Opioid epidemic addressed by Charleroi Borough Council


Members of Charleroi Borough Council discussed ways to confront the opioid epidemic at their agenda meeting Thursday.

Councilman Frank Paterra wanted to know how many more police officers are needed to fight this war.

“You go into battle to win,” he said.

Paterra added he was going to discuss the issue at the next Charleroi Regional Police meeting.

Mayor Terry Newstrom said he spoke with state Rep. Bud Cook about the problem.

“We are sick of our officers being put in danger on these calls. We supply Narcan, and we can’t even arrest these people. Our community is suffering the burden,” said Newstrom.

He added he is sure he isn’t the only mayor feeling frustrated with the situation. In fact, Cook is taking letters from Newstrom and other area mayors to Harrisburg to seek state help for the local crisis.

The borough has approved the use of the Market House from noon to 6 p.m. Oct. 21 for a Rally for Recovery, sponsored by Club Serenity and the borough. Since 1994, Club Serenity has been serving the community as a nonprofit, 12-step sobriety organization. The group now attracts a few hundred people to its meetings each week.

The borough hopes the rally will bring more awareness to the opioid crisis. Speakers will include state and local officials, and people sharing their stories of sobriety. A Chinese auction and refreshments will be available.

Councilman Jerry Jericho said he thinks the rally is a great idea for the community, but wondered, “How do we get people there that need it?”

Club Serenity’s president, Joey Pagano said, “I have been talking to people on the street and handing out fliers. We are trying to reach as many people as we can to get them to attend. This event will be a positive event in the community.”

Charleroi Regional Police Chief Eric Porter said just last month there were 11 overdoses in the borough. One of those people who overdosed was rescued by a local firefighter after falling off the kayak ramp that was newly installed this summer along the Monongahela River.

Councilman Larry Celashci said overdoses and vandalism at the dock and surrounding area have made the launch a liability to the borough. Council discussed the removal of the kayak launch. Celashci said one option would be to remove the kayak launch and store it until the stadium is demolished and redeveloped as a recreation area.

“That area would have lights, more traffic and be more visible,” he said.

Jericho said he was against removing the dock. “These things are happening everywhere in the borough. Where do you stop? I am 100 percent against removing it,” he said. “I think it is a slap in the face to the county if we remove it. People are using it.”

He added if the launch were to be put into winter storage he would agree to it, but not removal for five years while the borough waits for the stadium site to be redeveloped.

Charleroi Volunteer Fire Department Chief Bob Whiten said the dock is a liability to his men.

“You don’t know what is underneath it, with high water and all. What if one of my men scratches his leg in the water and if gets infected? The borough is responsible,” he said. “We are all volunteers, and I take offense about Jerry not saying it is a liability. My liability is everyone that goes out on a call comes back.”

Councilman Randy DiPiazza said the borough is not equipped to remove the launch. “Our street department is not qualified to work on the river and tear it apart,” he said.

Solicitor Alan Benyak said the borough hasn’t budgeted money for lights at the launch, or for its removal.

Council passed a motion to keep the kayak launch and get bids for its removal for winter storage.

“If the bids come in too high, the launch will stay in the winter,” said council President Paul Pivovarnik. The proposal was approved 5-2, with Paterra and Pivovarnik voting no.

Code enforcement officer Jason Sarver provided an update on problem properties in the borough. He said a property at 213 Fifth St. will be inspected to make sure it is safe.

“I am trying to be proactive and don’t want to be in a situation like the city of Washington,” he said, referencing the recent building collapse there.

Sarver said Fred Schafer, owner of a property where there have been complaints about loitering and numerous 911 calls, is working to make the property better. Schafer said he has been in contact with the police on some matters and started background checks last spring on his tenants.

“I am constantly talking with the chief to make sure that there are no problems,” he said. “I have a building manager that lives on site.”

Pivovarnik said as long as communication with the police and code-enforcement officer remains open, the borough won’t have any problems with the property.

Council is applying for $75,000 is LSA funding for cameras for the sewer systems, and $25,000 will be used for streetlights at the 16 intersections in town.

DiPiazza said there has been some confusion about the handicapped-accessible parking spaces on the borough streets.

Sarver clarified the ordinance. “If the street has parking only on one side of the street, one accessible parking space is permitted per block. If the street has parking on both sides of the street, two accessible parking spaces are permitted per block,” he said.

Council denied a request for a handicapped-accessible parking application for 914 Fallowfield Ave. and 901 Fallowfield Ave. Those blocks already have two such parking spaces.

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