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Peters Township, North Strabane residents continue efforts to save lake

From the back of his Waterside Drive home in Peters Township, Tim Silbaugh has a premium view of Canonsburg Lake.

In his line of sight these days is what has become an island.

“That was barely an island with small bushes on it three years ago, and now you can see there are trees that look like they’re 20 feet high,” he said. “On the other side of it, it used to be lake, and now it’s pretty much marsh.”

Kim Rosser, who lives in North Strabane Township along the other side of the lake, made a similar observation.

“My husband and I moved here about seven years ago, and we started kayaking on it. We used to kayak the opposite side,” she said about the channel to which Silbaugh referred, “which I don’t think you can do now.”

Rosser and Silbaugh serve on the board of the Canonsburg Lake Restoration and Improvement Association, which has been incorporated as a nonprofit for purposes the group’s name makes evident.

Efforts to save the lake from growing amounts of silt and debris date back nearly 20 years, when North Strabane resident Debra Valentino circulated a petition and collected more than 300 signatures from people who favored restoration.

Since then, a few improvements have been made, such as the 2016 construction of a sediment forebay and rock weir, designed to slow water and facilitate the gravity separation of suspended solids. Undertaking the project was Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, which has been responsible for management of the lake since 1958.

But overall, the 76-acre body of water, formed from Little Chartiers Creek by the construction of Canonsburg Lake Dam during World War II, continues to be susceptible to silt collection. And Silbaugh, who chairs the association’s board, warned about the ramifications.

“With the lake disappearing, then the ecosystem just isn’t supported. And as the southern part of the lake fills up, the silt is going to go into the northern part of the lake. It already is, but now you can’t see it,” he said. “It won’t be too many years until you’ll be able to see it accumulating there, and then the northern part of the lake will disappear.”

Members of the association are working on preventive measures.

“Our first goal is to identify how much silt is there and then identify how quickly it’s accumulating, and what we might be able to do with it based on the quality of the silt: whether it can be used in normal circumstances or it has to go to a special landfill,” Silbaugh said. “And then once we’ve done that, we can determine what the cost would be to remove the silt.”

Another consideration, he said, is the Fish and Boat Commission’s upstream installation.

“We need to determine what capacity needs to be in the forebay – how deep it needs to be, how long it needs to be, the width of it, the capacity of it – so it can then function properly with the weir,” he said.

The longer term optimally would feature a comprehensive project.

“It’s going to have to be done methodically,” Rosser said. “You can’t dredge it out unless you can stop the silt process, and you can’t stop the silt process unless you can develop some type of maintenance program on the existing collection of the silt. It’s like a domino effect.”

Such pursuits, of course, are costly. The association has some money in reserve, and members are seeking grants, donations and other sources of revenue toward efforts that would run well into seven figures.

One avenue the group could pursue addresses flood control, which has become a major consideration among communities downstream along Chartiers Creek.

“The engineers advised us that when the capacity of the lake is increased by removing the silt, then that will reduce the flooding,” Silbaugh said. “It will hold more water back from flowing so quickly when there’s a storm.”

Association members also are looking for local champions who would like to help rehabilitate a major Washington County asset.

“A big financial commitment would really move this whole project along,” Rosser said.

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90 UAW members conduct work stoppage at Langeloth Metallurgical

Serenaded by honking vehicles and sustained by good Samaritan-delivered pizza and water, union workers Tuesday picketed for the second day in a row outside the gates of Langeloth Metallurgical Co.

The employees, 90 members of United Auto Workers Local 1311, began a work stoppage Monday morning at the metal fabricating firm in the Langeloth section of Smith Township. Seniority rights is the primary reason for the strike, said Bernie Froaps, a union member.

Seniority rights essentially allow union workers with the longest service times at a company to get the first crack at certain jobs.

Froaps said the local’s executive committee rejected the company’s “last, best and final offer” on Aug. 8, and had to wait 30 days before beginning a work stoppage.

The company did not respond to requests for comment at the plant or by phone.

Langeloth Metallurgical, according to Froaps, employs about 130, including 40 who are salaried. A number of them reside in nearby West Virginia and Ohio.

Jim Hall, president of the local, stood outside the plant entrance as he read a statement from the union. It said:

“United Auto Workers Local 1311 has worked for decades with LMC to ensure the company’s profitability and our job security. Today we are standing united for our workplace, dignity and seniority rights.

“Make no mistake that our union fights hard for economic issues, but working with dignity and respecting our seniority is just as important for our members as economic issues.

“We are prepared to stand united until we can come to an agreement that achieves this.”

No talks are scheduled at this time, however.

“We’re waiting to hear from the LMC attorney about sitting down and coming to an agreement we can ratify,” said Jimmy Whisler, the UAW international representative for Region 9, which includes Local 1311. Whisler, who is based in Philadelphia, was at Langeloth Metallurgical on Tuesday.

Froaps said this is the first work stoppage at the plant in his 15 years employed there. He said he believed the last strike there occurred in the late 1980s. Langeloth Metallurgical is a subsidiary of Thompson Creek Metals.

Dozens of union employees picketed Tuesday, carrying red and white signs bearing “UAW on Strike.” Some had a second sign dangling from their necks. They were quiet, friendly and jovial in the rising heat, and gratefully acknowledged the courtesy honks and the sustenance provided.

“We’re getting a lot of support in the community,” Whisler said.

Justices weigh discipline against Penn State's ex-counsel

PHILADELPHIA – Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court considered arguments in Philadelphia Tuesday over whether the chief lawyer for Penn State when the Jerry Sandusky scandal broke should face public censure.

The state’s lawyer disciplinary board recommended that punishment in March for Cynthia Baldwin, who is a former state Supreme Court justice. The board did not recommend that her license be suspended or taken.

The Legal Intelligencer said only four of the court’s seven justices participated in the argument, and there was no indication when they might rule.

The board has leveled several claims against Baldwin regarding her conduct as investigators ramped up their probe of Sandusky. Sandusky, Penn State’s former defensive football coach, is serving a state prison sentence on a 45-count child sexual abuse conviction in 2012.

The board said Baldwin had a conflict of interest because she represented both the university and three of its top administrators during a grand jury investigation into Sandusky’s conduct.

In an August filing, Samuel Napoli, an Office of Disciplinary Counsel lawyer arguing the case against Baldwin, said she had “betrayed her clients” by testifying before a grand jury about their communications. She’s also accused of having engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, according to Napoli, because her allegedly improper testimony to the grand jury led to the dismissal of some of the criminal charges faced by former Penn State President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Schultz and former Athletic Director Tim Curley.

A board hearing panel that considered the case before the full board took it up had recommended the case against Baldwin be dismissed. The lawyer disciplinary proceedings are administrative, not criminal, and the board indicated it felt a license suspension was not warranted.

Baldwin’s lawyer, Charles DeMonaco, said in a brief last month that the justices should side with the hearing committee, not the full board, and conclude she did not violate the rules of professional conduct for lawyers.

“It is nearly impossible to gauge what is in the best interest of a client or to provide sound legal advice when the client lies about his or her situation and the underlying facts,” DeMonaco said.

Baldwin accompanied Curley, Schultz and Spanier to grand jury appearances in 2011, before Sandusky was charged with child molestation.

Schultz and Curley pleaded guilty to misdemeanor child endangerment on the eve of trial in 2017 for their response to a 2001 complaint about Sandusky showering with a boy and served brief jail terms. Spanier was convicted of child endangerment, but that charge was recently thrown out by a federal judge, a decision under appeal by state prosecutors.

The Legal Intelligencer said justices Sallie Mundy, Kevin Dougherty, Christine Donohue and David Wecht heard arguments Tuesday, and justices Max Baer, Thomas Saylor and Debra Todd did not participate.

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Court denies Dunlevy man's murder appeal in 1977 death

The state Superior Court found there was “no evidence” presented that a former Washington County judge was under the influence of cocaine when he presided over the 2011 murder trial of a Dunlevy man.

The ruling came as part of a post-conviction appeal filed by 62-year-old Robert W. Urwin, who was convicted of third-degree murder in the death of 16-year-old Mary Gency of Charleroi.

While Gency was killed in 1977, Urwin wasn’t charged until 2010. He opted to forego a jury trial, having former Judge Paul Pozonsky decide the case. Pozonsky found Urwin guilty in 2011 and sentenced him to 10 to 20 years in prison.

Pozonsky later pleaded guilty to charges that he took evidence and used cocaine from cases over which he presided. He was disbarred.

Attorney Brian Zeiger, who represented Urwin in an appeal filed under the Post-Conviction Relief Act, contended Pozonsky was under the influence during Urwin’s trial.

In 2017, Washington County Judge John F. DiSalle denied the appeal, prompting Urwin to ask the Superior Court to review the matter.

In an opinion issued Tuesday, a three-judge panel agreed with DiSalle, noting testimony from Urwin’s trial attorney and the prosecutor who tried the case. Both attorneys testified that they saw nothing unusual with Pozonsky’s behavior during the trial.

“Despite the deplorable nature of Pozonsky’s actions, the circumstances of his guilty plea and disbarment do not support (Urwin’s) accusation. In fact, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s opinion ordering Pozonsky’s disbarment emphasizes that Pozonsky’s theft was not part of an uncontrollable addiction,” wrote Superior Court President Judge Jack A. Penella. “We observe that (Urwin) does not indicate any particular instance in the trial transcripts where Pozonsky acted erratically or otherwise in accordance with (Urwin’s) theory of intoxication.”

The Superior Court also debunked a claim that Urwin did not knowingly, intelligently and voluntarily give up his right to a jury trial. The opinion noted Urwin waived that issue because he did not raise it in a timely manner.

Urwin had also claimed his trial attorney should have challenged his arrest, which occurred 33 years after Gency’s nude body was found in a field in Fallowfield Township on Feb. 19, 1977. Her clothing was scattered in the field and on the road, and an autopsy determined she was five to six weeks pregnant.

State police with the cold case unit charged Urwin in 2010, one year after submitting Gency’s clothing and autopsy samples for DNA testing.

Those tests found Urwin’s DNA was on her underwear.

Because that type of DNA was available in 1999, Urwin contended the decade delay in performing the tests should have resulted in the charges against him being thrown out.

Additional DNA may have been found without the delay, he contended, and key witnesses died or were unable to recall details from 30 years earlier.

The opinion noted a state police investigator who testified during the appeal hearing said that the DNA analysis used in the case was not available to his unit until 2008 or 2009.

Urwin remains incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Somerset.