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Waynesburg Yamaha dealership thrives after devastating fire

Timing was everything for a Waynesburg Yamaha dealership that had its best spring season yet, despite a February fire that caused nearly $1 million in damage.

“We had an outstanding spring,” said Brian Vasko, owner of Waynesburg Yamaha Suzuki KTM on Elm Drive in Franklin Township. “The new building is going up pretty quickly.”

Vasko is rebuilding the main showroom, which burned down Feb. 12. He lost about $250,000 in motorcycles and ATVs and about $600,000 in parts, tools and service equipment. All of it was insured, he said.

“The roof was just totally gone in the showroom,” he said.

Vasko, of Eighty Four, has run the dealership for 15 years. It’s his only location, and he has clients and customers from across Southwestern Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Spring is his busiest season, so the February fire was not only a devastating loss, but also seemingly untimely.

“It could have been much worse,” Vasko said.

No one was inside or injured during the fire, which started after 10 p.m. The state police fire marshal said the fire was not suspicious, but that the cause was to be determined by the insurance company.

The fire didn’t spread to a new addition that had just been completed, thanks to a firewall that had been installed between the old showroom and the addition. Vasko said they’ve been running the business out of that addition, but they’ve had to make modifications. For example, it wasn’t built with the intention of office space, with water or bathroom facilities, but those accommodations had to be made.

“We already had a full construction crew here working on that building,”Vasko said. “So they were able to do that pretty quickly.”

Meanwhile, the burned showroom was leveled, and is being rebuilt.

“We’re going bigger,” Vasko said.

He’s taking it from a 7,000-square-foot building to a 10,800-square-foot building, which will be the main motorcycle showroom. It’s expected to be completed by the end of September, Vasko said.

He said the fire happened just as the addition was being completed, and right before the busiest spring season began in April, giving him enough time and space options to rise from the rubble of a nearly $1 million loss.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” he said. “Nobody told you then that it was going to work out.”

Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter

With Chihuahua Gigi, from left, are the dog’s owner, Judy Voll, along with students Helina Van Bibber, Zora Mosley, Jordan Head, Rachel Dorfner

Harry Funk/The Almanac 

Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter

With Goldendoodle Obi Wan, from left, are Caela Go, Emma Bryant, Laura Hartzell and Zora Mosley.

Environmental group crticizes driller-commissioned air study

An environmental group is cautioning against trusting an air-quality study that shale gas driller Range Resources commissioned at a well site in Mt. Pleasant Township.

High on the list of criticisms from Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project – a nonprofit based in Peters Township – were that the firm Range Resources chose to study air quality near its Yonker well pad, Gradient Corp., has a track record of apparent coziness with corporate and industry clients. Gradient analyzed two years of air-quality data gathered by monitors near the Yonker well pad, less than a mile from the Fort Cherry School District campus.

“It was clear to us that it’s a completely invalid study, based on the reputation of the organization that was hired to do the study,” said Raina Rippel, director of EHP.

The group published a point-by-point response to the Gradient study at the end of May. At the top of a press release three weeks earlier, Range had trumpeted Gradient’s report – which has yet to undergo peer review – as showing “no health impacts from shale development.”

That wasn’t the reason the firm was hired in this case, Range said. A company spokesman pointed to the qualifications of Chris Long, a Gradient scientist involved in the report.

“Chris Long has done work for a lot of industries,” Mark Windle said. “He does a lot of work for state environmental agencies, and he’s done work for us. But the reason we hired him ... he is one of the most qualified toxicologists and scientists in this space.”

No one from Gradient returned a message left at the firm’s office in Cambridge, Mass., last week.

A major bone of contention for EHP – whose review team included toxicologist David Brown, research and communication specialist Beth Weinberger and Nathan Ribar, environmental educator for the group – was that none of the monitors were downwind from the Yonker pad.

Two of those sites were located between the pad and the campus to the northwest. A third was placed to the southwest.

The prevailing wind in that area blows east and northeast.

“You’re not going to capture the majority of emissions coming off of a source if you site the monitor upwind of an emission source,” Rippel said.

Gradient analyzed data on levels of fine particulate matter and volatile organic compounds between December 2016, the month before drilling began, and October 2018, a year after the Yonker wells entered production. The researchers concluded that the recorded amounts of pollutants were “consistently below” levels that should cause concern.

While representatives for Range and the authors of Gradient’s report said those findings aligned with previous research on air quality near fracking sites, other scientists’ conclusions have suggested the overall health effects of the industry are something other than benign.

One 2017 study found babies near frack sites in Pennsylvania were more likely to weigh less and show other negative health symptoms than peers living farther away.

EHP also said the monitors’ placement outside of the campus for a study measuring risks at the schools, and Gradient’s reliance on averages – rather than instances when emissions were at their highest – made its conclusions questionable.

Representatives for the driller insisted on their validity.

Mark Wayner, manager of field environmental compliance for the company, said the standards that Gradient used are the same ones followed by environmental regulators.

Echoing language in the firm’s 36-page report, they also posited that because of the high number of other active frack wells in that area – 160 of them within five miles – the implications extended beyond the Yonker pad.

“The objective always has been to show any potential impacts from our operations on the school district to those vulnerable populations of students,” Windle said. “But, not by design, we ended up taking a full-scale, cumulative look at probably the most densely developed part of the Marcellus shale.”

Range said it sought the study to address health concerns raised by parents and others during the approval process for the Yonker pad. Range representatives said the company sought approval to place monitors on school property but ran out of time.

District Superintendent Jill Jacoby didn’t return messages.

Rippel said she didn’t want the report Range commissioned to be used to promote its interests in other contexts.

“I think this raises serious concerns about the validity of this study, and at EHP we are concerned if this study were to show up as a justification in future hearings or other legal matters,” she said.

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Kennison buys another building next to the one that collapsed, and a café is in the works

Mark Kennison already owned one building that stood next to the one that collapsed on North Main Street in Washington two years ago. Now he owns the other.

Kennison, Republican candidate for Washington mayor, has purchased the Iron Building at 3 N. Main St. It is the unoccupied city structure through which rescue workers bored three holes to reach Megan Angelone, a resident trapped in the Montgomery Building next door, at 15 N. Main, which caved in July 12, 2017.

He said Monday that all repairs have been made to the three-story Iron Building, which, he added, sustained no foundation or structural damage from the collapse. Kennison said he bought it a month ago from Felix and Maria Magnotta, Canton Township spouses who confirmed the transaction.

The Magnottas had owned that rectangular structure – former home of now-closed Brothers Pizza – since 1987. All three declined to reveal the sales price.

Kennison is bullish on the Iron Building, which is at the center of the business district and a 90-second walk from the Washington County Courthouse. The Magnottas are enamored of it, as well.

“It’s a great building,” Felix said during a quick tour of the 14,000-square-foot structure.

“It’s a pretty special building for the town,” Kennison said. “We’re looking to have great tenants on all three floors.”

He may be on the verge of securing one for the ground floor. Kennison said he is “finalizing details” with Eric and Casey Clark, spouses and owners of Perked Up Café in Charleroi and Belle Vernon, who plan to open a breakfast/lunch location – name to be determined. A late summer opening is projected.

Kennison now possesses the two structures that bookend the collapsed Montgomery Building. He had previously invested in the former VIP nightclub at 19 N. Main, which is being converted into a entertainment/catering venue that he also plans to launch in the late summer.

North Main has been a domain of his in recent years. Kennison also owns Presidents Pub, which he opened in 2015. He previously launched Upper Crust, a restaurant on South Main that has since closed.

The Iron Building was built in 1862, the only iron-clad structure in the city, with decorative iron facing that covers all three stories. It has been designated a historic landmark, and the Magnottas have purchased a plaque from the Washington County History and Landmarks Foundation denoting that.

The plaque has yet to be displayed. Kennison pledges to do so.