new building, which will also include an emergency management center for the Ligonier Valley.
“I think that’s going to be a big plus. I’m really excited about that, almost as excited as I am about the new police headquarters,” Craig said.
In the past, “When we have had things like bomb scares and tornadoes and flooding, organizing the emergency response out of our fire hall is — challenge doesn’t do it justice — it’s almost impossible. We have no place to park vehicles, we have no places to put people,” said Craig.
The police department will collaborate with Westmoreland County 911 on a communications plan.
Craig could not provide an exact timetable for the site analysis, but said he hoped to select a location for the new police headquarters in early-to-mid 2020.
In addition, the police department plans to purchase two new vehicles this year — a Ford F-150 truck and a Ford Explorer SUV.
Ligonier Borough also ended last year in a positive financial position. While the approved budget only projected a meager $4.44 profit for 2019, the borough ended up with a nearly $15,000 surplus.
Secretary-treasurer Jan Shaw said the $52 Local Services Tax, which went into effect in 2018, contributed to that balance.
Council also voted to advertise an open mechanic/laborer position for the public works department, which it hopes to fill at its March meeting.
Applications would be due in the borough offices at Town Hall no later than Feb. 14.
Some major maintenance is planned for Town Hall this year, including roofing and HVAC projects, councilwoman Judy Hoffer reported.
In addition, officials will have to consider finding a replacement tenant for Town Hall, as the Laurel Highlands Visitors Bureau will be vacating its office.
One winter project at Town Hall involves renovating that office space, perhaps to suit a specific tenant, as councilman Nate Sylvester suggested.
Council also approved a title transfer for an unused trailer from Ligonier Borough back to Ligonier Volunteer Hose Co. No. 1, so the fire department can sell it to an interested buyer and raise some capital for some planned purchases.
The fire department is the original purchaser and equitable owner of the trailer, but the borough is currently the legal owner, borough solicitor George Welty explained.
Fire Chief Corey Blystone announced that a Ligonier Valley Endowment grant provided six automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) for the fire trucks, the chief’s vehicle and the assistant chief’s vehicle.
Shaw announced that the new “Wings Across Westmoreland” art installation would be unveiled during the 29th Annual Ligonier Ice Fest. The Westmoreland Cultural Trust will hold a brief ceremony at 11 a.m. Jan. 25. The decorative wings will be affixed to the left side of Town Hall facing the courtyard.
Council also received a $200 donation from the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce in appreciation of the borough’s ongoing support and free Saturday event parking over the past year.
“We can always use a little money here and there and everywhere. Thank you very much,” council president Sam St. Clair told chamber executive director Scott Haines.
The next Ligonier Borough Council meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Feb. 13 at Town Hall.
It was another quick contract discussion for members on the Derry Area School Board.
Directors, on Thursday, approved a three-year professional contract between the Derry Area Education Support Professionals Association Custodial/Maintenance and the district through the 2022-23 school year.
“There were no problems,” school board president Dave Krinock said. “It was so amicable. I hope it’s like that all the time.”
Krinock said there is a 50-cent raise through each year in the new contract. The prior deal was set to expire on June 30. The district still has to come to an agreement with secretary staff, another contract that expires at the end of June.
“We met with them once,” Krinock said. “We’re waiting to hear back from them.”
In December 2018, the board approved a new three-year teacher’s contract. It took 26 months to come to the previous contract in 2015.
“We couldn’t open the whole contract,” Krinock said. “They agreed to a couple things and it was only three meetings. One meeting and three with the teachers. It was awesome and we were very happy. We did the one in 26 months with the teachers. That can create animosity and hard feelings and that’s the last thing you want.”
Regarding the contract with the custodians and maintenance workers, it only took one meeting.
“We met with them last week and they let us know two days later that they were ready to roll,” Krinock said. “It was very quick. It was a wonderful experience.”
Similar to the teacher’s contract, directors opened two portions of the contract. They gave custodial and maintenance workers the option and workers opted with wages and insurance.
“I really feel that all three associations have a trust for this board,” Krinock said. “I know we respect them … we feel they’re the best that there is … and I think they have a mutual respect for us.”
The board will also have a decision to make by the end of the month if it wants to remain involved in a Keytex Energy demand response curtailment program.
The district receives yearly checks for about $10,000 if it can display the ability to curtail building energy if there’s ever an emergency on the transmission grid.
“The program has been in place and you’ve been getting these checks for a long time, but the program is changing,” said Greg Cammerata of Keytex Energy.
“You could be called (to curtail energy) during the school year. The decision isn’t going to be an exact yes or not and I can’t tell you for certain that you’re never going to have an event and there’s no risk in doing this.”
The risk for the district is to remain in the program and receive roughly $10,000 per year. But if the district has to curtail its energy during the school year, it could potentially have to pay $9,000.
“If an event happens at the wrong time, and everything goes against you, what’s the absolute worst case scenario?” Cammerata said. “The probability is that you’re going to continue getting these checks moving forward, but we’re here to tell you that if everything goes against you, then you would have to write a check.”
Also on Thursday, the board directed the superintendent and central administrative team on a six-step yearly motion.
Steps include studying professional district staffing needs based upon instructional program requirements and student enrollment; determining the minimum professional district staffing needs for the upcoming school year, and making recommendations to the board during February and March based upon consideration set forth in the public school code, concerning whether any temporary or professional employee position should be maintained, added, reduced or eliminated during the 2020-2021 school year.
Also, if a recommendation is made for elimination or reduction of positions, implement the established procedures through termination of specific temporary professional employees, suspension of specific professional employees or demotion, obtaining approvals from the Pennsylvania Department of Education that might be required for alteration or curtailment of programs.
Another step includes notifying any temporary and professional employees who may be affected and consult and work with district legal counsel to ensure correctness and completeness of the process.
“From the board’s perspective, it should be known that we always take this very serious,” school board member Nathan Doherty said. “When I look at our staffing needs, it’s never a slash and burn sale. We really have to make due with what we can sometimes. But it’s always a serious endeavor and I always thank the administration and everyone involved in getting us to a successful conclusion every year. It’s a hard process.”
In other business, the school board approved:
The newly seated board of Westmoreland County Commissioners got its first public disagreement out of the way during its first regular meeting of the year Thursday.
At issue for new Republican commissioner Doug Chew was a motion on the agenda to appoint retired Magisterial District Judge Joseph Dalfonso of Monessen to the Westmoreland County Housing Authority.
Chew voted against appointing Dalfonso after his initial attempt to have the item tabled failed, saying he hadn’t been afforded sufficient time to research Dalfonso’s background and qualifications for the volunteer position on the housing authority.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to meet him or even see a curriculum vitae. He hasn’t reached out to me, one of the two majority commissioners,” Chew said, referencing the new Republican majority on the board formed by himself and commissioners chairman Sean Kertes, both of whom took office this week. “(Dalfonso) was a former magistrate, and I’m sure he’s a qualified candidate, but at the very least, both majority commissioners should have the opportunity to meet candidates for boards. Especially boards like the housing authority, which oversees $30 million in state and federal tax dollars. The electorate spoke very clearly on Nov. 5 that they favor a more transparent operation in county government. They don’t want business as usual with these board appointments.”
Cerilli, the lone Democrat on the board and only holdover from the previous board of commissioners following her re-election in November, criticized Chew for not bringing his concerns over the appointment to light when the commissioners met earlier in the week to review the agenda for Thursday’s meeting.
“With all due respect, Commissioner Chew, the agenda session is when you bring up these questions,” Cerilli said, before being interrupted by Chew demanding his motion to table the item be seconded before any further discussion occurred.
After seconding the motion to table, Cerilli continued: “Commissioner Chew, I know that you’re new, however, the agenda session is where we ask questions. This is not the time or the place. You were silent on Tuesday in the agenda session.”
Kertes and Cerilli approved Dalfonso’s appointment to the housing authority for a term running through Dec. 31, 2024.
Following the meeting, Kertes said he had no issue with the appointment, noting the housing authority and its administrators recommended Dalfonso for the vacancy and sought a representative from the southern part of the county for the post replacing outgoing member Debra Wohlin.
“They’ve done the vetting process, the housing authority and boards,” Kertes said. “I’m not putting off picking somebody if they have a recommendation to us. If there’s no recommendation, we can put on whoever we feel, but if these boards have someone they feel knows the industry or knows the business, we’ll take their recommendations.”
Cerilli after the meeting chided Chew’s attempts to bring partisan politics into play.
“Four years ago when I became chairman, I said, ‘There’s not going to be a majority or a minority. There’s three county commissioners working together,’” Cerilli said. “The previous board of three county commissioners worked very, very well together. My hope and my expectation is that we’ll also be working well in the next four years, but that decision is up to Commissioner Chew.”
The commissioners did agree on awarding nearly $365,000 in Westmoreland County Tourism grants to more than 40 organizations and businesses. Funding for the tourism grants is generated by a 5% hotel tax applied to room rates. The county in 2016 increased the hotel tax from 3% and stipulated the additional revenue must be earmarked for tourism-related projects.
The largest tourism grants awarded for 2020 totaled $17,000 each to Fort Ligonier Days; The Palace Theatre; The Westmoreland Museum of American Art; Westmoreland Arts & Heritage Festival Inc.; Westmoreland County Historical Society; Westmoreland Heritage and Latshaw Productions & Marketing Inc.
Fort Ligonier was awarded $14,598.75 and other local tourism grant awards included: $12,750 to the Compass Inn Museum; $8,500 each to the Ligonier Valley and Greater Latrobe-Laurel Valley Regional chambers of commerce, Ramada Ligonier and SpringHill Suites by Marriott Pittsburgh-Latrobe hotels, Champion Lakes Golf Course and the Fred Rogers Center; $7,648.30 to the Downtown Greensburg Project; $7,644.90 to the Stahlstown Flax Scutching Festival; $4,250 each to the Ligonier Country Market and Latrobe Art Center & Café; and $4,143.75 to the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art.
Tourism grant awardees are required to have a 25% cash match for the grant funds or split their required 25% match evenly between cash and in-kind services or donated materials.
The 2020 Westmoreland County Tourism Grants ceremony at which the grants approved Tuesday will formally be awarded is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17, at the county courthouse. Last year, nearly $475,000 in tourism grants were awarded, the highest single-year total since the program was initiated in 2003.
During the county salary board’s meeting prior to the commissioners’ meeting Thursday, the board approved a change in the sheriff’s office, eliminating a solicitor position that had a salary of $7,365 per year and creating a new solicitor position with a salary of $25,920 for a maximum of 1,000 hours per year.
Cerilli said the salary board’s move will actually save the county money despite more than tripling the salary for the position because of a change in the distribution of funds from sheriff’s sales. Previously, the sheriff’s solicitor was paid a commission from sheriff’s sale proceeds. Now, that commission has been eliminated, meaning the funds go to the county instead.
Kertes said the sheriff’s solicitor’s commission in 2019 came out to roughly $50,000 in additional payment on top of the $7,365 salary.
In other business of note during the commissioners’ meeting, the commissioners approved: