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Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter 

Contractor repairing street beside creek in Marianna

Scott Beveridge/Observer-Reporter

Fishermen stand in the water at the base of the dam along Ten Mile Creek in Marianna last year.

Marianna Borough rescinds agreement with American Rivers, will not remove Marianna Dam

Marianna Borough Council on Wednesday rescinded an agreement with American Rivers, an environmental group that planned to demolish Marianna Dam.

The board voted unanimously to scuttle the agreement, in which American Rivers would have removed the aging dam at no cost to the borough, and plans to keep the dam intact.

Council will send the organization a formal notice of their decision.

“We plan on keeping the dam for now. We want to assess our options,” said council president Jeremy Berardinelli. “We’d like to keep it. We want to do due diligence and if it’s determined it’s not safe and it has to go, then it has to go. We are going to be as thorough as we can be, gather all of the information, and sit down and make a decision.”

The fate of the dam has been a point of contention for residents of Marianna who are divided over whether or not the dam, a popular site for recreation including fishing and boating, should be kept or removed.

Berardinelli said a petition calling for the dam to be saved garnered signatures from approximately 1,200 of the borough and West Bethlehem Township’s 1,800 residents.

According to Berardinelli, the DEP advised the borough in 2015 to repair two wing walls and to clean debris around a roundhouse installed by the coal mine.

Since then, PennDOT invested approximately $100,000 into repairing the left wing wall on state Route 2020, and debris has been cleared from around the roundhouse, he said.

“The dam has improved since the last inspection,” said Berardinelli. “It’s not in danger of failing, according to DEP.”

In other action, council granted use of the boat launch on Ten Mile Creek to Marianna Outdoorsmen Association for its annual canoe race, which will be held in April 2020.

Representatives of the association also asked council to approve a lease agreement that enables them to use the land next to the creek.

In another matter, engineer Sarah Boyce of Widmer Engineering Inc. advised council to submit an application for Local Share Account funding in the amount of $500,000 to repair and stabilize an area of the borough damaged by a landslide in October.

She also recommended council meet with Washington County commissioners to discuss funding.

Beeson Avenue remains closed following the landslide, and Boyce voiced concern that the slide area needs additional stabilization and that the road remains unsafe.

Also Wednesday, council opted to eliminate its borough zoning ordinance. Instead, the borough will rely on International Property Maintenance Code and prior ordinances.

In other business, Gerald Kerr was sworn in as a council member at a special meeting held before Wednesday’s regular meeting. Kerr filled the last vacancy created after four members of council resigned from their positions in July.

Kerr joins Berardinelli, Scott Jones, Cathy Daniels and Steve Matiyasic on the board.

Council addressed personnel issues at the special meeting, where Berardinelli was appointed council president, Jones was appointed vice-president, and Turturice and Associates was tapped to replace Bassi, Vreeland and Associates as borough solicitor.

In another matter, Berardinelli said the borough is undergoing an audit by Opst & Associates of Greensburg to determine that Act 13 impact fee funds have been properly used and accounted for.

Finally, council also approved a motion prohibiting firearms in the municipal building, with the exception of law enforcement personnel.

Suits allege abuse, cover-up in Pennsylvania diocese

SCRANTON – Frustrated by the Pennsylvania Legislature, four men are taking advantage of a shifting legal landscape to file suit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Scranton over decades-old allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

The plaintiffs, who range in age from 45 to 57, cite a recent Pennsylvania appeals court ruling that could make it easier for some victims of abuse to overcome the state’s statute of limitations and pursue civil claims. Their suits were filed Wednesday in Lackawanna County Court and name the diocese, former Bishop James Timlin and current Bishop Joseph Bambera as defendants.

Under Pennsylvania law, victims have until age 50 to sue. State lawmakers have refused to expand the legal window for civil claims, despite a landmark 2018 grand jury investigation that found church leaders around Pennsylvania covered up decades of abuse by hundreds of priests.

Instead, the plaintiffs in Wednesday’s lawsuits are relying on a ruling from the state Superior Court to argue they should get their day in court.

The appeals court in June reinstated a woman’s lawsuit against the Altoona-Johnstown diocese, saying a jury should decide if church officials acted to protect the woman’s abuser through “fraudulent concealment” and lost the right to invoke the statute of limitations. The accuser said she only became aware of the church’s role in covering up abuse by reading last year’s grand jury report.

The men suing the Scranton diocese said they, too, were unaware that church leaders took steps to protect abusive clergy until the grand jury released its findings. The men allege the Rev. Michael Pulicare sexually abused them in the 1970s and ’80s.

Diocesan officials “helped create and foster an environment that not only allowed but indeed encouraged predatory priests like Father Pulicare to sexually abuse minors and then actively conspired to cover up known cases of abuse,” their lawyer, Kevin Quinn, said at a news conference with three of the four plaintiffs.

Pulicare died in 1999.

In a statement, the Scranton diocese said it did not receive any abuse complaints against Pulicare while he was alive. The diocese also said the suits rely on a “novel legal theory” to try to get around the state’s statute of limitations.

Pulicare’s name does not appear in the grand jury report but he was later added to a diocesan list of credibly abused priests.

His accusers declined to enroll in a diocesan victim compensation program that has paid millions of dollars to victims of sexual abuse, calling it inadequate. They said the process allows the diocese to avoid a public airing of its dirty laundry.

Only through litigation can Pulicare’s accusers “fully probe who knew what and when,” Quinn said.

Three of the plaintiffs – John Patchcoski, 57; Jim Pliska, 55; and Mike Heil, 55 – allege that Pulicare abused them when they were 11 and 12 years old. The other plaintiff said in court documents that he was serially abused for seven years beginning at age 9 or 10. Timlin knew that accuser was sleeping in Pulicare’s bed in the rectory of Scranton’s cathedral, according to court documents.

The Associated Press does not typically identify people who say they are victims of sexual assault unless they grant permission. The accusers who appeared at Wednesday’s news conference said they wanted to go public. The fourth plaintiff did not take part.

Patchcoski said he was in the hospital with life-threatening health problems last year when the grand jury report was released, and decided then that he wanted to tell his story and hold the church accountable.

“I want justice, and I want to fight, not only for myself and what I lived with for my entire life, but for everyone else who was victimized by these people,” he said.

Harry Funk/The Almanac 


Harry Funk/The Almanac

Harry Funk/Observer-Reporter

From left are Aimee Hvizdos, Alex Hvizdos, Dan Rowsick Sr., Janice Rowsick and Michele Hvizdos.

Monongahela contractor wins $89 million judgment from Iraqi government

A federal judge ordered an $89 million judgment against the Iraqi government to a Monongahela contractor it hired to rebuild matériel U.S. forces destroyed while invading the country.

In an opinion on Tuesday, Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., found the country’s Ministry of Defense – part of the government the United States installed following the 2003 invasion – had breached its agreement with Wye Oak, which in 2004 had agreed to assess whether Iraqi tanks and other vehicles and weapons could be salvaged, refurbish whatever could be saved and sell the rest as scrap.

A bench trial in the lawsuit, which Wye Oak brought in 2009, ended in March.

Lamberth found not only that Wye Oak hadn’t been paid for the $25 million in invoices it submitted to the fledgling Iraqi government for construction work and other items, but also that the breach of contract caused the company to lose profits from scrap metal sales and refurbishment work, as well as additional building projects it planned to carry out with CLI Corp. – a closely related construction and engineering firm – using the capital.

The company had entered an agreement in 2004 with the Iraqi government and Wye Oak went on to surpass “the goal of producing a mechanized brigade of operational armored vehicles for Iraq’s January 2005 parliamentary election” but was never paid for its work, the ruling said.

Among the events that overlapped with those in the case was the fatal shooting of Charleroi native Dale Stoffel, the company’s president, with his colleague Joe Wemple on Dec. 8, 2004, while they were en route to Baghdad. The pair were on their way from their base in Taji to collect payment for three invoices the company had submitted under the contract.

Stoffel – an arms merchant who also was part owner of CLI – had complained about Iraqi officials’ failure to pay the invoices, which the company submitted two months earlier. A laptop belonging to the Carroll Township resident, who had an appointment to meet with the special inspector general overseeing the reconstruction two days later, was also stolen, court papers say.

Court papers say the money for which the company billed the MoD was instead paid to Lebanese businessman Raymond Zayna, whose ambiguous role in the affair was a central question in the case even though he wasn’t named as a party.

The apparent murder was initially blamed on insurgents. Still, at one point during his 107-page ruling, Lamberth said Iraq bore responsibility for Stoffel’s death because “but for MoD’s breach Stoffel never would have been in the situation he was in on December 8, 2004, when he was murdered.”

Attorneys for Wye Oak and Iraqi officials offered radically different explanations for how Zayna – who oversaw a company called Global Investment Group and who was granted limited power of attorney by Wye Oak for financing and bank guarantees in September 2004 on its behalf for its contract with MoD – had come to be involved.

“Wye Oak insists Zayna was inserted by MoD, while defendants claim Wye Oak and Zayna had a business relationship dating back to summer 2004,” Lamberth wrote in his ruling. “Neither side offers definitive evidence on this point. Wye Oak bases its contention on several witnesses’ personal observation giving the impression that Dale Stoffel and Raymond Zayna did not have any form of relationship.”

He nevertheless sided with Wye Oak, finding testimony from two of its senior members – Dale Stoffel’s brother David, who worked stateside, and William Felix, who took over as president – supported their position that the company didn’t have prior dealings with Zayna.

The judge also noted that several Iraqi officials involved in the Wye Oak contract were convicted in 2011 by a court in their country for breaking their country’s laws through an agreement with Zayna’s company. A summary of the case included in Lamberth’s ruling noted one of the payments the officials made in that corruption case matched the amount in the invoices Wye Oak had submitted.

Lawyers for both sides in the cases didn’t return messages on Wednesday.