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Rostraver Township still waiting for AG report about landfill

Rostraver Township officials continue to wait for a response from Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, which they contacted to investigate their concerns about a local landfill that accepts fracking waste.

“Our solicitor has reached out to the AG’s office numerous times, but he hasn’t heard anything yet,” Chairman/President Devin DeRienzo said at the monthly meeting of the board of commissioners. “We’re still waiting for a report.”

The district attorneys in Fayette and Washington counties filed suit against Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill earlier this year.

The suit claimed cuttings from oil and gas wells composed of oil, diesel fuel, phenols and other substances are buried within the landfill and leached through by water when it rains, contaminating the water with those chemicals. The contaminated water is then piped to the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority’s wastewater treatment facility and discharged into the Monongahela River.

Last month, both sides agreed to a one-year consent order to stop the discharge.

A spokeswoman for the landfill has said the company is using approved alternatives for disposal of the wastewater and noted the company has no citations or violations for leachate quality violations.

On Wednesday, DeRienzo said the township continues to respond to complaints from residents who live near the landfill.

“While we haven’t noticed any problems lately, we did receive three calls this morning from residents who complained about odors,” said DeRienzo. “We promptly sent our zoning officer to investigate. He was joined by a representative from the landfill and they both definitely smelled something. We were told that someone from the landfill checked to make sure they had the correct amount of cover in place.”

DeRienzo said township officials immediately reported the problem to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Township manager Jeffrey Keffer questioned if atmospheric conditions may have contributed to the problem.

“There was a report in the news today that Allegheny County was receiving multiple reports of odors,” he said. “Also, there was a National Weather Service report that Southwestern Pennsylvania was experiencing an atmospheric inversion today. I don’t know if that was part of the issue here, but it’s something to keep in mind.”

In other business, the board:

  • Authorized the secretary to advertise a shopping center/service station zoning amendment
  • Moved to consider the Elks Place Phase II Flood Mitigation Project for a Community Development Block Grant for an estimated project cost of $40,000
  • Moved to authorize the secretary to advertise for budget meetings to be held on Oct. 7, 15, 21 and 29, and Nov. 4.
  • Recognized longtime resident Bill Monro, who has been regularly attending board meetings since 1966. Monro told the board he is moving to Wexford.

Longwall mining returns to I-70

Crews are moving the proper monitoring equipment and traffic signs into place along Interstate 70 in Ohio County, W.Va., between the Pennsylvania state line and the visitors center as Tunnel Ridge Coal Co. is scheduled to move its longwall mining operations beneath the highway in that area by early next week.

West Virginia Division of Highways Area Engineer Mike Witherow confirmed Wednesday that longwall mining operations are expected to proceed below that section of interstate as soon as this weekend, but is more likely to occur next week.

He said while the mining is not currently beneath the highway, it is getting close to the I-70 embankment. He said DOH officials are entering the monitoring phase of the project once again as the mining approaches the highway.

“They are approaching the interstate and we’re anticipating that they will move under the interstate embankment sometime next week. They are going to extend right up to it by Friday,” Witherow said. “We know for sure it will be (by) sometime next week – so there is a little bit of a window there depending on how much production they get this week.”

Witherow said DOH officials met with coal company officials recently to discuss plans to monitor the surface once again as the next coal panel was scheduled to run beneath I-70 just after Labor Day weekend.

Earlier this year motorists encountered delays for more than two months near the same location on both sides of the state line as the coal company performed longwall mining operations hundreds of feet below the highway, which prompted subsidence issues that required repairs to cracks and compression bumps, and around-the-clock monitoring by DOH officials.

Along a stretch of highway where the speed limit is normally 70 mph, crews with Mid Atlantic Maintenance started changing speed limit signs in both directions throughout the work zone Wednesday to 45 mph for safety reasons. According to Witherow, it is expected to stay at 45 mph throughout the “monitoring” phase of the project.

“We’re going to monitor that 24/7. We will have a contractor that will be on site all the time,” Witherow said. “They are going to be out there day and night watching and making sure to try and identify if anything needs addressed.”

He added the DOH will be staging additional equipment at the work zone later this week in the event they would need to make any immediate repairs to the highway.

Several weeks ago, contractor Kelly Paving constructed several “relief joints” on the interstate in that area as part of the DOH being proactive to mitigate any damage that may happen as a result of the longwall mining.

Food bank streamlines operation

RICHEYVILLE – Greater Washington County Food Bank has closed three Mon Valley pantries, instructing clients in those locations to pick up distributions at a new drive-through operation.

The switch appeared to have worked well, allowing the bank in Centerville to hand out frozen food and fresh vegetables at its headquarters on Route 40 to those from places where the food pantries did not have refrigeration, said Connie Burd, the bank’s executive director.

“We’re taking a slow approach, Burd said. “I didn’t hear any complaints.”

The bank closed pantries in Coal Center, California and Bethlehem-Center under a long-term plan to reduce the number of pantries from 45 to nine, Burd said.

She said the better-quality food, including eggs, yogurt and ice cream, make it worth the effort to find a ride to the bank for people who do not drive.

The bank also is continuing its distributions to senior citizen high-rises.

Bank volunteer Lorraine Johnson said 123 food boxes were distributed Thursday, and that all of her clients showed up from the pantry she operated at Beth-Center.

Burd said some pantries pay rent, money that could otherwise purchase food, and that it’s a challenge to find volunteers when others retire.

“The expenses going out are almost equal to the cost of buying more food,” she said.

Celeste Van Kirk / Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter 

Celeste Van Kirk/Observer-Reporter

The “Thank You For Your Service” Christmas Tree at Washington Crown Center is intended to solicit donations for troops.

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Staniszewski's lawyer sends response letter to governor

A second letter regarding Washington Councilman Matthew Staniszewski is being sent to Gov. Tom Wolf – this one from the councilman’s lawyer threatening an injunction should the governor attempt to remove Staniszewski from office.

In the letter he sent Thursday, Sean Logue informed the governor that he “will vigorously defend the councilman.” He said in the letter than any attempt to remove Staniszewski from his position on council is “unconstitutional.”

His letter was sent two days after Mayor Scott Putnam and Councilmen Ken Westcott and Joe Manning sent a letter requesting the governor remove Staniszewski from office following his arrest last week for driving under the influence of alcohol.

Logue states in his letter that he has been retained by Staniszewski to represent him for a “pending traffic matter.”

On Tuesday, city police charged Staniszewski, 42, of 23 Buttonwood Ave., with DUI, a misdemeanor, and restrictions on alcoholic beverages, a summary traffic offense, following his arrest Aug. 26. According to the criminal complaint, Staniszewski was unconscious in his car on East Wheeling Street, near Shaffer Avenue, about 1:13 p.m. His car was blocking traffic, and there were four empty airplane-sized bottles of liquor on the floor, police said.

When police asked Staniszewski for his driver’s license, he gave them his American Express card and his council member badge before handing them his entire wallet, police said. They said Staniszewski refused multiple times to submit to a blood test and eventually was released into the custody of his father.

The same day the charges were filed, Manning, Westcott and Putnam signed and sent their letter to the governor, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta and state Rep. Tim O’Neal.

“Councilman Staniszewski has shown absolutely no remorse for his wreck-less (sic) and embarrassing behavior, and to allow him to continue to serve in office will further erode public confidence given the multiple violations of the law,” they wrote in the letter.

Logue said that should the governor take action to remove Staniszewski, he would file for an injunction.

“This is all political distraction,” Logue said. “Matt’s just doing the best job he can do. He’s been blindsided by this attempt to remove him. He’s a longtime public servant, and he deserves better than this from his colleagues.”

In the letter that he also sent to Bartolotta and O’Neal, Logue claims the city’s initial letter was a political ploy by Putnam, who is running for re-election this year.

“The bond rating for the City of Washington was recently downgraded, and despite promises to the contrary, he has raised taxes three times in the last three years,” Logue wrote in the letter.

Logue, who is a property owner in the city, claims the council members’ letter was orchestrated by Putnam as a “political distraction” for voters.

“The mayor is an absolute disaster and is using this simple DUI as a political distraction in an election year,” Logue said. “I believe he would like nothing more than to get Matt to resign and appoint one of his cronies. This is a complicated scheme.”

Putnam said their letter wasn’t politically motivated, but rather motivated by “the embarrassment caused by Councilman Staniszewski’s recent actions.”

Similarly, Westcott said Wednesday that the letter wasn’t “personal” and that he’s a friend of Staniszewski. Manning also said Wednesday that he doesn’t consider Staniszewski a “political opponent” and that he signed the letter because of the DUI.

“He could have very easily killed someone that afternoon,” Manning said Wednesday. “He couldn’t tell the difference between an American Express card and a driver’s license. At this point, I don’t have a lot of faith in his judgment to deal with public policy and make decisions that affect the public. You’re governing a city and making decisions that affect people’s lives.”

Manning said residents and taxpayers are calling for Staniszewski to resign and want the rest of council to remove him, since he’s still getting pay and benefits. Manning said they can’t force him to resign and that the only action they could take was to petition the governor.

This was Staniszewski’s fourth DUI arrest since 2004. Two of those arrests happened during his first term on council, including an incident in 2007 when he crashed a vehicle in North Strabane Township with a blood-alcohol content of 0.29 percent.

In February 2018, North Strabane Township police cited Staniszewski for summary public drunkenness after he reportedly became aggressive with employees at a local pizza restaurant while appearing to be intoxicated. Manning said Wednesday that Staniszewski’s appearing intoxicated became an issue “during at least one council meeting and at least one agenda meeting.”

Staniszewski has another two years to serve in his third nonconsecutive term on council.