2021 Nanticoke News - Current

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10/22/2021
NorthPoint Development digs the South Valley: 1,700 new jobs eyed
jlynott@timesleader.com


HANOVER TWP. — The heavy equipment moving rock and dirt behind Brent Miles confirmed his company found the right spot to build its newest pair of distribution centers on reclaimed coal mining land.
But before it dug into the acreage in the South Valley area of Luzerne County and invested more than $124 million to construct 1.7 million square feet of new space, NorthPoint Development did its own data mining.
“It takes a lot of investment. It takes a lot of belief. But it takes a lot of data,” said Miles, Chief Marketing Officer for the Missouri-based developer.
Miles joined a host of state, county and local government and school district officials for a groundbreaking Thursday on the site spanning Newport Township, Nanticoke and Hanover Township for buildings 8 and 9 in NorthPoint’s Tradeport 164 package of properties.
The developer has built on the availability of land, the workforce, the collaboration of governments and the region’s location providing access to large population markets on the East Coast and beyond.
“You can service Canada. Chewy services Canada,” Miles said of the pet food company that set up shop in one of NorthPoint’s huge warehouses in nearby Hanover Township.
National and international companies such as Adidas, Patagonia, True Value, Spreetail and Thrive Market moved into NorthPoint projects, all built on spec. The same applied to the 1.2 million square feet Building 8 and the 536,254 square feet Building 9.
“I don’t have a tenant. I never build a building here with a tenant in mind, yet,” Miles said.
Based on its own data NorthPoint took a calculated risk of nearly $1 billion in private investment to build in the county, Miles said. The region has benefited in terms of annual tax revenues, nearly $1.1 million from the new buildings, and upwards of 6,000 jobs, including more than 1,700 once the new projects are complete.
Miles welcomed the welcome mat put out for NorthPoint.
“This is a community that wants us. They want our capital,” Miles said. Some don’t, he added, because land is unavailable, zoning or the type of jobs.
State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, reiterated the comment made by others that NorthPoint did what it said it was going to do.
“They’ve worked with local labor. They kept their promises on the (Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance program), striking fair deals, making sure that taxpayers get money upfront. They didn’t ask for (Keystone Opportunity Zone designation) where you would have zero taxes for a period of time,” Yudichak said.
Earlier this year the County Council approved a tax break for NorthPoint through the LERTA program, forgiving the real estate tax for new development but not on the land on a sliding scale for a decade.
Yudichak had equal praise for the regional cooperation of governments and Earth Conservancy.
“Until the Earth Conservancy began the reclamation, until we built the South Valley Parkway none of it would have been possible,” Yudichak said.
The prospect of the more than 1 million square foot warehouse thrilled Newport Township Commissioner Joe Hillan.
“It’s a great day for Newport Township, well the whole South Valley. For us, we haven’t had, the township probably in the 80s when they transformed the Retreat State Hospital to the prison, the prison’s closed. So now this is like a rebirth for the township,” Hillan said.
There’s more Earth Conservancy land in the township for NorthPoint to take a look at, Hillan said. “Hopefully they’ll continue and find more areas in our township to expand,” he said.

 

10/15/2021
GNA moves to sell Honeypot Playground
mguydish@timesleader.com


Board also calls for Landmesser resignation — again
NANTICOKE — The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board voted to have Innamorati Appraisal Service appraise the playground in the Honeypot section of Nanticoke at a cost of $600, a first step in selling the property formerly associated with a long-closed school.
In what has become a monthly ritual, the board also voted to ask for the resignation of Matthew Landmesser from his seat, an issue that sparked terse but unsparing words from Board President Tony Prushinski. Noting one member was absent Thursday due to a medical issue and that he himself had come to the meeting despite having a dental procedure earlier in the day, Prushinski said there “is one school director roaming around Nanticoke,” clearly referring to Landmesser, and added he has missed 11 meetings in a row.
Landmesser has missed every meeting this year except in January, following invasion of privacy charges with the legal outcome still pending
Before the vote, Prushinski directly called for Landmesser to resign immediately. He also noted the precedent of missing 11 meetings is dangerous because if others were so lax in attending meetings could quickly become pointless if fewer than five member showed up. A quorum of five is required by law to conduct any business.
Superintendent Ronald Grevera said after the meeting that the playground was by the old Garfield school closed years ago. It was left to local residents to use and take care of, but has become a liability for the district. The appraisal is required to determine a potential sale price.
In other business during a very brief voting session, the board:
• Approved Chris McGavin as varsity girls soccer assistant coach, Harold Shotwell as varsity wrestling head coach, Luke Capie as varsity wrestling assistant, Kevin Coughlin as football videographer, Clare Finn as head swim coach, Terry Schnee as assistant swim coach and Paula Fine as timer/scorekeeper for the swim team.
Agreed to purchase 600 Chromebook computers through the Pennsylvania Education Purchasing Program for Microcomputers, or PEPPM, a cooperative designed to lower purchase prices that allows districts to bypass the usual bidding procedure. The computers will be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief grant money.
• Appointed Georgette Pugh, Joan West, Michelle Bardo and Johanna Relica Loayza and Alice Jones as cafeteria workers, Ashley Klugh and Doreese Torrey as special education aides.

 

9/10/2021

Greater Nanticoke Area names football field after coach Frank Chicknosky
mguydish@timesleader.com


With the new scoreboard poised to be dedicated Sept. 17, the man whose name was on the old board in the days of Lincoln Field, before district mergers, was given the honor of having the football field to be christened “The Frank J. Chicknosky Field.”
With three members absent the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board voted 6-0 to make the name change official. Vice President Ken James, who ran the meeting in the absence of Board President Tony Prushinski, said after the meeting that Chicknosky was a winning coach in the 1930s and ’40s before school district consolidation, and that his name was on the scoreboard of the old Lincoln Field, later moved to the new stadium.
With The Distastio family raising the money to buy a new scoreboard, the board will be dedicated with Coach Dan Distasio’s name. But the district wanted to keep Chicknosky’s memory alive, James said, so the field is being named in his honor. He also noted the board has been working to keep the history of the various districts pre-consolidation in the public eye through various efforts.
During the voting session of the short meeting, the board:
• Accepted the resignation of football strength coach Neal McMahon, and appointed John Pietrzyk Jr. as football strength and conditioning coach.
• Accepted the resignations of five special education aides — Deborah Degosky, Mary Statkiewicz, Anita Bukowski, Chris Salus, and Tara Hughes — and approved advertising for special education aide positions.
• Approved athletic appointments of Eric Spencer as head high school baseball coach, Beth Maney as head cheerleading coach, Anthony Chiarucci as football assistant 2, Carmelo Pioquinto as junior high soccer coach, Joseph Shimko as football assistant 3A, Ron Bruza Sr. as football assistant 4A, Sterling Kepp as football assistant 3B and Ken Kasprzyk as football assistant 4B. The four last football assistants are half salary.

 

9/8/2021
Potassium iodide tablets available to residents within 10 miles of Susquehanna nuke plant
Staff Report – Times Leader

The Susquehanna Steam Electric Station is seen in a file photo. The Pennsylvania Department of Health announced will be providing free potassium iodide tablets to state residents living within 10 miles of any of the state’s four nuclear power plants. Distribution is set for Thursday at three locations in our area.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health will provide free potassium iodide tablets to state residents living within 10 miles of any of the state’s four nuclear power plants.

In Luzerne County, residents within 10 miles of the Susquehanna Steam Electric Station in Salem Township will be able to obtain the tablets on Thursday at one of three locations.

The locations are:

• Luzerne County Community College — Public Safety Center, 1333 South Prospect St., Nanticoke, PA 18634;

• Butler Township Community Center, 411 West Butler Dr., Drums, PA 18222;

• Salvation Army Community Corps Building, 320 W. 2nd St., Berwick, PA 18603.

The distributions will be held from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Thursday.

“Emergency preparedness is an important aspect of public health and having potassium iodide tablets for residents who live or work within 10 miles of a nuclear facility is an essential preparedness action in the case of a radiological emergency,” said Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam.

“It’s important to remember potassium iodide should only be taken when instructed to do so by state health officials or the governor, and it is not a substitute for evacuation in the case of a radiological emergency at one of Pennsylvania’s nuclear facilities.”

Potassium iodide tablets protect the thyroid gland against harmful radioactive iodine, and can be taken by anyone provided they aren’t allergic to it. Individuals who are unsure if they should take potassium iodide should ask a health care provider first.

The other active nuclear plants in Pennsylvana include Beaver Valley Power Station, Limerick Generating Station and Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station.

Tablets are not necessary for those working or living within 10 miles of Three Mile Island Generating Station, which closed in September of 2019.

Additional information about the potassium iodide tablets and nuclear power plant safety can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

 

9/2/2021
Distasio scoreboard dedication ceremony moved to Sept. 17
boboyle@timesleader.com


NANTICOKE — The dedication ceremony of the new scoreboard in memory of former Coach Dan Distasio has been postponed until Sept. 17, due to electrical issues at the football field.
Distasio died in 2006 at the age of 73.
Dan Distasio, son of the late coach, said funds that were donated for the scoreboard were raised through the Daniel Distasio Memorial Golf Tournament, which was held for 13 years in honor of Coach Distasio.
“The funds were utilized to award scholarships to deserving students at Nanticoke and Crestwood,” Distasio said. “Over the years, in excess of $60,000 was awarded in scholarships. It was then decided that the remaining funds would be donated to Nanticoke in his memory.”
After discussions with school officials, Distasio said it was determined that the school was in need of an upgrade of the scoreboard and the funds were donated to the school.
“Although the ultimate decision on the donation was made by our family, it is important to understand that the donation was only made possible through the generosity, efforts and support of our many friends throughout the years,” Distasio said. “Without the support of so many, the donation would not have been possible.”
Distasio’s family wanted to clarify the donation process.
Coach Distasio served two years in the Navy and two years in the Marines. After attaining his bachelor’s degree from King’s College, he continued on to earn his master’s degree equivalency.
Distasio was a teacher for 33 years at Nanticoke High School and was a former football coach for 12 years. He also coached girls volleyball, track and Wilkes linebackers.
Distasio graduated from Nanticoke High School in 1950, where he played quarterback on the football team and he played basketball

9/1/2021
Greater Nanticoke Area scoreboard to be dedicated in memory of Distasio
boboyle@timesleader.com


NANTICOKE — To get a real understanding of how people in the Greater Nanticoke Area School District felt about the late legendary football Coach Dan Distasio, you need to go no further than the John S. Fine High School Alumni Facebook page.
There you will read comment after comment of praise, respect admiration and love for the coach/teacher/mentor of so many that walked the halls and toiled on the gridiron at Nanticoke Area.
“I wish I would have known him better,” wrote Dave Morgan on the Facebook page. “I never heard anything other than praise from all that were in his classroom, or on the field. Outstanding individual and so appreciative of his family for their donation in his name.”
So on Friday, the Trojan football team will play their first home game against Lake Lehman. At that game, the brand new scoreboard — donated by the Distasio family —will be dedicated in memory of Daniel J. Distasio, who died in 2006 at the age of 73.
The scoreboard was donated by Distasio’s family: his wife, the former Gert Piepon; children Debbie DiSabatino, Dan Distasio Jr., Jeff Distasio and Steve Distasio; his 11 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.
Another Facebook post by Ann Marie Coughlin, said Distasio “was a mentor to many, whether it was on the football field, in the classroom, or just a friend. The fact is, Distasio had a positive impact on many students and people.”
State Sen. John Yudichak is a graduate of Greater Nanticoke Area.
“Dan Distasio was a mentor, a coach, and an educator to every student who walked the hallways of Greater Nanticoke Area,” Yudichak said. “I had the great pleasure to have Mr. Distasio as a social studies teacher. He got the best out of every student whether it was in the classroom, or on the athletic field.
“Dan Distasio inspired an entire generation of Nanticoke students to expect more of themselves and to achieve more for themselves, their school, and their community. It is a well deserved honor and tribute to forever memorialize the life and work of Dan Distasio on the athletic fields of Greater Nanticoke Area High School.”
Distasio’s daughter, Debbie DiSabatino, said many stories come to mind when remembering her father’s time coaching. She said the Class of 1978 — in a salute — said of him:
“It takes a lot of schooling to get accustomed to his fooling.”
“He always encouraged the team be put before individuals — and to put family before everything,” his daughter said. “According to my brother, Jeff, there were a lot of his teams that were smaller, less talented, and were never given a shot against other teams, but working as a team they always over-achieved.” 
DiSabatino said her father would say: “When you finish praying for the things you want, get off your knees and hustle.” (Hustle was one of Distasio’s favorite words.)
The Distasio siblings said practices were full of pushing 7-man sleds, dodging his Wiffle Ball bat, or wearing a letter “N” into the grass by running the hill behind the high school. (This has long grown in, but the kids swear they can still see it.)
And then there were the hours of watching film and having pizza at the Distasio home on Sundays after the games.
The 1976-77 team displayed one word taped across the front of their helmets — “Czarnina” — in marker, which Distasio coined as a fight word describing their defense that year. DiSabatino said, “Any self-respecting Polish kid would know that Czarnina was a broth made with duck’s blood.”
“Above all else though, my father was a teacher,” DiSabatino said. “He endeared himself to all kids — not just the jocks — but all students in any social group in the school. He gave everyone nicknames that were descriptive — Long Legs, Duck, BoomBoom, Hussy, Skinny Witch, Flakey, among others. No one was safe from his attention and monikers.”
DiSabatino said her father listened and helped kids through tough times. She said this was very apparent at Distasio’s funeral, when the long line of people greeting us retold stories of how “Mr. D.” steered and advised them through a variety of challenges, like addiction, parental break ups, academic struggles, loneliness.
“We had no idea how entrenched he was in the fabric of their lives,” she said.
Distasio’s impact went beyond the classroom and football field. He was passionate about building the Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township and bringing the Penguins hockey franchise to the area.
“He had a true, ‘if you build it they will come,’ view and loved our area and especially his hometown of Nanticoke,” DiSabatino said. “He saw possibility and opportunity and knew our people would benefit in so many ways by just taking that chance.”
She said there is a beautiful plaque recognizing his efforts in the East Gate of the Arena today, acknowledging his efforts.
Distasio also volunteered every year as a bell ringer for the Salvation Army.
“But he told them to give him the Wyoming Valley Mall because he didn’t like standing outside ‘in the damn cold,” DiSabatino said.
And then were those moments when Distasio would watch Yankees games and Pittsburgh Penguins games with his daughter.
“There was always some very colorful running commentaries during those games,” she said. “Growing up those sounds filled our house. And as an adult, multiple phone calls were made when a play was so good — or very bad — that it necessitated a review by the Debbie and Dad team. I am fortunate that I share this same banter with my son, Nico, carrying on a family tradition of trying to one-up the on-air commentators.”
Prior to the dedication ceremony of the scoreboard at 6:30 p.m. Friday night, DiSabatino said there will be a reception in the school’s cafeteria at 5 p.m. Former colleague — now state Rep. — Eddie Day Pashinski will give brief remarks.
Distasio served two years in the Navy and two years in the Marines. After attaining his bachelor’s degree from King’s College, he continued on to earn his master’s degree equivalency.
Distasio was a teacher for 33 years at Nanticoke High School and was a former football coach for 12 years. He also coached girls volleyball, track and Wilkes linebackers. He was an avid Yankee, Wilkes-Barre Penguins, Nanticoke Area Trojans and Crestwood Comets sports fan.
His wife, Gertrude Piepon, lives in the same house on Phillips Street, where she takes care of her 95-year-old sister and she drives to all of her children’s houses to check on their dogs while then are at work.
Distasio graduated from Nanticoke High School in 1950, where he played quarterback on the football team and he played basketball.
Football honors:
Record 96-56-6
Championships 1967, 1968, 1976 (District II Champ also), and 1977
Coach of the Year 1967 1977
27 All Scholastic players
3 All State
2 Big 33
1977 Hughestown Sports Club Coach of the Year

8/25/2021
$13.1M in ARPA payments to Luzerne County municipalities announced
boboyle@timesleader.com


WILKES-BARRE — Pennsylvania Treasurer Stacy Garrity recently announced that the payments under the American Rescue Plan Act’s (ARPA) Coronavirus Local Fiscal Recovery program have been sent to qualifying Pennsylvania municipalities.
Disbursements made to Luzerne County municipalities over the last several weeks include payments total nearly $13.1 million.
ARPA gave states the responsibility to disburse these federal funds to municipalities with fewer than 50,000 residents. Pennsylvania has more than 2,500 municipalities that qualify for these payments.
Larger municipalities were required to apply to the U.S. Department of the Treasury in order to receive payments directly from the federal government.
Samantha Galvez, press secretary at the state treasurer’s office, said the federal ARPA payments go to counties, metropolitan cities, and local government units.
“However, NEUs have to apply for their ARPA funding through state government, which is what the Treasury is in charge of disbursing,” Galvez said. “They must apply through DCED. DCED then tells us what to disburse.”
Galvez explained that non-entitlement units of local government (NEUs), defined in section 603(g)(5) of the Social Security Act, as added by section 9901 of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, are local governments typically serving populations of less than 50,000.
“While the cities of Hazleton and Wilkes-Barre do have less than 50,000 residents, for other reasons (as defined by the federal government) they are not considered an NEU,” Galvez said.
Galvez provided the allocations to the two cities:
• Hazleton $17,132,482.00
• Wilkes-Barre $37,156,228.00

 

Luzerne County allocations
Ashley Borough: $142,507.13 June 29, 2021
Avoca Borough: $137,587.68 July 7, 2021
Bear Creek Township: $143,763.16 July 14, 2021
Bear Creek Village: $13,031.32 July 7, 2021
Black Creek Township: $108,646.64 July 14, 2021
Butler Township: $520,362.99 July 7, 2021
Conyngham Borough: $97,708.71 July 7, 2021
Conyngham Township: $75,728.17 July 27, 2021
Courtdale Borough: $37,471.58 June 29, 2021
Dallas Borough: $146,118.22 July 7, 2021
Dallas Township: $485,089.46 July 7, 2021
Dennison Township: $59,138.10 July 27, 2021
Dorrance Township: $116,444.50 July 7, 2021
Dupont Borough: $140,413.75 July 14, 2021
Duryea Borough: $253,927.51 July 7, 2021
East Side Borough: $15,752.72 July 14, 2021
Edwardsville Borough: $247,176.34 June 29, 2021
Exeter Borough: $289,986.05 June 29, 2021
Exeter Township: $123,195.66 July 14, 2021
Fairmont Township: $65,575.26
Fairview Township: $236,238.41 July 14, 2021
Forty Fort Borough: $211,484.14 June 29, 2021
Foster Township: $180,659.06
Franklin Township: $91,899.57 July 14, 2021
Freeland Borough: $179,193.69 July 14, 2021
Hanover Township: $566,469.78 July 7, 2021
Harveys Lake Borough: $145,176.20 July 14, 2021
Hazle Township: $500,109.50 July 14, 2021
Hollenback Township: $62,801.53 July 20, 2021
Hughestown Borough: $70,599.38 August 3, 2021
Hunlock Township: $126,126.40 June 29, 2021
Huntington Township: $115,868.82 July 7, 2021
Jackson Township: $243,931.60 July 27, 2021
Jenkins Township: $238,645.80 August 10, 2021
Kingston Borough: $670,510.97 July 7, 2021
Kingston Township: $361,004.11 July 7, 2021
Laflin Borough: $75,257.16 July 7, 2021
Lake Township: $105,977.58 July 14, 2021
Larksville Borough: $229,487.25 July 7, 2021
Lehman Township: $182,857.11 July 7, 2021
Luzerne Borough: $147,164.91 August 3, 2021
Nanticoke City: $539,674.46 June 29, 2021
Nescopeck Borough: $80,804.63 July 7, 2021
Nescopeck Township: $60,237.13 July 20, 2021
Newport Township: $279,623.80 June 29, 2021
Nuangola Borough: $35,430.53 July 14, 2021
Penn Lake Park Borough: $16,119.06 June 29, 2021
Pittston City: $408,314.60 June 29, 2021
Pittston Township: $175,687.27 July 14, 2021

 

8/13/2021
School to start with full masking for K-8 at Greater Nanticoke Area
mguydish@timesleader.com

 

Greater Nanticoke Area school district students and staff in grade K-8 will be required to wear face masks at the start of the school year, thanks to the escalating number of COVID-19 cases in Luzerne County, Superintendent Ron Grevera announced at the start of Thursday’s regular monthly School Board meeting.
Higher grades will have the option to wear masks, but will be encouraged to do so. Masks will be required for all grades on a school bus.
After the meeting, Grevera said the younger students had no problems wearing masks last year, and that the hope is vaccines for younger children will be approved soon, allowing them to get the protection that could allow masks to become optional.
Grevera also said the district’s efforts to get students who had enrolled in outside cyber charter schools to return to the district is beginning to pay off, with at least 40 students coming back to the district so far, with an expectation that the final number could rise above 50 by the time school starts. Most years the district has had about 80 students in outside charters, but last year the number jumped to about 170.
During the voting session, the board:
• Authorized JHA Companies to perform additional hydrologic and hydraulicc drainage studies at the football stadium at a cost of $3,600. Grevera said it’s part of stadium upgrades being paid for with a state grant. While there is no immediate drainage problem, a substantial amount of storm water flows through pipes towards the stadium and the move is intended to make sure the system in place is adequate to avoid potential problems.
• Accepted the quote from McGraw Hill to continue the Wonders Reading Series for eight years, at a cost of $272,465.
• Appointed Zachary Cardone and Wesley Ravert as elementary school teachers. Board Member Mark Cardone abstained from the vote for his son without comment.
• Announced that several trees had been downed outside the high school — stumps were visible through the window behind board President Tony Prushinski during the meeting — because they had grown too high, too close to the building, and too obstructive of security camera views.
• Voted yet again to ask Board Member Matthew Landmesser to resign. Landmesser has missed every meeting this year except in January, following invasion of privacy charges with the legal outcome still pending. The vote has become almost a ritual at board meetings, in large part because solicitor Vito Deluca has said that, while the board technically has the legal right to remove Landmesser for missing two consecutive meetings, the legal details make that a dicey proposition.
Prushinski again opted to comment on Landmesser’s chronic absences, both during attendance roll call and again when the resolution seeking his resignation was approved. After the 8-0 vote, Prushinski pointedly announced each month Landmesser has been absent: “February. March. April. May. June. July. August.” He offered no comment on the litany.

 

8/6/2021
New commercial office space coming to Nanticoke
boboyle@timesleader.com


The Nanticoke Municipal Authority Thursday announced it has sold the former Nanticoke Villa Personal Care Home property, located at the corner of East Main and Walnut Street, to FCLN Real Estate LLC for $150,000.
Closing occurred Thursday. The property has been vacant since the Villa closed in October 2014.
FCLN Real Estate LLC is expected to begin demotion Aug. 9. The company will construct a new commercial office building on the site immediately following demolition.
“The former Villa property is an important redevelopment project that will continue the revitalization of downtown Nanticoke supported by Mayor Kevin Coughlin, City Council, and the Nanticoke Municipal Authority,” said State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville. “Over the years, we have added healthcare assets, educational facilities, and new professional office space to Main Street, as more than 5,000 new jobs have been created in the South Valley corridor. I look forward to working with FCLN Real Estate LLC as a new partner in Nanticoke, and I appreciate their investment in our great community.”
John T. Nadolny, chairman of the Nanticoke Municipal Authority, said he has been working toward the successful sale of this property for several years.
“Our persistence has paid off,” Nadolny said. “We will never give up doing our best for the city, so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive.”
FCLN Real Estate LLC owners David Nockley and Frank Cawley also own Nockley Family Pharmacy in Hanover Township and Scranton and Cawley Physical Therapy & Rehab, with locations in Nanticoke, Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, Pittston, Scranton and Carbondale.
Nockley and Cawley released a statement:
“We are thrilled to be moving forward with this important project in the City of Nanticoke. Our team is excited to be a part of the positive momentum downtown.”
The Nanticoke Municipal Authority used a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Pennsylvania First (PA First) program to acquire the property from ARM 3 LLC for $825,000 in 2014.
According to the Department website, PA First grants are used to support projects that create jobs and result in substantial economic impact. Because the property was acquired with PA First grant funding, the full proceeds of the sale will be available to fund additional projects in downtown Nanticoke.

 

8/6/2021
Key downtown Nanticoke building sold for Main Street revitalization project 
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
A pair of businessmen finalized a deal to buy a huge vacant property in the heart of Nanticoke’s downtown that will be transformed into a pharmacy, physical rehabilitation facility and other commercial space.
Real estate partners David Nockley, who owns Nockley Family Pharmacy, and Frank Cawley, owner of Cawley Physical Therapy and Rehab, closed a deal Thursday to buy the former Nanticoke Villa personal care home.
Their company FCLN Real Estate LLC plans to demolish the existing building and redevelop the property as part of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts.
Demolition is slated to begin Monday with construction set to start this fall.
“We feel great being a part of helping Main Street, Nanticoke,” Nockley said. “We hope it’s going to bring jobs and economic stability. It’s going to be a gorgeous centerpiece for the city.”
The Nanticoke pharmacy will be Nockley’s third location. The others are in Hanover Twp. and in Scranton in a building he co-owns with Cawley, who has an office there. Cawley has six locations, including an existing practice in Nanticoke that will move into the new location. The others are in Wilkes-Barre, Kingston, Pittston, Scranton and Carbondale.
Nockley and Cawley purchased the former personal care home property for $150,000 from Nanticoke Municipal Authority.
In addition to their businesses, the building will have approximately six other commercial spaces for rent.
The property first opened as a $1 million state-of-the-art hotel and convention center in 1971 before being ravaged by a series of 1980 fires that left it as a longtime eyesore.
The personal care home opened in 2003 and closed in October 2014. The property has been vacant ever since. In recent years, the Nanticoke Fire Department has used the building for training.
The Nanticoke Municipal Authority used a $1 million grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development’s Pennsylvania First program to acquire the property from ARM 3 LLC for $825,000 in 2014.
“The former Villa property is an important redevelopment project that will continue the revitalization of downtown Nanticoke supported by Mayor Coughlin, City Council and the Nanticoke Municipal Authority,” state Sen. John Yudichak, I-14, of Swoyersville, said. “Over the years, we have added healthcare assets, educational facilities and new professional office space to Main Street as more than 5,000 new jobs have been created in the South Valley corridor. I look forward to working with FCLN Real Estate LLC as a new partner in Nanticoke, and I appreciate their investment in our great community.”

 

7/21/2021
Luzerne County communities awarded more than $23 million in casino revenue grants 
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice


When Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin toured a longtime city eyesore recently with state legislators, he had no idea help would soon be on the way to demolish the property to prepare the location for redevelopment.
On Tuesday, Coughlin learned the city would receive a $500,000 state grant to demolish the former L.S. Skate-A-Rama and L.S. Bowl-A-Rama building that stretches a city block on Washington Street between Prospect and Walnut streets.
State lawmakers on Tuesday announced funding for the project was part of $23 million in grant funding awarded to Luzerne County municipalities from casino gaming revenue as part of its Local Share Account for hosting the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Twp.
“Just to get it down is a big plus. I’m sure we will get someone who would want to develop the land,” Coughlin said.
The skating rink side of the building, which was a former silk mill, has been an eyesore since a devastating 1991 fire. The bowling alley side has been vacant since 2007.
Coughlin and city Manager Donna Wall said there is significant interest in the property from developers, but they aren’t interested in paying the approximately $1 million it will take to develop the property.
“We are going to pull some funding together and it will come down next year,” Wall said.
In addition to the demolition funds, Nanticoke City received the top overall grant, a total of $650,000 to construct a turf athletic field and artificial track to be used by the Greater Nanticoke Area School District and Luzerne County Community College, which has its main campus in Nanticoke.
Other top recipients in the Wyoming Valley included:
•    Wilkes-Barre City — $332,881 for City Hall repairs
•    Kingston — $600,000 for municipal building and police headquarters renovations
•    Plymouth — $366,666 for the Main Street Infrastructure Improvement Plan
•    Avoca — $336,160 to renovate the Avoca Hose Co. and Avoca Ambulance Association building
•    Dallas Twp. — $366,596 to purchase land next to the municipal building
•    Wilkes-Barre — $350,000 for the new Luzerne County Transportation Authority facility
•    Forty Fort — $442,662 for public works equipment to be used by 11 municipalities that make up the West Side Councils of Government.
•    Dallas Twp. — $500,000 for police vehicles and body cameras
In Plains Twp., $389,350 in funds were awarded to renovate the Fox Hill Firehouse No. 2. This will include renovations such as the replacement of the roof and windows and upgrading the building HVAC system, lighting and flooring.
“I would like to thank all of the Luzerne County legislative delegation for their help in securing these funds,” said Jerry Yozwiak, chairman of the Plains Twp. Board of Commissioners, said. “The renovations that will be completed will help improve public safety, not only in Plains Township, but in our neighboring communities.
Sen. John Yudichak, I-14, of Swoyersville, said “the entire Luzerne County legislative delegation continues to work together to help our communities as they recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and today’s funding announcement by the CFA (Commonwealth Financing Authority) will bolster their efforts to move forward on these important projects.”
Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown said he was appreciative of the lawmakers.
“Their tireless work in Harrisburg will help revitalize the area and strengthen our region as we emerge from challenging times,” Brown said. “The teamwork shown by our representation in Harrisburg is reflective of the unity within our Northeastern Pennsylvania communities.”
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, of Lehman Twp., said the grant fund “allows communities to proceed with projects that contribute to an improved quality of life.”
“Whether they impact jobs, safety, recreation or learning, these efforts are part of the infrastructure that makes communities and neighborhoods stronger and more desirable places to live and work,” Baker said. “The grants will have a positive impact across our region, as we work together to rebuild our economy following the challenges of the pandemic restrictions.”
State Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119 of Newport Twp. said “this crucial funding will allow our municipalities and local organizations to undertake important projects that will revitalize and strengthen the local economy and improve the health and safety of those who live and visit our great area.”

 

7/18/2021
Dropping the puck to face off against cancer in Luzerne County 
Madonna Mantione – WBRE/WYOU
Posted: Jul 17, 2021 / 06:42 PM EDT / Updated: Jul 17, 2021 / 11:26 PM EDT

 
NANTICOKE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A festival in Luzerne County is not beating around the puck this year when it comes to cancer.
Street hockey teams battled for the biscuit at Quality Hill Park in Nanticoke Saturday afternoon.
“It’s a little competitive out there, but at the end of the day it’s just for laughs and fun, and like I said, it’s a great cause so, you can’t beat it,” Isaiah Johnson of Nanticoke said.
But these games were played in support of those fighting a much greater battle: cancer. The Puck Cancer Festival raises money to help patients in Northeastern Pennsylvania afford the medication they need, which can be a financial burden for some even with insurance.
“You might need to pay $2,600 just to have this treatment today, well, now you’re not going to have food on your table, you’re not going to have your light bill paid, you’re not going to have gas to get to your appointment, and that’s the important stuff,” Puck Cancer co-founder Lauren Myers said.
A scenario that Myers and her husband Shawn know all too well. They co-founded Puck Cancer in memory of Shawn’s mother, Michelle Aberola Myers, who lost her battle with the disease in 2012.
In her honor, the proceeds go directly to patients at Medical Oncology Associates in Kingston, where a prescription fund is set up.
“My husband passed last April of cancer, and the oncology group, they’re like family there. They treat you with respect, and the best care,” Michele Deleur of Harvey’s Lake said.
Care that’s made a little easier thank to hundreds of people here, from survivors to patients, to hockey players and friends.
“Anyone that is a cancer patient knows that we need all the help we can get spiritually and monetarily,” Mary Lisa Lada of Larksville said.
“Just knowing that deep down we’re helping somebody beat their financial struggles so that they can beat their cancer, it means everything to us,” Myers said.
To date, the organization has raised more than $65,000 for cancer patients.

 

7/16/2021
GNA approves school safety plan, seeks Landmesser resignation again
mguydish@timesleader.com


At a brief meeting Thursday the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board passed a school safety plan that — for now — would still require elementary students to wear masks, approved a one-year Act 93 agreement that gives 14 employees a 2% raise, and for the second consecutive month officially asked long-absent board Member Matthew Landmesser to resign.
Noting the safety plan is “ever changing” but also necessary to qualify for a $7.3 million federal COVID-19 grant, Superintendent Ron Grevera said the plan is to start school Sept. 7 “as close to normal as possible. Nobody is more excited about that than this guy.”
Grevera said most staff and many of the students 12 and over have been vaccinated, with another student vaccination clinic being set up for August. Which means the Education Center and High School are expected to open with no mask requirements, and lunches returning to the cafeteria for all students — elementary students had been eating in their rooms at their desks during the peak of the pandemic. The district still intends to try to maintain three feet of social distance, the current recommendation of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But students in the elementary school will still be wearing masks under current guidance, he said, though that could change either with new guidance from the CDC or state, or with approval of a vaccine for younger children.
The Act 93 agreement covers non-union employees, primarily administrators and staff other than the superintendent. The board unanimously approved the agreement, a sharp contrast to the June meeting where the eight members present split evenly on the motion to approve,
Landmesser was the lone missing member at that meeting, making the tie possible with eight members instead of nine. At that meeting, the board also voted to ask Landmesser to resign. He has missed every meeting since January while dealing with police charges of invasion of privacy, but has not been convicted of anything.
While the state School Code allows a school board to remove a member for missing two consecutive meetings, fuzzy wording in the code coupled with state Supreme Court rulings make such a move legally murky, Solicitor Vito Deluca said both last month and again Thursday.
Board President Tony Prushinski offered his opinion after the vote on the resolution asking for a resignation. “I implore all members to attend meetings,” he said, citing the 4-4 tie at the last meeting on the Act 93 agreement. Not attending “wasn’t fair to the employees, the staff, the taxpayers, and it certainly wasn’t fair to the school board,”
Asked after the meeting if anyone had talked to Landmesser, Prushinski said “He should call us,” then boiled down the issue to a simple action. ‘He should just come to the meetings, that would make this go away.”
During the meeting, the board also voted to: Appoint Rosemary Porembo as federal programs coordinator and safe schools grant writer for 2021-22 at a cost of $6,000; post positions for two elementary teachers; and hire Nicole Mackiewicz as Secretary to the Superintendent at a starting salary of $42,500. The position falls under the Act 93 agreement.

 

6/21/2021

PROUD PARENTS: Family celebrates as Nanticoke woman graduates from U.S. Military Academy at West Point
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice


It’s hard for Luis and Susan Ramos to describe the pride they feel after their daughter, Leandra, recently graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point.
The covered pool table in the couple’s “military room” has become a shrine to their daughter’s four years at West Point that resulted in her being commissioned as a U.S. Army officer.
It was Leandra Ramos’ dream since eighth grade to attend West Point to study civil engineering. The 22-year-old recently graduated from the elite military academy in the top 25 to 31 percent of her class of 996 graduates.
“There’s no school like it. It’s the hardest school to attend. The three things you have to pass are physical ability, military training and academics. If you don’t pass, you are out,” said Luis Ramos, 77, a retired U.S. Navy chief petty officer.
Luis Ramos and his wife, Susan, who also is a Navy veteran, have flown West Point banners outside their Ridge Street home for four years to honor their daughter.
The current banner displays a photo of Leandra Ramos in her grey West Point dress uniform.
“I have people come up and take photos of it,” Luis Ramos said. “There’s no words to describe it. She’s an amazing kid.”
Leandra Ramos’ first assignment as a new second lieutenant will be with the Army Corps of Engineers, serving out of Fort Drum, New York, with the 20th Engineers Brigade.
Leandra Ramos came home to Nanticoke for several days after graduation before going on a much-deserved vacation.
Shortly after graduation, she thanked the people who made the achievement happen.
“Could not have done it without the love and support of my friends and family here in Nanticoke,” she wrote on Facebook.
Leandra Ramos’ teachers at West Point have already sent letters to her parents, asking their help in convincing her to return to the school as an instructor.
“It has been an absolute pleasure to have Lee in our program and I hope that she will consider returning as a faculty member,” wrote Col. Brad Wambeke, civil engineering director at West Point. “I think her passion for engineering, strong technical competence, enthusiasm, and outstanding personality would be a great fit for our faculty.”
Leandra Ramos represented “the best of the U.S. Military Academy,” Wambeke wrote in the letter to her parents.
“I think she is going to be an outstanding officer,” he wrote.
Susan Ramos, 59, said she was “extremely proud” even though her daughter chose the Army over the Navy.
She, too, has caught people doing a double take at the West Point banners in front of their house, leading people to comment how proud they are that a Nanticoke resident was attending the elite school.
“It amazes me,” Susan Ramos said. “Everybody’s proud of her.”

 

6/20/2021
Greater Nanticoke Area

Area school districts trying to deal with pandemic learning loss, except Lake-Lehman
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice

Note: This partial article taken from Citizens Voice concerning Nanticoke.  For full article please see the Citizens Voice.

 

Greater Nanticoke Area School District is using federal coronavirus relief funding “to implement a number of summer programs for students who may have regressed during the pandemic,” Superintendent Ronald Grevera said.

Next week, the district is starting a credit recovery program at the High School for students lacking proper credit to graduate and students who are deficient in high school credits in English, Science, Social Studies and Mathematics.

The Educational Center is running a STEM Camp from July 6-29 for students in grades 6-8 interested in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. A program for special education students who have exhibited learning loss due to the pandemic will be held from July 9 to Aug. 6.

 

6/18/2021
Greater Nanticoke School Board asks Landmesser to resign
mguydish@timesleader.com


Without comment both before the vote and after Thursday’s monthly meeting, the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board voted 8-0 to ask member Matthew Landmesser to resign his seat. The board also approved a final 2021-2 budget that raises taxes the state maximum of 4.5%, but that also keeps most of a $2.2 million fund balance intact.
Landmesser has missed multiple consecutive meetings, and has been dealing with police charges of invasion of privacy. The state School Code allows a school board to remove a member who misses two consecutive meetings, but there are exceptions that make the matter murky, District Solicitor Vito DeLuca said after the meeting. While the code seems clear, there have been state Supreme Court rulings that create gray areas regarding the reasons the person misses meetings.
If Landmesser agrees to resign, the board would have the option of appointing a replacement to fill his term. But DeLuca declined to say what the board options might be if he doesn’t resign.
The final budget keeps a 4.5% property tax increase that was in the proposed final budget approved last month, raising the tax rate to 12.4473 mills. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 or assessed property value.
The final budget differs from the proposed budget in one significant way: The amount of reserves spent to balance income and spending. Business Consultant Tom Melone said the district had found various savings in supply purchases, health care costs and other places, coupled with some additional income through federal grant money to close a roughly $1.2 million gap in the preliminary budget that was to be covered by money from a fund balance of about $2.2 million.
The upshot: The $34.8 million spending plan will require only about $197,463 from the reserves, potentially leaving much of the fund balance intact by the end of the fiscal year next June.
The board also voted on an Act 93 agreement, which generally covers non-union employees, including administrators. But with Landmesser absent, the board split 4-4 on the deal, and a tie vote means a motion fails. After the meeting Board President Tony Prushinski said that some of the members felt the deal could use more work, and that additional discussions will be held.
Unlike union contracts, Act 93 deals are considered a “meet and discuss” arrangement where the board can have discussions with those impacted by the deal, but are not bound to get their approval.

 

5/14/2021
GNA students, staff work to make school year a success
Newspaper in Education – Citizens Voice
Sophia Tattersall, Student Writer

GNA CAMPUS – The Greater Nanticoke School District officially welcomed back all high school students five days a week on April 19th. Previously, the Educational Center returned April 6th, while the Kennedy Early Childhood Center and GNA Elementary Center returned to a five-day-a-week schedule on March 22nd.
In February, the school district began reopening in hybrid mode. Before that, learning was strictly virtual since late fall.
Though the Covid-19 pandemic has brought many unwelcomed challenges to students and staff alike, at Greater Nanticoke Area, we have embraced that challenge and have sought to focus on the notion that without challenge, there is no achievement.
Attending school amidst a pandemic is nearly unprecedented. Never in our lifetime could we have imagined what that would entail. Never could we have imagined what we would have to endure. Yet, never could we have imagined what we could accomplish.
Some would say that learning was reduced when we were forced into virtual mode, but that would truly depend on who you ask. Ask Daniel Shevchenko, a senior at GNA, if learning stopped when we went virtual. With a demanding schedule of classes that include AP Computer Science, AP Calculus, AP Literature and English Composition, AP Statistics, Physics Honors, Spanish V – Independent study, and French, there was no time off. In fact, many of us were forced to work smarter and harder. We found ways of motivating ourselves to complete schoolwork while remaining safely at home. “In spite of the elevated coursework and general stress of this year, I have been able to maintain my enthusiasm by focusing on the brighter, post-pandemic future – that is, by concentrating on my long-term goals and reminding myself at all points of difficulty that I cannot achieve my aims without overcoming the obstacles of the present. I have also been very lucky to have been able to pursue as courses predominantly those subjects which interest me intellectually even beyond schoolwork, making it much simpler to maintain high morale and curiosity in this unusual time,” Daniel explained.
As students, we found that online and hybrid learning brought about another dimension in ourselves that we did not know existed. Instead of relying on the teacher to answer every single question we had, the teacher would give us the material and allow us to explore on our own. This taught us how to do independent research. It also taught us how to be self-disciplined, self-motivated, and self-aware. Kayla Eckrote, a senior, stated, “Despite all of the hardships presented by the pandemic, I have managed to stay motivated throughout this school year because of my personal goals of maintaining my G.P.A and attending college in the fall. It is undeniable that virtual learning has placed a strain on both students and teachers this year; however, I believe it to be the responsibility of each student to strive for academic success and excel in life, and it is this mentality that has caused me to pursue my objectives and refuse to give up in spite of all the difficulties presented by the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Our teachers transformed their daily lessons to a more hands-on approach, guiding us when we needed guidance, answering the tough questions when we couldn’t find the answers ourselves, and encouraging us when we doubted ourselves.
While many debated whether or not we should be back in school, we focused on our academics and left questions of safety to the experts. Before we physically returned to school, we got a taste of what college life may be like by nature of virtual learning because circumstances forced us to become independent learners which is essential for success in post-secondary education. Our teachers would set assignment dates and hold virtual meetings. They would expect us to attend virtual discussions on Zoom or Google Meet, and we had the opportunity to even schedule our own meetings based on our individual needs. Virtual learning gave us the freedom to make our own schedules; however, we had to have enough self-discipline to turn our assignments in on time. We had to be prepared for scheduled online meetings and discussions and though we were not physically in school, we were virtually engaged.
When the administration suggested it was safe to return to school physically, the maintenance department, cleaning staff, and cafeteria workers went to immeasurable lengths to ensure the school and its students were safe.
There has never been a school year quite like this one. Despite the frustration brought about by the pandemic, GNA students and staff persevered and did all we could to maintain a sense of normalcy. With the help of dedicated administrators, teachers, staff members, and students, Greater Nanticoke Area was able to host many academic and athletic events that are typically held in a given school year. Homecoming, class elections, Junior Leadership Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania Junior Academy of Science (P.J.A.S) were all held. Dual enrollment courses and advanced placement classes challenged students as usual. All athletic programs competed and hosted a senior night for all sports to honor dedicated seniors. Keystone Exams are happening. An Honor Society ceremony will occur as will prom, the senior class trip, awards day, and numerous other end of the year events. The 2020-2021 academic school year will culminate with a graduation ceremony on June 11 honoring all those who have worked so hard to attain a diploma.
As the 2020-2021 school year comes to a close, we are reminded of the many challenges we overcame to make this year a success. We are reminded that life isn’t always easy, but despite what happens, there are always two choices – become frustrated or become motivated. At GNA, we became motivated, and that Trojan Spirit once again shined through.

 

5/18/2021
GoFundMe account set up after Nanticoke playground vandalized
Times Leader


A GoFundMe account has been started to raise money for repairs after a playground in Nanticoke was vandalized over the weekend.
The Quality Hill Playground Association posted pictures to their Facebook page on Sunday depicting the damage done at Quality Hill Playground, located on Hill Street.
A building inside the playground was tagged with graffiti, and cinder blocks were smashed out of the wall of the building. The graffiti was obscene in nature.
The incident was reported to the Nanticoke City Police Department, according to the post from the Playground Association. A call left with the department regarding the progress of the investigation into the vandalism was not returned on Monday.
Since the incident was reported, a GoFundMe account was set up by Shawn Myers and Ryan Verazin, with the money going toward repairs for the playground, which is entirely volunteer-run and maintained.
The GoFundMe has already gotten up to $850 in 24 hours from 22 donors. The link to the GoFundMe has also been shared 62 times since the account went live on Sunday.
The Quality Hill Playground Association also asked that anyone who may have seen or been aware of suspicious activity in the area of the playground call the Nanticoke City Police Department

5/13/2021
Greater Nanticoke approves proposed budget with maximum tax hike
mguydish@timesleader.com


With a bit more than a month to find savings before a final budget is passed, the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board approved a proposed final budget Wednesday that would raise property taxes by the 4.5% maximum allowed under state law yet still be $1.32 million in the red, a hole to be filled by draining a $2.2 million fund balance to $913,070.
Both Business Manager Albert Melone and Superintendent Ron Grevera said the district expects to find additional savings before a final budget is approved, which by state law must happen no later than June 30.
The budget sets expenditures at $33.09 million with revenue of $31.7 million, increasing the property tax rate to 12.4473 mills. A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 of assessed value.
Grevera said the biggest problem was an increase in payments to cyber charter schools. When a student in a district opts to enroll in an outside cyber charter, the district must give some of its state subsidy to that charter. But the districts frequently point out they do not save as much money by losing a student as they pay to the charter. Grevera said this year Greater Nanticoke Area’s payments to cyber charters increased by more than $1 million.
The district has launched a campaign to try to get cyber charter students to return to the district, which offers it own online learning platform. Grevera penned a letter to the editor in Wednesday’s paper pointing out the district now has 170 students enrolled in outside cybers, even though the district has it’s own Cyber Academy.
“The school district is paying up to 12 different outside cyber charter schools $2.5 million dollars per year, which is at the expense of the Greater Nanticoke Area taxpayers,” Grevera wrote.
The district is also contacting families with cyber charter students to see what would bring them back to the district, either in person or in the district cyber academy.
Along with voting for the proposed final budget, the board approved a Memorandum Of Understanding between the district and the teachers union allowing the retirement of music teacher Ellen Rutkowski. After the meeting, Grevera explained that Rutkowski had taken a sabbatical during the pandemic and the district usually requires a teacher to return for at least a year following a sabbatical, but the MOU allows this exception without setting a precedent.
The board also unanimously denied a request for three unpaid days from Melisa McGovern. No explanation was given and Grevera said it was a personnel matter and he could not comment.

 

5/12/2021
Nanticoke's Kaitlyn Pegarella Starts Girls Wrestling Club at Altered Beast in Wilkes-Barre
Author: Landon Stolar - Credit: WNEP
Published: 6:34 PM EDT May 12, 2021
Updated: 6:34 PM EDT May 12, 2021


WILKES-BARRE, Pa. — Kaitlyn Pegarella joined the Girls Scouts in kindergarten. Now 17-years-old, the Nanticoke-native is working on her Gold Award Project to help the community. She’s already donated books and honored local veterans, but now, she’s taking on her biggest challenge and passion – trying sanction girls wrestling as a PIAA sport.


"The reason I wanted to do this in particular, even though, I know it’s going to be a hard path and a really big challenge is because, honestly, it’s going to be a lot easier for them than what I had to put up with going with the boys," Pegarella said. "These girls behind me, I just don’t want them to go through the same hardships I’ve had to go through."

Pegarella wrestles with the boys at Nanticoke. Her way of growing the sport for girls? Creating a K-12 girls only wrestling club at Altered Beast Wrestling Academy in Wilkes-Barre, coaching alongside Wyoming Seminary’s Piper Staniford – both nationally ranked.

”I think it’s really cool that she is in the girl scouts and choosing that to be her project because she’s so passionate about girls wrestling," Staniford said. "It’s good to find people that know the struggle and all the great things that come with wrestling. It teaches you character and how to strive for good things in life and work hard for what you want.”

Passing on those lessons and knowledge to the next generation of girls.

”I actually wrestle with the boys," 11-year-old Madison Healey of Luzerne said. "I’m the team captain from in there and Coach Katie and Piper came in and I was very fortunate to have them.”

There may only be a handful of girls here right now, but Pegarella has a vision for what this club and this sport can become.

”I want to make this club as big as possible," Pegarella said. "I want other girls to come out because honestly, wrestling’s helped me so much in my life. Growing the sport, hopefully it will push it a little more and help us sanction PA.”
 

4/30/2021
Nanticoke WWII vet Doris Merrill passes away at 97
pkernan@timesleader.com


Doris Merrill, a well-known local woman who served her country during World War II, passed away on Thursday at the age of 97.
Merrill’s granddaughter, Heather Challenger, and the Rev. Jane O’Borski, pastor at Wyalusing United Methodist Charge, told the Times Leader of Merrill’s passing in phone interviews on Thursday evening.
“Doris was one of the most amazing persons you would ever want to meet,” O’Borski said of the woman she grew up with, as her parents were close friends of Merrill’s. “She always had a positive attitude. She had many struggles throughout her life and that never stopped her positive attitude.”
According to a previous interview with the Times Leader in 2015, Merrill began serving in the military in 1944 at the age of 20, serving as a transcriptionist for the U.S. Navy in Cape May. That’s where she met her husband, Paul Merrill, who had been serving as a Marine.
The two were wed less than a year later in early 1945, with a wedding party so large that the only vehicles that fit all 20 members were two hearses.
Merrill lived a full life, going on to receive both bachelor’s and master’s degrees, teaching for many years at Wilkes University, Penn State and Nanticoke High School.
Merrill’s granddaughter, Heather Challenger, told the Times Leader on Thursday evening that her grandmother had touched so many lives.
“She was just such a spitfire,” Challenger said. “Everywhere I went with her, we ran into someone she knew.”
Challenger added that even some of the nurses who helped take care of Merrill over the years were former students of hers.
While Merrill struggled with mobility due to multiple sclerosis, having used a wheelchair consistently since 1957, both Challenger and O’Borski said that it was impossible to dull the shine of her spirit.
O’Borski said that one of Merrill’s strongest foundations was in her faith in God. She said that once a reporter asked her why she believed so strongly, even in the face of all of her challenges.
“She said, because she places her trust in God,” O’Borski said. “She used that to encourage others.”
Challenger also said that Merrill’s unwavering positivity came from somewhere within her.
“I think it was just innate in her,” she said. “She was definitely very stubborn and headstrong. I think that’s why she lived so long.”
Merrill overcame many of the challenges placed in her path, telling a Times Leader reporter in 2015 that she was the only woman working on a project that tracked the movement of Navy ships worldwide.
“In a man’s world, they treated me with great respect,” she told us then. “And, I, in turn, did my job.”
In 1999, Merrill began competing in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, first attending the competition held in Puerto Rico that year. She competed in numerous events, winning more than 60 medals.
But what mattered most to Merrill, O’Borski and Challenger agreed, was the people around her.
“I would say she loved her family more than anything in the world,” Challenger, the oldest of her three grandchildren, said. “She just adored us.”
“No matter what I was doing, Doris somehow found a way to make the event special for me,” O’Borski said, saying that Merrill gave her a special memento for when O’Borski spoke at her own high school graduation.
“To her, all of those events in somebody’s life were so important to notice and congratulate them, and she did that with cards and notes and mementoes.”
Merrill’s husband Paul passed away in 1982. In her own words, she said in 2015 that it was her family that helped her forget the challenges.
“When we were with our grandchildren, we forgot,” she said. “We forgot we were sick, we forgot we were older. We made games out of everything from laundry to cleaning their room. They were working and they didn’t even realize it.” 

 

4/26/2021
A final farewell for Nanticoke firefighter
kcarroll@timesleader.com


After a life full of service to his community, the late Nanticoke deputy fire chief Jay Munson was given a hero’s goodbye on Sunday, with a full funeral procession and service at the Nebo Baptist Church on Prospect Street.
Munson passed away at the age of 63 on April 14 at Allied Hospice Center in Wilkes-Barre.
According to his obituary from the Davis-Dinelli Funeral Home in Nanticoke, Munson was a lifelong resident of the city, a graduate from John S. Fine High School and Luzerne County Community College.
Munson spent 42 years as a firefighter, first joining up with the Lape Hose Company No. 2 in Nanticoke back in 1978, and working his way through the ranks to eventually earn the position of deputy fire chief in 2004.
The impact that Munson had on the community was evident on Sunday. Fire and emergency service workers from both Nanticoke and Hanover Township lined Prospect Street, with a truck from each municipality helping to hoist a large American flag high over the street for all to see.
The procession began around 1:30 p.m., starting at the funeral home on Broad Street. The sounds of bagpipe music led the procession down Broad Street to Prospect Street, where it turned and came down the hill to a stop outside of the Nebo Baptist Church, where Munson was a member and deacon for more than 40 years, according to his obituary.
After the procession reached the church, a viewing and memorial service were held, drawing a large crowd of friends, family and community members looking to pay their respects.
Munson was given the honorary last call from an emergency dispatcher with Luzerne County at approximately 3:40 p.m. Sunday afternoon. 

 

4/20/2021
PennDOT wants feedback on East Main Street project in Nanticoke
PennDOT says the work will not begin until the spring of 2023.
 
Author: Peggy Lee 
Published: 9:51 PM EDT April 19, 2021 
Updated: 4:05 AM EDT April 20, 2021 
 
NANTICOKE, Pa. — PennDOT says it has big plans for East Main Street in the city of Nanticoke.
The agency has pictures on its website to give the public a view of the East Main Street Streetscape Project.
PennDOT will upgrade sidewalks and crosswalks and add a new traffic signal.
Now, PennDOT is asking people for their feedback by filling out an online questionnaire. 
PennDOT says it will be taking public feedback on this project from now until April 30th.
You can find the link for public feedback here:
https://www.penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/district-4/ConstructionsProjectsAndRoadwork/Pages/default.aspx
“It needs it really bad. It's been a mess for a long time. And seeing it done would be a great thing. Great for the businesses around here too,” said Lisa Szczucki, who used to live in Nanticoke but moved to Slocum Township after selling her house.
PennDOT says the work on East Main Street won't start until the spring of 2023 and is expected to be finished in the fall of that year.
Read the full plan here:
https://www.penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/district-4/pages/details.aspx?newsid=793
If you cannot reach the online public feedback, you can email dwall@nanticokecity.com or call 570-735-2800

 

4/20/2021
Nanticoke announces virtual plans display for East Main Street project

boboyle@timesleader.com


The City of Nanticoke invites the public to a virtual plan display for the East Main Street streetscape project that officials say may not begin until 2023.
The project is on East Main Street (SR 2002) located between Market Street and approximately 100 feet west of the Walnut Street offset intersection.
According to PennDOT, the purpose of the improvements is to provide the traveling public with a safe corridor through the city that enhances traffic flow, provides safe pedestrian crossings, and meets the current design standards.
The scope of work for the project from Market Street to Shea Street is from back of sidewalk to back of sidewalk and includes:
• Full reconstruction of the existing sidewalk, pavement section and drainage structures
• New traffic signal at the intersection of Market Street and Main Street
• Landscaping improvements
• Stamped pavement pedestrian crosswalks
• Center left turn lane
• Proposed pavement markings
• Removal of existing parking
• Temporary construction easements proposed to complete the sidewalk work
The scope of work from Shea Street to 100 feet west of Walnut Street is from existing curb to existing curb and includes:
• Proposed 1.5” pavement mill and overlay
• Proposed pavement markings
• Existing sidewalks and parking to remain
The project is expected to be constructed over four months, with a detour in place for one to two weeks during construction. A 0.4 mile detour will be posted using North Walnut Street and Market Street.
Mayor Kevin Coughlin said he doesn’t expect construction to begin until 2023 because several studies need to be conducted and competed.
“This project will beautify our downtown,” Coughlin said. “It’s the first step toward further downtown revitalization.”
Coughlin said the project has been in planning stages for years and this announcement is the start of getting the project competed.
PennDOT said the virtual plans display includes digital picture boards and an online comment form. It can be accessed by visiting the PennDOT District 4 website — www.Penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/District-4/ — clicking on Construction Projects/Roadwork under District Links, and choosing tile mark SR 2002 East Main Street streetscape project in City of Nanticoke, Luzerne County.
In accordance with Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation efforts, the comment period will be held online only. It will be open from April 19 to April 30.
Those unable to access the study online may give feedback by contacting Interim City Manager Donna Wall, at dwall@nanticokecity.com, or 570-735-2800.
PennDOT said the purpose of the plans display is to introduce the project and receive public input regarding any questions or concerns with the project. It is also an opportunity for the public to review and comment on the project’s potential effect upon Cultural Resources pursuant to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation’s 36 CFR Part 800 regulations implementing Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. 
Motorists can check conditions on major roadways by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information and access to more than 1,000 traffic cameras.
511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website.

4/19/2021
Nanticoke seeks Luzerne County back tax abatement for unsafe structure demolition
jandes@timesleader.com


Nanticoke officials have asked Luzerne County Council to forgive delinquent taxes on an unsafe property the city has acquired for demolition.
City Manager Donna Wall told council last week the prior owner inherited the property at 1206-1208 Prospect St. and agreed to deed it to the city last September because of its deteriorated state.
Located on a corner near houses, the property has been vacant for several years, Wall said. The roof caved in last year, and a structural engineer deemed the property unsafe and in immediate danger of collapse, she added.
The city is investing more than $30,000 to tear down the blighted structure and return the property to the tax rolls, Wall said.
Both the city and Greater Nanticoke Area School District have agreed to abate back real estate taxes owed to them dating back to 2014, she said.
Council would have to vote at a future meeting on the forgiveness of a total $8,137.43 in county taxes owed on the property.
Tax claim question
Some county council members questioned why the Nanticoke property was permitted to accrue that many years of unpaid taxes.
Properties are supposed to be auctioned if taxes are unpaid for two years unless a property owner has an active bankruptcy case, is on a repayment plan or convinces a judge to grant more time.
Sean Shamany, of county tax-claim operator Elite Revenue Solutions LLC, said the property was listed in a first-stage “upset” sale in April 2017, but there were no bidders. In an upset sale, buyers must pay all back real estate taxes and accept responsibility for any outstanding mortgages and liens.
The property was prepped to advance to a free-and-clear judicial sale, when all liens and delinquent taxes are forgiven unless bidding competition drives up the purchase price to cover some or all of that debt, he said. However, its listing in a free-and-clear sale was postponed due to issues validating all lien holders had received required notice of the sale, he said.
Coronavirus-related issues with court scheduling and tax sale service also delayed the listing last year, and the matter was put on hold when the city assumed ownership in September, he said.
Upcoming tax sale
The county’s first back tax auction of 2021 will be held at 10 a.m. on April 29 inside the Mohegan Sun Arena in Wilkes-Barre Township, Shamany said.
This special upset sale is for properties in which the owners defaulted on repayment agreements.
Approximately 200 properties were eligible, but the list is down to around 80 due to subsequent payments by owners, he said.
A list of available properties and information on bid registration is posted at luzernecountytaxclaim.com.
Due to capacity limitations in the space available at the arena, the sale will be limited to 200 bidders. A $100 non-refundable fee also has been added.
The arena was selected for auctions last year because it is more spacious to accommodate social distancing, Shamany said. Depending on what happens with the pandemic, auctions eventually may return to the King’s College auxiliary gym in downtown Wilkes-Barre.
County-owned properties
In another real estate matter, council is considering a streamlined procedure for those interested in purchasing county-owned property.
Councilwoman LeeAnn McDermott, chair of council’s real estate committee, presented the proposal at last week’s work session.
A copy of the proposed plan is posted under council’s April 13 work session agenda at luzernecounty.org.
The county owns approximately 165 parcels that are not needed for government purposes. Some ended up in county ownership a century ago and have no deeds or deeds with other owners in addition to the county, officials have said.
Flood authority
John Maday has returned to the county Flood Protection Authority, which oversees the Wyoming Valley Levee system.
Maday had previously served in an unpaid authority board seat and recently completed a public interview to be added back on the eligibility list.
A council majority voted last week to appoint him to a seat vacated by William Falls.
Meetings
The county Election Board will meet virtually at 5 p.m. Wednesday to publicly interview applicants for the fifth board chair seat.
The County Cares Commission is set to meet virtually at 6 p.m. Thursday.
Attendance instructions will be posted at luzernecounty.org

 

4/16/2021
Greater Nanticoke Area School Board extends teacher contract one year
mguydish@timesleader.com


With two members absent, the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board unanimously approved a one-year extension of the teacher contract at Thursday’s regular meeting. The contract was set to expire this August.
After the meeting Superintendent Ron Grevera said the agreement lets all teachers move up on the step/column matrix, but does not increase the amounts of those steps and columns. Teacher contracts guarantee increases each year for a set number of years (steps), and give raises for a set number of additional college credits earned above a bachelor’s degree (columns).
Those at the top of the pay scale get no raises unless they are negotiated into the contract, so the extension includes a $500 stipend for the 2021-22 school year it covers.
Grevera said the consensus of both the board and the union was that the pandemic made negotiations more difficult with social distancing and masking requirements, so a one-year extension made sense and gives ample time to resume negotiations for a replacement contract next year.
Grevera also announced the district is completing it’s slow return to full in-person lessons on Monday, with high schools students able to start attending classes five days a week. He said the district is still offering asynchronous online learning through its cyber school, but is no longer offering synchronous live learning in real time online.
In related matter, Grevera announced that the district has lost about 100 students this year who have opted to enroll in an outside cyber charter school, and that the district is hoping to find ways to get them back within the district. Parents and guardians of students in outside cybers will be receiving surveys to see what they are looking for so that the district can accommodate them, he said, and surveys may be followed up with a phone call.

 

3/31/2021
Greater Nanticoke Area expanding in-person learning for grades 6-12
Greater Nanticoke Area Superintendent Ronald Grevera said students in the district will be kept about 4 to 5 feet apart in the classroom.

Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice

 
Greater Nanticoke Area School District will begin in-person learning five days a week at the educational center on April 6 and at the high school on April 19.
The district began in-person learning five days a week on March 22 for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The education center for grades 6-8 and the high school for grades 9-12 currently have hybrid schedules for two groups of students, and each group has in-person classes twice a week.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its COVID-19 guidance for schools on March 19 and changed the recommended minimum distance between students in classrooms from 6 feet to 3 feet.
Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration said Tuesday it is updating Pennsylvania’s guidance for schools, and the state now is also recommending a minimum distance of 3 feet. The change makes it easier for compliance when schools provide in-person learning five days a week.
“Our schools were not constructed for 6 feet social distancing,” Greater Nanticoke Area Superintendent Ronald Grevera said in an email. “As a district, we will monitor cases closely moving forward and continuing protecting our students through mask wearing, frequent hand washing, and disinfecting classrooms daily.”
Greater Nanticoke Area “will try to keep our students socially distanced to the greatest extent possible,” Grevera said, explaining it will be more than 3 feet but less than 6 feet in most of our buildings.
“Most students will be distanced between 4-5 feet,” he said.
School districts in the area have been expanding in-person learning this month. Teachers and school staff got vaccinations under a special state program two weeks ago, but COVID-19 transmission has moved back to the substantial range in Luzerne County.
Substantial transmission is defined as having a test positivity rate of at least 10% or an incidence rate of at least 100 new cases per 100,000 residents over seven days. The county incidence rate from March 19-25 was 181.8 cases per 100,000 residents, and test positivity was 9.7%.
The state recommendation for schools in counties with substantial transmission is all-virtual learning or a blended model with in-person learning only for elementary school students. The guidance is not a mandate.

 

3/23/2021
Teen rescued from Glen Lyon fire dies
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice


The teenager rescued from a Glen Lyon fire last week has died.The Lehigh County Coroner's Office said Grace Miller, 13, died 4:29 p.m. Sunday at Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest.
An autopsy is scheduled for Tuesday.
Miller was rescued early Thursday from a fire at 58-60 N. Market St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp.
Miller was first taken to Wilkes-Barre General Hospital and then transferred to Lehigh Valley Hospital, Cedar Crest.
St. Faustina Parish in Nanticoke paid tribute to Miller in a Facebook post.
"It is with a very sad heart that we announce that Gracie Miller succumbed to the injuries sustained in her house fire Thursday morning," the post said. "Stories of Gracie say how she wanted to make everyone happy, even in her death she will be doing just that. The family decided for Gracie to live on in the form of organ donation and she will give the gift of life to many others."

 

3/22/2021
“A remarkable job”: Confirmation class collects donations for fire victims
kcarroll@timesleader.com


A group of local confirmation students came together under the worst possible circumstances on Sunday to collect donations on behalf of a friend and her family affected by a tragic fire.
Gracie Miller, 13, was critically injured on Thursday when a fire ripped through her family’s Glen Lyon home. Miller has been hospitalized since the blaze, and her family has lost everything.
In order to help the family get back on their feet, a combination of friends of Gracie and the eighth-grade confirmation class at Saint Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke held a collection drive at the church on Sunday evening.
“We’ve been teaching them about their faith. Now it’s time for them to live their faith,” said Father James Nash, a priest at Saint Faustina for the last 16 years. “They’ve done a remarkable job.”
The class is preparing to receive their confirmation in May, and even before putting together Sunday’s collection drive, the students have done a lot of service projects for the community, according to their teacher, Joann Mavus.
“It’s all about giving back to the community,” Mavus said. “These kids are unstoppable. … They’ve done projects for the animal shelter and our food pantry already.”
Sunday’s collection drive was held from 4 to 6 p.m., preceding a healing mass held in Miller’s honor.
Of course, as has been the case with so many donation drives of this sort, Sunday’s collection was really a drive-thru collection — donors pulled up to the curb outside of the church, and would hand off their donations to one of the students, who would promptly bring it back into the church for storage.
Even in just the first hour of Sunday’s collection, the large amount of goods collected by the class reflected how much the community cares for its own.
“The family lost everything, they got out of there with just the clothes on their backs,” Mavus said. “The community and beyond are coming together to replace the things that they need.”
Items collected included clothing, water, toiletries, sanitary items and a lot of checks and gift cards, which were stressed on Saint Faustina’s Facebook page as the best ways to donate.
“Just in this box, easy to carry and move, that could be such a huge help to the family,” Mavus said as she gestured to a cardboard box filled with envelopes containing money and gift cards. “We didn’t ask for bigger things because there’s nowhere to put them.”
Everyone at Saint Faustina’s on Sunday, whether they were officials from the church, friends of Miller or members of the confirmation class, could be seen wearing sunflowers — Miller’s favorite flower, according to a number of her friends.
“It’s so amazing seeing the community support,” said Jordyn Vida, a member of the class and one of Miller’s friends. “Everyone’s rallying together, and it’s really great.”
A second collection drive on behalf of Miller and her family will be held next Sunday from 4 to 6 p.m. at the church, and the class is also holding collection drives to benefit the residents of the Birchwood Nursing Home and the Gino J. Merli Veterans Center on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon.

 

3/20/2021
Confirmation class will hold collection drives for girl injured in fire
jlynott@timesleader.com


The Confirmation class of St. Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke is holding two emergency collection drives of clothing, personal care and household items and accepting monetary donations for a family who lost everything in a fire at their Glen Lyon house Thursday. 
A class preparing to receive the sacrament of Confirmation is learning about grace from a girl with the same name.
Grace Miller was critically injured and everything her family had was destroyed in a fire Thursday at their house on North Market Street in Glen Lyon.
The 13-year-old girl isn’t in the class Joann Mavus is teaching at St. Faustina Kowalska Parish in Nanticoke to prepare them to be strengthened with the Holy Spirit through Confirmation. The teenager doesn’t belong to the parish either.
“She’s a member of our community,” Mavus said Friday.
Some of the kids in the class are in the band at the Greater Nanticoke Area high school with Miller. “They personally know Grace,” Mavus said.
The connection runs deeper, however, and drills to the core of the Catholic Church’s tenets on the sacraments as a means of grace from God and applying the teachings of his son Jesus Christ to everyday life.
“We teach our faith is more than kneeling in church. It’s about giving back,” Mavus said.
The class will hold two emergency collection drives for clothing, personal care and household items and is accepting monetary donations for the family. A special Mass for healing will be held at 6:30 p.m Sunday at the church at 520 S. Hanover St.
Reservations are required for the Mass and can be made by calling 570-735-6821. Masks are also required because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“This class has been active and willing to do anything for the community,” Mavus said. For its service project it’s holding drop off donation drives for the Birchwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Nanticoke and the Gino Merli Veterans Center in Scranton.
The Miller family collections will be contact-less as well. They will be this Sunday and again on March 28 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
“You pull up in front of the church. You don’t even shut your car off, just open your window or pop your trunk,” Mavus said. The kids will take the donations.
The family is starting from scratch and escaped the fire with the clothes on their back. Firefighters pulled the unconscious teenager from her second-floor bedroom, Mavus said.
“They don’t even have a toothbrush. They don’t have a pillow to put their head on to call their own,” Mavus said.
Donations of pharmacy, grocery store, Walmart or Target gift cards will be accepted. Also if someone wants to write a check, make it out to the church and write “fire victims” in the memo, Mavus said. The church will deposit it into its account and write a check for the family, Mavus said.

 

3/12/2021
Greater Nanticoke Area plans return to school, recalls furloughed workers
mguydish@timesleader.com


In a short but substantial meeting, Greater Nanticoke Area School Board reaffirmed plans to bring elementary students back to school five days a week this month, accepted one board member’s resignation and appointed a replacement, recalled all the workers furloughed during the pandemic and approved the 2021-22 calendar with the first day of classes set for Sept. 7.
Before the meeting officially began Board President Tony Prushinski called for a vote to accept the resignation of member Erika Jacobs from the board, then for another vote appointing former Board member David Hornlein as replacement. Hornlein was sworn in and took a seat on the High School stage where the meeting was held with an in-person audience seated in the auditorium, social distancing enforced by rows of seats taped off.
Superintendent Ron Grevera then announced the district still expects to move forward with plans to bring more students to in-person classes. The Kennedy Early Childhood Center will go to five days a week March 15 while the High School and Education Center re-open in hybrid mode. The Elementary Center will return to five days per week March 22.
The agenda included nearly a page and a half with names of workers furloughed due to the pandemic and the resultant switch to remote only learning. The board voted unanimously to recall all who had been laid off.
The board also approved two initiatives intended to help students make up for ground lost during the pandemic: Establish a summer program for special education students to recover lost learning, and establish a high school credit recovery program for the summer at no cost to the students. Both will be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief grant money.
The new calendar begins school on Sept. 7 with the last day set for June 9. Grevera said there are snow days built in, but that the district also has five “Flexible Instruction Days” known as “cyber snow days” for the year under a new law signed by Gov. Tom Wolf last summer that allows up to five such days per school year. Students complete assignments and lessons on line. The intent is to maintain instructional continuity and reduce the number of snow make-up days often tacked on at the end of the school year.
In a related matter, the board accepted a quote from GDC for a three-year lease of 300 computers at a cost of $224,220.
And the board approved the establishment of a life skills classroom for kindergarten through fourth grade for the 2021-22 school year.


3/12/2021
Greater Nanticoke expanding in-person learning to 5 days a week for grades K-5
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice


Greater Nanticoke Area School District plans to resume in-person learning five days a week at the Kennedy Early Childhood Center on Monday and at the Elementary Center on March 22.
Students learning through the virtual and cyber school options can continue learning through those options, according to the schools’ websites. The Kennedy center is for kindergarten, first and second grade, and the Elementary Center is for third, fourth and fifth grade.
The high school and Educational Center are reopening Monday with a hybrid plan that mixes online and in-person instruction days for two groups of students in grades 6-12.
The district will examine after Easter, April 4, whether it is feasible to expand in-person learning to five days a week at the high school and Educational Center, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said.
School districts in the area are expanding in-person learning as the COVID-19 transmission rate decreases and also because teachers and school personnel are going to be vaccinated.
Around 2,500 teachers and school staff in the region are scheduled to receive vaccinations during a five-day period from Friday through Tuesday at the Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 office building in Kingston.
It’s part of the state plan to begin vaccinating teachers and school staff with the Johnson & Johnson single-dose COVID-19 vaccine. Gov. Tom Wolf announced the plan last week.
Dallas School District students will begin in-person classes five days a week starting March 22. Wyoming Valley West School District plans to start in-person instruction for students in all grades five days a week on April 12.
Lake-Lehman School District began the current school year with in-person learning five days a week and did not suspend in-person instruction during the year. Wilkes-Barre Area resumed in-person learning for elementary school students five days a week on March 1 and may resume in-person classes for secondary students on Monday if the transmission rate in Luzerne County returns to the moderate range.

 

3/10/2021
A bank building with a 117-year history in Nanticoke has shut its doors.
dallabaugh@citizensvoice.com


First National Bank at 35 E. Main St., is one of 21 branches, including 16 in Pennsylvania, that First National Bank previously announced would close. Customers were notified that the branches would be consolidated with other locations, said Jennifer Reel, director of corporate communications for First National Bank.
Based on an evaluation process, which examined factors including convenience, consumer banking preferences, operating costs and proximity to other locations, Reel said the Nanticoke branch has been consolidated with another office at 120 Highland Park Boulevard in Wilkes-Barre Twp. The ATM in Nanticoke will remain in place for a period of time, she said.
“As always, customers can continue to bank anywhere, anytime through the channels that they prefer, whether it is through any branch of their choice in our network, telephone banking, ATMs or FNB’s online and mobile services,” Reel said in an email.
First National Bank acquired the branch in 2008 from a merger with Omega Bank but the building has a long history in Nanticoke.
It opened in 1904, according to online records, as The Nanticoke National Bank. In 1988, it was Guaranty Bank and in 2004, it operated as part of Omega Bank. Its name was changed to Omega Bank in 2006.
Nanticoke Manager Donna Wall said she is sad to lose such a “beautiful, historic building” and she hopes someone will open another business at the site.
“We’re sad to lose a bank that has been a mainstay on our Main Street since 1904,” Wall said. “Now, we’re going to have another vacant building.”

 

2/28/2021
Despite moratorium, some eviction cases moving forward
Terrie Morgan-Besecker & James Halpin – Citizens Voice

For landlords like Dan Warakomski, managing properties during a global pandemic that has cost some tenants their livelihoods has been a challenge.
Warakomski, 70, maintains roughly 50 units in Kingston and Nanticoke. Since the pandemic began, his normal duties of managing the properties have been supplemented by tasks like reminding tenants to check up on the status of their unemployment benefit applications.
“Every month it’s not only stressful for them, because they don’t want to be evicted, but I don’t want to evict them,” Warakomski said.
A review of court records revealed that despite a nearly year-long ban on rent-based evictions, more than 800 renters in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties either already lost their housing or remain in danger of being evicted.
Several state and federal eviction moratoriums helped reduce the number of eviction cases, but they did not protect everyone.
Area magistrates and housing officials said some people lost their chance to stave off eviction because they did not follow the procedure required to enact the safety net. In other cases they violated lease conditions, freeing landlords to take action against them.
A review of court cases shows that of the 377 landlord-tenant cases magistrates handled in Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Nanticoke between Sept. 1 to Jan. 31, the judges ruled in favor of the landlords in 215 cases for a total of $443,766 in overdue rent.
The amounts ranged from as little as zero in unpaid rent for tenants living in public housing to as much as $12,000 overdue.
Of the remaining cases, 102 are still active and the rest were either decided in favor of the tenant, settled, dismissed or withdrawn.
The situation was similar in Lackawanna County, where the four district magistrate judges that cover Scranton and Dunmore awarded a little more than $1 million in back rent in 418 cases out of 513 cases for which they held hearings.
A rent relief program scheduled to open up in March in Luzerne County promises to provide much needed assistance. The county received nearly $9.5 million in federal funding to help tenants who lost their job or income because of the coronavirus pandemic pay back rent and utilities.
Housing officials said they remain concerned by the number of cases that have pending evictions orders that can be acted upon as soon as the latest eviction moratorium ends.
Renters have been protected by several evictions bans implemented within the past year. Gov. Tom Wolf first issued an eviction ban in March that lasted until Aug. 31. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention twice extended the moratorium, first to Dec. 31, then Jan. 31. Most recently, President Joe Biden extended it again until March 31.
The moratoriums were codified locally by Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough, who signed an order Sept. 4 staying all evictions for nonpayment of rent for those earning less than $99,000 and couples earning less than $198,000 — providing they signed a declaration asserting they have suffered a substantial loss of income or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
The moratoriums helped reduce the number of eviction cases in Luzerne and Lackawanna counties in 2020 compared to 2019. In Wilkes-Barre, Kingston and Nanticoke, for example, there were 377 landlord-tenant filings between Sept. 1 to Jan. 31, compared with 534 during the same period a year ago.
Hundreds of people still face the threat of imminent eviction once the moratorium ends, however, because judges continued to hear cases and enter judgments against tenants while the moratorium was in effect.
Authorities say cases were allowed to proceed for two primary reasons:
The CDC moratorium halted evictions for nonpayment of rent, but does not protect people whose leases have expired or if they violated their lease for other reasons, such as damaging the property or having unauthorized people live there.
The moratorium had several other conditions attached, including requiring the tenant sign an affidavit attesting they could not pay rent because due to financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic and that they would make a good faith effort to pay something. Even then, landlords could still file to recoup past due rent and/or money to cover damages to their property.
“The CDC order stops evictions. It does not necessarily stop a hearing,” said Lori Molloy, executive director of North Penn Legal Services, a nonprofit group that provides legal aid to indigent people. “You still have people on the verge of eviction.”
‘Landlords are taking a beating’
Court records show that in Luzerne County, magisterial district judges Thomas F. Malloy Sr., Rick Cronauer, James J. Haggerty and Donald L. Whittaker granted landlords possession in 124 of the 377 cases they handled and ordered possession be granted if the judgment was not satisfied in another 90 cases.
Vough, the president judge, said the CDC moratorium only covers nonpayment of rent for COVID-related reasons, and said that in Luzerne County, the evictions involved tenants who violated the terms of their leases, such as damaging the property or having extra people or pets in the apartment.
“The granted evictions for people are in violation of lease terms, but not solely based on nonpayment of rent,” Vough said.
In order for tenants to qualify for protection under the CDC order, they must raise the financial issue and sign a declaration saying they can’t make rent for reasons related to the pandemic.
Lackawanna County judges varied on whether they would advise tenants about the moratorium if they did not know. But Vough said magistrates in Luzerne County should be informing tenants about it and providing the declaration for them to sign.
“That’s part of our criteria. When a landlord-tenant (case) is filed, if the tenant appears you give him the form and say, ‘Here’s what you have to do,’” Vough said. “At that point, it’s up to the magistrate to make a decision regarding going forward with the case.”
In Nanticoke, Whittaker said that he’s stopped accepting new landlord-tenant filings as a result of the moratorium.
“It’s fruitless, because I can’t even serve the landlord-tenant with the notice to quit,” Whittaker said. “It’s not going to get them out any quicker, and they’re not going to receive any money.”
He said he knows of dozens of landlords who are waiting to initiate eviction actions when the moratorium is eventually lifted.
“Quite frankly, the landlords are taking a beating,” Whittaker said. “They still have the same bills. They still have the same responsibilities. They have to make the repairs as necessary to protect their financial interests. And the tenants know that they can basically live there for free. And that’s what they are doing. A lot of landlords I’ve had come to the window have not had a check since last March.”
Magisterial District Judge Paul Ware, whose office covers north Scranton and Dunmore, stressed that not all the people under eviction orders have lost their housing. Those being evicted for nonpayment only could still stay the process at any time if they submitted the CDC affidavit, even if it was after the judgment was already entered, he said. Ware said he had multiple cases in which constables went to homes to evict people, only to have to turn away because they showed they had presented the affidavit.
Molloy said such cases illustrate the importance for tenants to seek out legal advice prior to a hearing. North Penn Legal Services provides attorneys free of charge to people who meet income guidelines, but many people do not know about the service.
The biggest mistake tenants make is not showing for the hearing, which results in a default judgment against them, Molloy said. Molloy said the tenants often see the situation as hopeless and just give up.
“People realize they have a terrible problem,” she said. “They know they are behind in rent . . . They see it as, ‘I can’t afford my rent. What can I do?’ They get scared and don’t know what to do.”
It’s not known how many of the cases were default judgments because that information is not noted on the court docket sheets.
Help is on the way
Molloy said she’s hopeful the newly enacted rent relief program funded by the federal government will prevent a tidal wave of evictions from occurring.
Luzerne County officials are working to set up the application process and say they hope to have it up and running by mid-March.
To qualify, renters have to show they suffered a pandemic-related income loss and cannot earn more than 80% of the median income for their region.
The rental assistance program is the second one to be offered. Last year, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act offered federal funding that also went to assist landlords and tenants.
Warakomski said that funding helped some of his tenants bridge the gap.
“We do have people that are behind, but there’s no CARES Act anymore,” he said. “If we could get some help from the government, everything’s going to work out right in the end.”
Warakomski said he’s got about six tenants behind on rent, and that all of them are behind because they were either laid off or lost their businesses due to the pandemic.
“Right now I have no deadbeats,” he said. “I am working with all my tenants.”
Some are paying their monthly rent in installments, and Warakomski said he’s OK with that if it helps them afford food and medical care.
For many of the affected tenants, the problem is trying to get through to the state to begin collecting unemployment benefits, he said.
“I have no plan on ever evicting them,” Warakomski said. “Hopefully everything will work out with their unemployment.”
The news of the next round of federal money allotted toward rental assistance, which is being delivered via the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, has landlords like Warakomski hopeful that they will be able to get some relief.
“We’re hoping the landlords will be able to get their tenants on that list and that the money will be there to pay their back rent,” he said. “We all have to think positive and we all have to help each other get through this. And we will.”

 

2/6/2021
Nanticoke Area boys basketball team placed on pause
Steve Bennett – Citizens Voice


Nanticoke Area placed its boys basketball team on pause because of concerns over a COVID-19 exposure.
A player was exposed to an individual outside the program and the school district is taking necessary precautions and following rules and protocols set forth by the Department of Health and CDC.
“It was a contact that happened outside the program,” Nanticoke Area athletic director Ken Bartuska said. “One of the players on the team was exposed to someone not affiliated with the program. We were fortunate enough to stop everything on Sunday as soon as the player experienced symptoms.”
The Trojans can return to practice Thursday, and return to competition Saturday, Feb. 13.
Nanticoke Area canceled tonight’s nonleague game with Pittston Area. Instead, Pittston Area will now play at Holy Redeemer tonight. The Trojans also have to reschedule Tuesday’s game against Dallas and Friday’s game against Holy Redeemer.
Due to the number of Wyoming Valley Conference programs that have had to deal with COVID-19 issues as well as weather-related postponements, athletic directors are scrambling to reschedule games. The final day of league play for boys and girls basketball is pushed back to Sunday, Feb. 28.
Meanwhile, the Wyoming Valley West boys basketball team returns to action this afternoon after it was placed on pause.
Winter sports at Wyoming Seminary and Hanover Area are still on hold because of COVID-19 concerns. The Holy Redeemer girls team will return to competition on Wednesday.
Hanover Area’s boys basketball team can resume competition Tuesday, while the school’s girls team is eligible to resume its season Friday.

 

2/6/2021
Nanticoke woman celebrates 95th birthday
More than 50 friends including police and firefighters drove past her home to wish her a happy birthday.
WNEP Web Staff Published: 5:41 PM EST February 6, 2021 

NANTICOKE, Pa. — There was a birthday celebration on Saturday in Luzerne County - Marge Kalinowski celebrated her 95th birthday.
The Nanticoke native was self-isolating at home for months because of the pandemic. 
For her big day, more than 50 friends including police and firefighters drove past her home to put a smile on her face.
"I'm shocked, just shocked that they're here! I knew they do things like that but I love it, I love it. I love the attention," said Kalinowski.
Even the Mayor of Nanticoke stopped by for the festivities.
A happy 95th birthday to Marge from all of us at Newswatch 16.

 

2/1/2021
Area school officials planning to spend COVID-19 relief funding
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice

 

Area school officials are busy planning applications for the latest federal allocation of COVID-19 relief money.
School districts in Luzerne County and the Bear Creek Community Charter School will receive a total of $61.7 million, according to a preliminary estimate from the state Department of Education.
The funding is from the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund passed by Congress in December. Pennsylvania’s allocation is $2.2 billion.
Allocations will be about four times what schools received in the first round of relief funding last spring. Districts must submit applications to receive their allotments.
Lake-Lehman School District’s allotment of nearly $1.1 million “necessitates time and collaboration prior to making a spending plan,” Superintendent James McGovern said.
Funds may be applied to costs dating back to the onset of the national emergency on March 13, 2020, and can cover spending obligations through Sept. 30, 2023.
“We are carefully analyzing our needs,” Wyoming Area Superintendent Janet Serino said.
Districts and charter schools can use the funds for various purposes including: technology, sanitization, improving indoor air quality, facility improvements to reduce virus-transmission risk and addressing learning loss among students.
Wyoming Valley West School District is “in the very early stages of putting together a committee to examine and implement a comprehensive needs assessment plan” on how to spend its allocation of nearly $7.6 million, Superintendent David Tosh said.
“Recouping lost learning for students and infusing new, more advanced technology will be critical components of the plan that is in the very early stages as we complete the application,” Tosh said.
The state Department of Education plans to allocate the following amounts in federal COVID-19 relief money to the following local education agencies in Luzerne County:
•    Hazleton Area: $17,381,554
•    Wilkes-Barre Area: $14,625,407
•    Wyoming Valley West: $7,573,718
•    Greater Nanticoke Area: $3,656,472
•    Pittston Area: $3,411,652
•    Hanover Area: $3,357,195
•    Berwick Area: $3,256,952
•    Wyoming Area: $2,484,889
•    Dallas: $1,706,180
•    Crestwood: $1,461,088
•    Lake-Lehman: $1,084,033
•    Northwest Area: $913,768
•    Bear Creek Community Community Charter School: $820,249.

 

1/28/2021
Area educators get COVID-19 vaccines prior to expansion of first priority group 
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice


Geisinger Health System provided COVID-19 vaccinations to nearly 350 school employees in the region prior to last week’s expansion of the first priority group in Pennsylvania, Luzerne Intermediate Unit 18 Executive Director Anthony Grieco said.
LIU18 was arranging vaccinations with Geisinger on behalf of area school districts and gathered names of interested school employees.
“Those vaccinated represent about 8% of school personnel that have expressed an interest in getting a shot among all school personnel in Luzerne and part of Wyoming counties,” Grieco said in an email.
Last week, the state expanded the 1A category for vaccines from just healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities to include all residents over 65 and other residents with serious underlying health issues. Residents in the 1B category, which includes teachers, are now facing delays in getting vaccines.
“Since the state’s announcement last week we have not been able to receive any mass vaccinations,” Grieco said. “School personnel that meet the criteria under 1A are trying to get appointments on their own but I would estimate from the demands I know of from all schools, that we are still in need of about 3,700 people looking for shots.”
School officials are encouraging employees who qualify in 1A group to get vaccinated and are not mandating vaccinations for employees.
The state has allowed Geisinger to provide vaccinations “to 1B groups when we have unused vaccine or unexpected no shows or cancellations,” Geisinger spokesman Matt Mattei said.
“We are actively working with 1B groups to prepare for when these unplanned occurrences happen so we can use the vaccine and avoid it going to waste,” Mattei said. “In these specific instances, we will contact these 1B groups such as LIU18, to identify people who can receive the vaccine in a timely manner to avoid unnecessary wasted vaccine.”
Geisinger and LIU18 were able to get vaccines for 330 to 340 school employees “as a result of that opportunity and prior to the state shifting gears,” Grieco said.
LIU18 was “trying to coordinate a mass vaccination clinic for school personnel based on indications the state was going to move to Tier 1B” but is “in a holding pattern” because of the 1A expansion, Grieco said.
Barnes-Kasson County Hospital in Susquehanna County provided vaccines to more than 150 employees of the Susquehanna Community and Blue Ridge school districts earlier this month, according to Jan. 8 report in The Times-Tribune of Times-Shamrock Communications, which also is the parent company of The Citizens’ Voice.
The state asked Barnes-Kasson County Hospital to stop vaccinating people who were not health care workers or residents of nursing homes, the Jan. 8 report said. The hospital moved onto people in the 1B category because it was finished vaccinating health care workers and residents of long-term care homes.
Gov. Tom Wolf blamed the federal government for the lack of enough vaccines Tuesday and a backlog that worsened when he expanded 1A eligibility last week. Wolf estimated the state would need 8 million doses — two times 4 million people in phase 1A — to complete that first phase, and the state has received about 1.5 million vaccines.
“Teachers and all of the people in phase 1b play a vital role in our community and we do not want to diminish that in any way,” state health department spokeswoman Maggi Barton said Monday in an email, adding “we need all providers to remain vigilant and work to accommodate this first phase in the process in order to ensure those who are taking care of us and the most vulnerable have access to the vaccine.”
Many school districts in Luzerne County suspended in-person learning in October and November when the number of COVID-19 cases surged in the county. Many are now planning to resume in-person classes in February and March.
“We are extremely grateful to the IU and Geisinger affording the opportunity for vaccinations considering 1B has not been officially opened by the Commonwealth,” Lake-Lehman Superintendent James McGovern said Thursday in an email “In the meantime, we have encouraged our employees to take advantage of the expansion of 1A and independently secure appointments.”
McGovern said “the decision to vaccinate is a personal decision and will not be a requirement” but added the district “will assist any employee indicating interest in being vaccinated.” Lake-Lehman is the only district in the region that has not suspended in-person learning during the current school year.
The member school districts of LIU18 are Wilkes-Barre Area, Wyoming Valley West, Hanover Area, Greater Nanticoke Area, Northwest Area, Lake-Lehman, Dallas, Tunkhannock Area, Wyoming Area, Pittston Area, Crestwood and Hazleton Area.
LIU18 aggregated the vaccine demand for all the districts and for career tech, charter and private schools across the region, Grieco said. The agency is “prepared to coordinate with providers as soon as” the state department of health “gives the green light for Tier 1B,” Grieco added.
Pennsylvania’s 29 intermediate units operate as regional educational service agencies to provide management programs to schools and school districts.

 

1/22/2021
Nalepa sworn in to Nanticoke council

Bob Kalinowski - Citizens Voice

Nanticoke City has a new councilman.

City council recently appointed Joseph Nalepa to fill the seat of the late John Pietrzyk, who died Jan. 2.

Nalepa was sworn in Thursday by Magisterial District Judge Donald Whittaker.

Nalepa, 51, is a Coast Guard veteran who served 17 years in the Pennsylvania State Police.

“I would like to thank the members of council and the mayor for this opportunity to represent the city,” Nalepa said. “I look forward to working on the future endeavors of the city to make it a better place for all citizens.

 

1/16/2021
Area mayors discuss pandemic relief with Cartwright
jlynott@timesleader.com


Help could be on the way for Wilkes-Barre and other municipalities in Northeastern Pennsylvania struggling financially through the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
Mayors from Luzerne and Lackawanna counties held a virtual meeting with U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, to discuss the effects of the pandemic on their cities.
Cartwright expressed optimism relief would be forthcoming through President-elect Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Package. It includes $350 billion to state and local governments with budget shortfalls from revenue losses jeopardizing public services residents take for granted.
“They’re all at risk unless the federal government steps in,” Cartwright said.
Mayors George Brown of Wilkes-Barre, Paige Cognetti of Scranton, Kevin Coughlin of Nanticoke and Jeff Cusat of Hazleton participated in the hour-long discussion. Each one had the opportunity to highlight their particular concerns.
Brown brought up the city’s revenue loss, estimated to be between $3 million and $4 million for 2020 due to lower tax collections from businesses and the construction projects put on hold.
“He gets the message. He understands what municipalities are going through,” Brown said of Cartwright whose congressional district includes Wilkes-Barre.
Cartwright, who was reelected last year to his fifth term, added Brown raised a good point about how the proposed assistance would be delivered and whether there will be a population threshold requirement for direct aid, cities of 400,000 for example.
“I indicated the more we get directly to the cities, the happier I am,” Cartwright said.
The congressman said he “will be pushing hard to get the administration to make that number low” for direct grants rather than having the state distribute the funds.
The mayors began meeting regularly last year with the aim of sharing best practices to deal with issues common to their cities and speaking in a unified voice to state and federal lawmakers. Pittston Mayor Michael Lombardo was unable to attend Friday’s meeting.
Cartwright asked if the group could be expanded to include mayors from Honesdale, Hawley, Milford and other municipalities in his district.
“We’re happy to do that,” Brown said. “We’re looking at, as I said Mr. Cartwright, power in numbers.”

 

1/15/2021
Hanover Area, Greater Nanticoke Area schedule return of in-person classes 
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice

Hanover Area and Greater Nanticoke Area school districts are moving ahead with plans for in-person learning to return.
Both districts suspended in-person classes and transitioned to fully remote instruction after a surge of COVID-19 cases hit Luzerne County in October.
Greater Nanticoke Area on Feb. 1 will return to a hybrid schedule that mixes online and in-person instruction days for two groups of students at the Kennedy Early Childhood Center and Elementary Center, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said Thursday during a virtual school board meeting. The district will also start providing in-person learning on Feb. 1 for life-skills and autistic-support classes.
“The Educational Center and the high school will remain closed until further notice,” Grevera said. “They will continue in the virtual format.”

Hanover Area will start providing in-person instruction Feb. 16 for its highest need students, for autistic-support classrooms, emotional-support classrooms and life-skills classrooms, Superintendent Nathan Barrett said Thursday during a virtual community meeting.
On March 1, Hanover Area plans to return to a hybrid schedule that mixes online and in-person instruction days for elementary school students, starting with kindergarten.
“And then we’ll take that week by week, and we will continually on a week-by-week basis add another layer of students,” Barrett said, adding he wants to bring back in-person classes “slow and methodically” in order “to see if we remain healthy.”
In-person learning could return for Hanover Area High School students when COVID-19 transmission moves back into the moderate range, Barrett said.
The state had recommended all-virtual learning for schools in counties with substantial COVID-19 transmission for two consecutive weeks. But last week, the state changed its guidance to approve of in-person instruction for elementary-school students in counties with substantial transmission when the second semester starts Jan. 25.
The state guidance is not a mandate. A county has substantial transmission when the test positivity rate is at least 10% or the COVID-19 incidence rate is at least 100 cases per 100,000 residents over seven days.
Test positivity was 15.3% from Jan. 1 through Thursday in Luzerne County, down from 16.4%. The county incidence rate was 375.8 cases per 100,000 residents, down from 457.4.
Luzerne County moved from moderate to substantial transmission on Oct. 23. The incidence rate was 138.8 from Oct. 30 to Nov. 5 in Luzerne County, and test positivity was 7.9% then.

 

1/10/21
New Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge needed to unlock development, legislator says
Jennifer Learn-Andes jandes@timesleader.com


A new Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River will be necessary to open up thousands of acres in Nanticoke and Newport Township for new industrial development, said state Sen. John Yudichak.
“We know that’s going to be a tall order,” he said of the estimated $35 million to $40 million funding required for the project. “If we’re going to bring in industry and attract more jobs, we’re going to need a new bridge.”
He said it’s the same business model followed in the South Valley Parkway roadway project, which cost $90 million and provided direct Interstate 81 access to tracts that now house distribution facilities for Chewy.com, Adidas, Patagonia Inc., True Value and others collectively employing more than 4,000.
Privately funded construction along the South Valley Parkway is nearing a billion dollars, said Yudichak, I-Swoyersville.
“I’d say that’s a good return on the investment, and the next big infrastructure on the horizon to continue this great economic progress is the West Nanticoke Bridge,” said Yudichak, who has started discussing the plan with officials at all government levels. “It will get done.”
The estimated 5,000-acre swath he expects to attract thousands more jobs includes the 400-acre Whitney Point Industrial Park and also property owned by the nonprofit Earth Conservancy, he said. Some is abandoned coal mine land that must be reclaimed.
While there has been “very little activity” in the industrial park, he expects that to change now that other land closer to I-81 has been developed.
As possible proof of the site’s potential, Yudichak said he is “encouraged” that a few companies are evaluating the Newport/Nanticoke land for possible projects.
These companies have all indicated an upgraded bridge is “very important” as an access point for increased truck traffic, he said, declining to identify the interested companies due to non-disclosure agreements.
He described the site as the last large-scale industrial development area remaining on “the floor of the Wyoming Valley” with rail access.
Approximately $1 million was secured several years ago to bring rail access to the Whitney Point park, he said. A railroad spur was added off the Norfolk Southern main line that runs through Newport Township and Nanticoke, he said.
Last month, Gov. Tom Wolf awarded a $1.5 million state Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant for infrastructure upgrades and reclamation work at Whitney Point to help attract new industry, Yudichak said.
He credited Wolf for fulfilling a commitment to invest in rebuilding of the Newport Township area following the state’s closing of the State Correctional Institution at Retreat last June, which had 400 workers and was the township’s largest employer.
A portion of the newly state-awarded $1.5 million may be used to expand rail at the industrial park along a former coal rail bed that still exists, Yudichak said. The spur is operational but does not fully extend into the park, he said.
“The strength of the site is rail service,” he said. “That’s a very attractive feature for such a large tract of land that also is very close to Interstate 81.”
Buying time
As Yudichak works with others to seek funding for a new bridge, the existing county-owned span needs work.
Based on various issues found in an inspection, the bridge was downgraded to a 15-ton weight limit in May by the county and Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
County Engineer Lawrence Plesh has stressed the bridge meets safety requirements, but he cautioned additional weight limits may be necessary at some point if rehabilitation work is not completed.
The problem: the lowest cost for this rehabilitation is $2.67 million based on bids submitted by four companies in October.
Without an additional funding source, Plesh said the county won’t have enough money saved to complete this work for a year or two. And spending all that saved-up money on one span would prevent the county from addressing work needed on others in the county’s inventory of 300 bridges, he said.
The weight limit on the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge was partially necessary because bridge components known as bearings are not fully “moving with the bridge” to help it expand and contract as vehicles cross, which puts more stress on other components, Plesh said.
In addition, some of the pins that secure eye bars no longer meet the original design capacity due to rust and other conditions, he said. These pins must withstand force and cannot reach the stage where they snap, he said.
The rehabilitation would fix strip seals on top of the bearings and replace some of the worn pins, he said.
The problems with the 2,072-foot bridge, which links Nanticoke and Plymouth Township, were discovered during a state grant-funded study of the structure to identify needed rehabilitation work, he said.
Yudichak said he is working with the state transportation department and county officials on funding options and a plan to keep the bridge safe and operational as a replacement bridge is pursued.
The low bidder for the rehabilitation project has agreed to hold its bid until March, Plesh said.
Plesh said this project will only repair the bridge so it can remain at a 15-ton limit.
“It’s slowly deteriorating, and every season takes a little out of it,” Plesh said. “If we do absolutely nothing, the bridge will eventually be closed. If we do the rehab, maybe it can stay at 15 tons for 10 years instead of four or five.”
County Manager C. David Pedri said he is actively working to develop the best plan focusing on public safety and cost and emphasized county council must be involved.
“If there’s a way we can partner with the state to fix and keep the current bridge open and support new future growth, we’re interested in discussing it,” Pedri said.

1/8/2021

Local superintendents approach new state recommendations with caution
Mark Guydish - Times Leader

 

The state announced revised guidance for school districts that, theoretically, could mean some students will return to in-person lessons soon, but local superintendents reacted with some caution.

Previous guidance suggested districts in counties deemed by the state as at “substantial” risk of COVID-19 use remote-only learning. The new guidance suggests districts in substantial counties can consider hybrid learning — some students learning in schools while others learn online — for elementary school students. The state still recommends remote-only learning for middle schools and high schools.

Superintendents of local districts that are currently in remote-only mode said the change will be reviewed carefully, but that won’t be the only factor in weighing when students get back in their classrooms.

Wilkes-Barre Area Superintendent Brian Costello recently announced the district will stay in remote-only mode at least to the end of January. After the new guidance was announced Thursday, Costello said via email that decision still stands.

Noting the new recommendations were made “to encourage schools to consider returning some students to in-person instruction as local conditions permit,” Costello said the change “allows us to resume in-person instruction for elementary and other specific student groups starting February 1st,” depending on status of the pandemic at the time. “We will be providing more information for our district stakeholders over the next two weeks.”

Pittston Area Superintendent Kevin Booth pointed out that the new guidance don’t officially take effect until the second semester — Jan. 25, according to the state announcement — and that for his district the new semester starts February 1. “There will be several discussions between now and then,” he wrote.

Like Wilkes-Barre Area, Booth had previously announced Pittston Area would likely remain in remote-only mode through January.

Wyoming Area School Board had voted to remain in remote-only mode until at least Jan. 19th. Asked if the new guidance would change plans, Superintendent Janet Serino replied via email.

“I will be meeting with our board in an executive session to discuss the January 19th return date. There are current considerations that must be discussed to determine whether that date will remain or change. Even though state guidance is to be considered, every district is different and must assess what is best for all involved.”

Like Wyoming Area, Greater Nanticoke Area had announced the district will remain in remote-only mode until at least Jan. 19. Contacted Thursday, Superintendent Ron Grevera said via email that “the new state guidance increases the odds of bringing students back in hybrid fashion.”

Grevera noted the district had successfully started this school year in a model that had two groups of students taking turns coming to the schools, with Group A in schools Mondays and Tuesdays while Group B learned live on line, and the two groups switching Thursdays and Fridays. That model worked well for seven weeks, he said, until a surge in COVID-19 cases pushed Luzerne County into the “substantial” designation.

“The new guidance makes it easier for our district to reopen in the hybrid model because it allows us to open even if our county is in the substantial range of COVID-19 transmission,” Grevera wrote. ” There are many factors that places the county in a substantial range including nursing homes and prisons which have little to no effect on our local community.”

The state labels counties in three categories of transmission risk based on two factors: The number of new cases per 100,000 residents in the last seven days, and the percent of tests that come back positive. A county is deemed at low risk with fewer than 10 new cases per 100,000 residents and a positivity rate below 5%. It is moderate with 10 to 99 cases per 100,000 residents or 5% to less than 10% positivity, and substantial with 100 or more cases or positivity at or above 10%.

The recommendations remain the same for low and moderate counties under the new guidelines: Full in-person or hybrid learning in low counties and hybrid or full-remote learning for moderate counties. The original guidelines recommended remote-only learning in substantial counties; the new guidance suggests hybrid or full-remote for elementary schools but still recommends remote-only for higher grades.

“The research on offering in-person instruction during COVID-19 continues to emerge,” Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said in a media release announcing the change. “While it is impossible to eliminate the risk of disease transmission entirely within a school setting where community spread is present, recent studies have shown that when mitigation efforts, such as universal masking, physical distancing, and hand hygiene are followed, it may be safer for younger children, particularly elementary grade students, to return to in-person instruction.”

The guidance is not mandatory, with the final decision left up to the individual school districts.