2022 Nanticoke News
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One woman dead, three displaced by Nanticoke house fire Saturday night
Eric Mark – Citizens Voice
A woman died in a house fire that displaced three people in Nanticoke late Saturday night, according to the city fire department and the Luzerne County Coroner’s Office.
County Coroner Jill Matthews identified the deceased woman as Gloria Neikem, 68. An autopsy to determine the cause and manner of her death will be performed Monday, Matthews said.
According to a post on the Nanticoke Fire Department’s Facebook page:
Firefighters responded to the 200 block of East Union Street for a report of a residential structure fire with entrapment at 10:18 p.m. Saturday.
Fire crews encountered heavy fire and high heat in what appeared to be an illegal basement apartment. Firefighters found the victim in a breezeway which included a kitchen and bathroom area.
The fire was contained to the basement, though the first and second floors had heat and smoke damage.
The American Red Cross is assisting three people who were displaced by the fire, according to city firefighters.
A state police fire marshal was called to the scene, as was a Nanticoke city code official.
Book on Nanticoke history to be unveiled on Saturday with author signing event
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — For those who haven’t followed Judy Pernisek Minsavage’s historical columns about Nanticoke the past nine years, they will soon be able to see them all in a new book.
Minsavage, the editor of the Nanticoke Historical Society’s quarterly newsletter, is slated to host a book signing 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at the society’s offices next to the Mill Memorial Library at 495 E. Main St.
Proceeds from the 106-page book, titled “Under the Witness Tree,” benefit the historical society.
“I fell in love with Nanticoke right away,” said Minsavage, a Pittsburgh native who moved to the city in 1980. “I love the small-town feel where everyone knows everyone.”
Minsavage developed the title of her book around a landmark maple tree on East Main Street, near Chestnut Street, that was cut down in 2019. The tree stood there for much of Nanticoke’s development and existence, she said.
Minsavage said her book examines nearly 200 years worth of city history in columns and photos.
She said people have already pre-ordered copies for Christmas gifts.
“We are bringing the stories under one roof. We are putting them out there for our membership and residents,” Minsavage said. “The people who have read it so far said they learned things they didn’t know. There’s information about people who built the city, people who had stores, people who made a difference in the city. It gives you a history of how Nanticoke became a bustling city and who was involved. I’m totally honored to have been asked to do this and help out the historical society. They are such a dedicated group.”
For information, call 570-258-1367.
WWII veteran from Nanticoke remembers Pearl Harbor attack
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — Walter Sowa, 97, vividly remembers the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor that thrust the United States into World War II.
And he also vividly recalls the end of the war.
The plane, the Enola Gay, that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, left from the island he served on for months — and he frequently communicated with the crew prior to the historic bombing.
It might be 81 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor, but Sowa will never forget where he was when the nation came under attack.
“Hell yeah. I remember exactly where I was. I was a senior in Newport Twp. High School, Class of 1942,” Sowa recalled.
Sowa said he was doing a Christmas card sales project that brought him to the township’s Glen Lyon section.
“We listened to the radio and that was exactly the time they attacked Pearl Harbor,” Sowa said.
Sowa was 17-years-old at the time. He quickly went home to be with his parents, but still didn’t comprehend all that was happening.
“It didn’t hit home. Obviously it became great news instantaneously,” Sowa said. “The war was far away until they started saying we were going to be drafted. I knew I was going to have to serve eventually.”
Sowa said all the 18-year-olds he was friends with quickly got drafted into the military.
“My buddies were being taken away, the guys who accompanied me at school,” Sowa said.
Once he turned age 18, Sowa was drafted into the Army.
Sowa served nearly two years in Tinian Island, part of the Mariana Islands about 1,500 miles south of Japan. It was the launching pad for the United States B-29s that relentlessly bombarded Japan.
Days before the atomic bomb was dropped, a secretive crew of servicemen were shuffled into his radar repair unit on Tinian Island.
“They were kind of cocky,” Sowa recalled. “They said, ‘We are here to finish the war.’”
All they would say is they were sent to end the war. They wouldn’t disclose their mission.
“It just so happened that small group was the one assigned to drop the atomic bomb,” Sowa said.
Sowa said Dec. 7 is always a tough day to recall and he’ll honor the memory of the fallen today.
“The thought came to me today about the poor guys who got nailed that day. All those innocent people who got wiped out just like that,” Sowa said. “That’s what crossed my mind. It’s a sad day for many people.”
Nanticoke welcomes Santa Claus
NANTICOKE — As towns and cities across the valley take turns ushering in the holiday season in their own ways, Sunday was Nanticoke’s turn to celebrate Christmas — with a visit from Santa Claus himself.
Opting to leave the sleigh at home in favor of a Nanticoke City fire truck, Santa made his way down Green Street and around Patriot Square before posing for photos to highlight the city’s annual Santa Parade.
“The (Nanticoke City) council and I are thrilled, absolutely thrilled to see everyone,” said Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin, who led the parade on foot, candy in hand to give out to the large crowd.
The afternoon was complete with food and drink vendors, Christmas caroling, horse-drawn carriage rides and a huge helping of Christmas spirit.
The crowd of parade-goers started gathering on Patriot Square well before the parade’s 2 p.m. start time, everyone angling for the best spot to see Santa when he made his appearance.
Before long, the parade made its way to the Square, with the mayor, city council and many others waving and singing and honking their horns as they made their way into sight.
Santa brought up the rear, doing a lap around the Square before taking his place at the head of a long line of children waiting to take their picture with him, and to tell him what they want for Christmas this year.
Everly Makarczyk was one of the very first in line to see Santa and his elves, and her smile sitting on the big man’s lap told the whole story.
She didn’t have much to say after getting her picture done, but nodded enthusiastically when asked if she was excited about seeing Santa.
While Santa may have attracted quite a bit of attention, all over the Square were fun holiday activities for children and their parents to enjoy.
Arianna Hauer, for example, was very excited about one of the afternoon’s other popular stops.
“We went for a ride on the carriage,” said Hauer, referring to the horse-drawn carriage making its way around the Square, offering free rides. “It was awesome.”
Hauer said she was looking forward to seeing Santa but admitted that her favorite part of the Christmas season wasn’t something found on the square.
“I like comfy pajamas,” she said when asked about her favorite part of the holidays.
Elsewhere, children, teenagers and adults alike took their turns singing a variety of Christmas classics like “Jingle Bells,” Feliz Navidad” and “All I Want for Christmas is You.”
As Coughlin stood and enjoyed the merriment, he mentioned that his own favorite part of the holiday season is seeing the community gather on days like Sunday’s parade day.
“I love seeing everyone together, and everyone happy, especially the children,” Coughlin said. “Christmas is for the kids.”
Prushinski to lead Greater Nanticoke Area School Board for 5th straight year
Michael P Buffer – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board unanimously elected Tony Prushinski as the board president for the fifth consecutive year during a reorganization meeting Thursday.
The school board also voted to appoint Vito DeLuca to remain as school district solicitor at $26,000 a year. Ken James will be board vice president.
The board held its regular monthly meeting immediately after the reorganization meeting, and during the athletics committee report, James said a “Wall of Fame” ceremony will be held Dec. 22 for 16 former student athletes prior to the boys basketball game.
After the meeting, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said the high school swim team has been practicing at Wilkes-Barre Area High School in Plains Twp. and will have its competitions there.
In October, the Greater Nanticoke Area School Board voted to close the high school swimming pool after deciding that spending $816,830 to repair the heating system was too expensive.
The district in October was looking for another pool that the joint swim team with Hanover Area High School could use for the upcoming season.
Grevera also said the school district has started its $3.1 million stadium field project. The school board approved a $3.1 million bid with Field Turf to replace the grass field with artificial turf, install a drainage system and rubberized track and move a stormwater pipe away from the field.
“They worked on the pipe for drainage, and they are excavating the field now as we speak,” Grevera said.
The artificial turf will probably be installed in the late spring or early summer, Grevera said. The school district has $900,000 in state grant funding for the project.
Demolition begins on L.S. Bowl/Skate-A-Rama in Nanticoke
NANTICOKE — If you listened closely, you could hear the sound of roller skates on the wooden floor as skaters jammed to some iconic tunes, like A Taste of Honey’s “Boogie Oogie Oogie.”
And you could also hear the sounds of bowling balls headed down the alleys, smashing into the 10 pins at the other end.
And above it all, you could hear the sounds of laughter and joy as crowds gathered week after week into the L.S. Bowl/Skate-A-Rama in Nanticoke.
But instead, all the sounds that filled the once-popular hangout in Nanticoke for decades were replaced Tuesday by the noise of bulldozers, front-loaders and dump trucks from SRI Demolition of Dunmore.
The site of the building — which was originally a silk mill and occupied an entire city block — will soon be an empty lot. Gone will be the skating rink and bowling alley and all those wonderful sounds that filled so many nights where kids and adults flocked to have fun.
Sen. John Yudichak on Tuesday said the L.S. Bowl/Skate A Rama, as it was known locally, was a symbol of Nanticoke’s resiliency.
It will soon be a vacant lot, awaiting a developer with a new idea to bring some jobs to the city.
Demolition began Tuesday on the building that once was a factory and later transformed into a bowling alley and roller skating rink that attracted patrons of all ages for decades.
“It is hard to envision it today, but this site was once a bustling factory employing hundreds of Nanticoke residents,” Yudichak said of the former Duplan Silk Mill.
“When the factory closed, the building found new life as an entertainment venue that attracted bowling and skating enthusiasts from all over northeastern Pennsylvania.”
Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, will leave office Thursday. He said time and economic downturns were not kind to the L.S. Bowl/Skate A Rama, as it too was forced to close.
“For more than a decade, the building’s glory faded, and it became a burden to its neighbors and to the city of Nanticoke,” Yudichak said.
Yudichak said ever resilient, city leaders like Mayor Kevin Coughlin, never gave up on addressing the pressing public safety issues as the building fell further and further into disrepair.
“Working with the state legislative delegation and the Nanticoke Municipal Authority, Mayor Coughlin and members of City Council put together a plan to demolish this blighted property,” Yudichak said. “Together, we have secured nearly $1.1 million in state grants to fund the remediation of this site — ranging from LSA grants to Industrial Sites Reuse Program Grants.”
Yudichak commended the work of his colleague in the legislature, outgoing Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, and he applaud “the tenacity” of Mayor Coughlin and the city team including, City Manager Donna Wall and Nanticoke Municipal Authority Consultant Sarah Hailstone.
“Most of all, let me say thank you to the Nanticoke residents who are neighbors of the former L.S. Bowl/Skate A Rama who have been patient, but also very persistent in calling for action on this property,” Yudichak said. “And, today, thanks to Mayor Coughlin’s strong leadership — action is being delivered with the demolition of this building.”
Yudichak closed his speech by stating, “As Nanticoke and the South Valley continue to grow its economy with new jobs and new housing opportunities, I am certain City leaders will find an appropriate and productive use for this significant city property going toward.”
Mayor Coughlin said the building occupied an entire block on Washington Street, from Prospect Street to Walnut Street. He said the L.S. Bowl/Skate-a-Rama burned in October of 1991.
“This has been a long time coming,” Coughlin said. “There was a serious issue of safety because the building was deteriorating. We will now seek a developer for the property. We have already begun talking to some interested parties.”
A small crowd gathered for the news conference at the site. Nanticoke City Councilman Joseph Nalepa said he was a frequent customer of the complex in the mid 1980s.
“It was always hoppin’ here,” he said. “The skating rink was a hub of activity every weekend for nearly every teenager in town and from towns around. They even had a miniature golf course in there for a while.”
Nalepa said the owner back then, George Ellis, would also rent space for local rock and roll bands to practice.
“This was the place to go for a long time,” he said.
Demolition day arrives for longtime Nanticoke eyesore stretching a city block
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — Demolition is slated to begin Tuesday morning on a longtime eyesore that stretches a city block — a former industrial building that later housed L.S. Skate-A-Rama and L.S. Bowl-A-Rama.
City officials along with state Sen. John Yudichak, I-14, of Swoyersville, will gather at the intersection of Walnut and Washington streets at 10 a.m. for a ceremony to celebrate the start of demolition.
The city and its municipal authority, which owns the building, obtained more than $1 million in state grants to pay for the demolition, which is expected to take several weeks.
“When I first ran, the biggest thing I wanted to do was get that building torn down. Previous mayors tried to do it and we couldn’t get the funding for it,” Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin said Monday.
The building, the former Duplan Silk Mill, encompasses the entire length of Washington Street between Walnut and Prospect streets.
Crews from Dunmore-based SRI Demolition will start demolition on the Walnut Street side of the building, which was the entrance to the skating rink portion of the building, which has been abandoned since a massive fire ravaged the property in 1991.
The other side of the building, which housed the bowling alley, has been vacant and deteriorating since that business closed in 2007.
“It has been a total eyesore for the city,” Coughlin said. “I’m thrilled it’s coming down. It will be flattened and from there hopefully we’ll get someone to develop the land.”
Coughlin said it was a team effort to get to this day with city officials, state legislators and the municipal authority working together.
Sara Hailstone, a consultant for the General Municipal Authority of the City of Nanticoke, which purchased the property at a tax sale, said the building has been “an eyesore and challenge for the city for many years.”
“It’s been a long time coming and a lot of good people put work in on this project,” Hailstone said.
She said since the building is a structural hazard, environmental abatement, such as asbestos removal, will also be taking place at the same time as demolition, which will delay completion.
Soon enough, however, the land will be ready for development, she said.
“We do get calls occasionally. We will be looking for proposals and potential buyers,” Hailstone said. “It will be the board’s decision what’s the best use for the property.”
Off-duty cop breaks up armed robbery in Wilkes-Barre
James Halpin – Citizens Voice
An off-duty Nanticoke police officer interrupted a knife-point robbery in Wilkes-Barre on Tuesday morning and detained the suspect until city police arrived, according to court documents.
Kevin T. Shaver, 37, of 445 E. South St., Wilkes-Barre, was arrested after Detective Sgt. Chad Southern broke up a robbery in progress at the Paris Mart, 465 Hazle St., shortly after 8 a.m.
According to the complaint, Shaver, a regular at the convenience store, approached the counter with a Mountain Dew but did not have enough money to complete the purchase. Shaver then walked away and came back with a lollipop, which he bought.
Shaver moved away but then came back to the register a third time, telling the clerk to open the register, police said.
The clerk said she couldn’t open the register without a purchase and told him to leave, prompting Shaver to extend an arm covered by a jacket sleeve in her direction, saying he didn’t want to hurt her, according to police.
Southern, who was off duty, observed the interaction and then announced himself as a police officer.
Shaver removed a green folding knife from his pocket and surrendered, police said.
City police arrived to find Southern holding the knife and Shaver kneeling on the floor.
Police charged Shaver with attempted robbery, attempted terroristic threats, attempted theft, disorderly conduct and defiant trespassing.
Magisterial District Judge Rick Cronauer arraigned Shaver on the charges Tuesday afternoon and set bail at $20,000.
Shaver was being held at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility with a preliminary hearing scheduled for Dec. 6.
New Luzerne County infrastructure fund officially created
A new gambling-funded infrastructure loan to fund Luzerne County-owned projects is now completed. Unless county council changes plans, the top project to be funded is replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River.
A new gambling-funded infrastructure loan to fund Luzerne County-owned projects is now completed, officials said.
Under new state legislation, the county redevelopment authority must borrow to create the infrastructure fund and then repay the loan with $3 million provided annually for 25 years from the casino-gambling Local Share Account (LSA).
A county council majority had voted to provide a county loan guarantee, in the unlikely event casino revenue ceases, because the redevelopment authority agreed to limit use of the borrowed funds to county-owned infrastructure.
The redevelopment authority formally closed on the loan Monday.
With that step executed, the Commonwealth Financing Authority voted Tuesday to start releasing the annual $3 million in funds. The financing authority is a state entity that already approves other LSA awards that are not part of this special program.
State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, had pushed to create the fund, saying the county and its more regional projects had been shut out of past LSA awards that went primarily to municipalities.
Yudichak said “all hurdles have been cleared,” allowing the funding to benefit county taxpayers.
“The big news is that money is locked down. Now that the contract is executed, the money will come to the county,” Yudichak said. “For the next 25 years, that $3 million is going to be delivered for county projects.”
Yudichak said the consortium of banks involved in the transaction has done “all it can” to structure the loan in a way that the county is most likely to receive the up to $55 million originally projected.
Yudichak said Tuesday was potentially his last legislative session day before he leaves public office.
“To go out with that win is tremendous. I am overwhelmingly proud of being able to get that done,” Yudichak said.
He reiterated that county council must decide how the money will be spent.
As it stands, replacement of the county-owned Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River is stated as the main project to be funded, although county officials will have flexibility if they deem other projects a higher priority.
Several officials from Nanticoke, Newport Township and Plymouth Township have attended recent county meetings urging support for a new Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge.
In a release issued Tuesday evening, Yudichak thanked the county’s entire state delegation for assistance in helping to “deliver this critical program to the residents of Luzerne County.”
Earth Conservancy unveils plans for off-road park in the South Valley
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — The land reclamation organization Earth Conservancy is urging state officials to get behind a proposed off-highway-vehicle park between Nanticoke and Mocanaqua that could be a major boost to the area’s economy.
Earth Conservancy on Tuesday unveiled its feasibility study for the proposed park, which focused on 10,000 acres in the South Valley.
More than 4,400 acres of the land studied are state forestry land already being used illegally by all-terrain-vehicle riders, said Terry Ostrowski, president and CEO of Earth Conservancy.
“That’s a point of our report. Look, you essentially have a problem with trespassing. Why not turn the problem into an opportunity,” Ostrowski said. “A big part of the report is to convince the state that the land is suitable for ATVs.”
Ostrowski noted some of the land eyed for the park overlaps with land being sought to build a proposed $6 billion natural gas-to-gasoline plant in Newport Twp.
“It’s a wild card in the mix right now,” Ostrowski said.
However, Ostrowski thinks both projects could be accommodated near each other.
Earth Conservancy owns 2,500 of the acres being studied for the park.
The proposed park would include off-highway-vehicle trails, scenic look outs, rock climbing areas, camping sites, a gun range and more.
Teri Ooms, president and CEO of The Institute, a regional economic research and consulting group, said such off-highway-vehicle parks are a destination with a major economic impact on host communities.
Yvonne Bozinski, first woman elected to Nanticoke City Council, dies
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
Yvonne Bozinski, the first woman elected to city council in Nanticoke history and well-known civic leader, has died.
Bozinski was first elected in 1997 and served two terms in office. She also served the city in many volunteer roles.
Those who knew Bozinski said she was also an accomplished nurse who had a lifelong passion for performing in theater.
Nanticoke City Administrator Donna Wall, who has worked for the city since 1994, said Bozinski was a role model, mentor and a trailblazing woman.
“There couldn’t have been a better woman to serve as the first woman on council than her,” Wall said. “She was a classy woman.”
Bozinski, who died Monday at her Nanticoke home, was the aunt of Luzerne County Democratic Party Chairwoman Kathy Bozinski and sister of the late legendary Nanticoke basketball coach Sylvester “Stretch” Bozinski.
Bozinski obtained her bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of Pennsylvania and later earned her master’s degree in public administration from New York University. She served as a senior administrator for Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Bozinski served on the Luzerne County Commission for Women, the board of directors of the Wilkes-Barre YMCA and the Hospital and Education Authority
Alma Berlot, a lifelong friend who will deliver Bozinski’s eulogy at her funeral Monday, was devastated by the loss.
Berlot said the eulogy “will make you laugh and make you cry.”
“We had a wonderful life. Every day I spoke to her I said we should kneel down and thank almighty God for our lives,” Berlot said. “We were best friends since kindergarten. We never had an argument.”
Funeral services will begin at 10:30 a.m. Monday from Dinelli Family Funeral Home, 170 E. Broad St., Nanticoke, with a Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. at St. Faustina Kowalska Parish, 520 S. Hanover St., Nanticoke. Interment will follow in St. Mary’s Cemetery, Hanover Twp.
Friends may call for viewing and visitation hours from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the funeral home.
If you knew Yvonne, please take a moment to toast to her incredible personality and life. A Manhattan, with extra cherry juice, lovingly suggested.
Plans for Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge replacement still under discussion
Plans for the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge replacement project are still under discussion.
Council had voted to use the lion’s share of a new up-to-$55 million, casino-gambling funded infrastructure pot to replace the county-owned bridge over the Susquehanna River, with the understanding council could opt to alter the project list.
The matter is on Tuesday’s council work session agenda. County Councilman Kevin Lescavage sought the discussion to determine if his colleagues are interested in changing the scope to first address most other smaller county road and bridge repairs and hold off on replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke span.
However, Lescavage and two other council members — Brian Thornton and LeeAnn McDermott — said Friday they believe council discussion is now needed on the fund itself based on concerns they received from some members of the county administration following a committee meeting last week.
Lescavage, Thornton and McDermott said the concerns focused largely on whether future state legislators could someday change the legislation to reduce or eliminate annual casino funds earmarked to the infrastructure program. The three council members declined to identify the administrators, saying the concerns were brought to them confidentially and unsolicited with the intent of making sure there would be no future regrets.
Closing of the infrastructure loan is tentatively scheduled for Thursday.
The way the program is set up under new state legislation, the county redevelopment authority will borrow to create the fund of up to $55 million and repay the loan with $3 million provided annually for 25 years from the casino-gambling Local Share Account (LSA).
A council majority voted last month to adopt an ordinance formally accepting a county loan guarantee, in the unlikely event casino revenue ceases, because the authority agreed to limit use of the borrowed funds to county-owned infrastructure.
McDermott said she believes questions raised by administrators are valid and wants assurance future legislators won’t change course.
“I don’t want to tie the hands of future council members and taxpayers,” McDermott said.
Thornton and Lescavage said their initial reservations about providing a guarantee are now heightened as a result of questions that have raised.
In response, state Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, released a legal memorandum Saturday, which he said had been provided to county officials in April. It was produced by Attorney Merritt Reitzel, legal counsel to the Senate Community Economic and Recreational Committee chaired by Yudichak.
The memorandum said a contract — like the one tied to the new infrastructure fund and related borrowing — is controlled by the law that is in effect when it is executed. Any subsequent changes in the law cannot affect the contractual parties’ rights and duties to carry out that agreement, the memorandum said. This ensures continuity and predictability in business.
Act 24 of 2021, the legislation creating the infrastructure fund, says the $3 million must be paid annually for 25 years to fund the debt service once the state has been notified of the issuance of debt.
The state constitution says no law shall be passed “impairing the obligation of contracts,” the memorandum said.
“It is well settled that the contracts clauses of the U.S. and PA Constitutions protect contracts that were freely entered into by the parties and prohibit the legislature from enacting laws that retroactively impair contract rights,” the memorandum said.
“The suggestion that a future act of the legislature or a future action of a Governor can alter the conditions of Act 24 of 2021 related to the Luzerne County Infrastructure Program or sever established contracts under the law is, according to the legal counsel provided to me, factually incorrect and misleading,” Yudichak said.
Both the county engineer and leaders in municipalities reliant on the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge say its replacement is necessary.
The span was downgraded to a 15-ton weight limit in 2020 due to issues found in an inspection.
The county has no other funds set aside to cover this expense, and officials have said it would take at least a decade, possibly much longer, for the bridge to receive federal and state funding allocations based on the large number of infrastructure requests. The next inspection may result in lower weight limits and/or a future closure, the county administration has said.
Without the casino funding, county Engineer Lawrence Plesh said the only potential option to fund the span would be a new federal grant. The administration recently applied for a Bridge Investment Program grant through the Federal Highway Administration, which would require a county match, Plesh said. He is hoping to learn at the start of 2023 whether the application has been successful.
Replacement is necessary because there is no rehabilitation that can be completed to preserve the load-bearing capacity, Plesh said.
“You cannot piecemeal work on a bridge of that size and age. It’s a 100-year-old bridge, and you have to replace the whole thing at once,” he said.
Once design is underway, there could be options to salvage piers or scale back other work to reduce the replacement cost, he said.
“We don’t know that yet. It could drop to $27 million or less. We have to wait until we find out what we’re looking at,” Plesh said.
Replacement of the bridge must be a top priority because it dropped to a 15-ton limit and could be further reduced or shut down at any point if warranted based on an inspection, Plesh said.
Plesh said he wants to address the bridge first because it is the most expensive, high-priority project. Smaller roads and bridges can be tackled in phases, concentrating on the most deteriorated road sections and spans first and repairing the rest as funds become available, he said.
Plesh stressed his opinion on the need for a replacement bridge has nothing to do with a potential plan for Houston, Texas-based Nacero Inc. to build a $6 billion manufacturing facility in that area.
The bridge is “not going to get better” and is “aging fast,” he said.
“It is the right thing to do to get that completely redone and off the books,” Plesh said.
Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin said loss of the bridge would be “catastrophic for public safety” and cause “unthinkable conditions.”
South Valley community leaders also identified the bridge as essential for continued development, he said.
County officials prioritized a plan to replace the county-owned Firefighters’ Memorial Bridge linking West Pittston and Pittston, and citizens reliant on the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge deserve the same focus on their needs, Coughlin said.
Putting off the project will cause the cost to skyrocket, he said.
“Taxpayers in the South Valley want their public safety and economic development needs addressed by Luzerne County,” Coughlin said. “We need that bridge. We really do.”
Nanticoke Fire Chief Mark Boncal said the city is contracted by Plymouth Township to provide fire, rescue and emergency medical services to the township’s West Nanticoke section.
Without the county-owned bridge, his department’s response time to West Nanticoke likely would increase by six to eight minutes on a “good day” with nice weather and light traffic, he said. Responders would have to use Route 29 to cross the river and reach West Nanticoke, he said.
“We all know time is essential in a time of emergency, and that’s how much time would be wasted if we had to go on that other bridge all the time,” Boncal said. “The county bridge is a critical public safety project and should be at the top of the ladder.”
Former longtime Plymouth Township Supervisor Gale Conrad, who now works as a consultant, said township residents rely on the county bridge for public safety. When the bridge has periodically closed for minor repairs or an inspection over the years, she heard from many residents “afraid it wasn’t going to be opened back up.”
“The county already deemed it to be in such a degraded condition, so why wait? It’s a top priority,” Conrad said.
Newport Township Manager Joseph Hillan said a new bridge also would open up direct access to approximately 3,000 acres for commercial development, whether or not the Nacero project becomes a reality. This development would benefit the county tax base and economy, he said.
“It’s about the future development of Newport Township. Look what happened in Hanover Township once they had that infrastructure. It blossomed,” Hillan said.
HS stadium field project set to begin in 2 weeks
The $3.1M project is expected to take at least 3 months
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
The Greater Nanticoke Area School District plans to star its $3.1 million stadium field project in two weeks.
“It will be a three-month project.” Greater Nanticoke Area Superintendent Ronald Grevera said after Thursday’s school board meeting. “Could be longer based on the weather and things like that, as things come about.”
In April, the school board approved a $3.1 million bid with Field Turf to replace the grass field with artificial turf, install a drainage system and rubberized track and move a storm water pipe away from the field. The district has $900,000 in state grant funding for the project, and the project was initially expected to begin in late may.
“Permitting issues finally resolved. We got clearances. We got permits from the conservation district, and those water issues have been resolved.” Grevera said. “By next fall, we’ll have multiple sports on here. It’s not just for football. I want to stress that. It’s not just for five football games a year. You’re going to have boys and girls soccer on there. You’re going to have field hockey on there. So we’re going to have multiple sports. It’s a multiple-sports complex.”
The district hopes the project will be done in time for the spring track and field season, Grevera said.
“We’re probably one of the last ones that have a cinder track.” Grevera said.
Greater Nanticoke Area closes swimming pool, keeps program active
NANTICOKE — With the closing of the swimming pool and swimming program on the agenda, The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board saw a near-capacity crowd at Thursday’s monthly meeting.
But after one person asked about the pool, Superintendent Ron Grevera said that while the district can’t afford to replace a heating and dehumidifying unit needed to keep the pool open, he expects to keep the swim team active this season by finding and renting an alternative site.
“We don’t want to abandon you guys,” Grevera said, adding that he believes things can be worked out by the time the winter sports season begins in mid-November.
During the voting session, the board took action to back Grevera’s promise. First they removed an item that would have rescinded the hiring of a swimming coach, assistant coach and timekeeper. Then they amended a motion that would have closed both the pool and the program to only close the pool.
Combined, the two agenda changes mean that while the pool is closed, the swimming program remains active and staffed.
Grevera said the district had advertised for bids to replace the unit — which heats and dehumidifies the area around the pool, not the pool itself — that stopped working this summer, but got only one offer and it was at a cost of more than $800,000. After the meeting he said the district had expected it to be about $300,000 or less, in line with a recently replaced heating and ventilation unit in another building.
But the cost was so much higher because the broken unit is largely inaccessible. Grevera said it apparently was installed decades ago, then the building erected around it. Much of the cost would come from regaining access to the space and making it accessible for future work after a new unit was installed.
The district has about $3 million in a capital fund, but that’s earmarked for extensive work being done on the stadium, which could be done in time for spring sports. And the board does not want to borrow more money because the tax burden for many residents is heavy enough, Grevera said.
In a bit of deja vu, closing the pool impacts swimmers from two districts. About four years ago, Hanover Area developed a problem with its pool that the district couldn’t afford to fix, and it forged an agreement with Greater Nanticoke Area to have students from both districts compete in the Nanticoke program. Grevera said Hanover Area has been open to possibly sharing some costs if Nanticoke finds an alternate site, which likely will require rental fees and additional transportation costs to get students to and from the rented pool.
The board also:
• Appointed Deanna Thomas as speech therapist, Linda Moran as lead/head cook, Chris McGavin as boys basketball assistant IV, Jennifer Edwards as cafeteria worker for 5.8 hours per day retroactive to Sept. 19.
• Accepted the resignation of instructional aide Barbara Fletcher, and voted to post the position as available.
• Increased the hours for cafeteria worker Alice Jones from 4 hours to 5.8 hours per day.
• Agreed to post an opening for after school extra help in K-8 math and reading at $35 per hour.
Nanticoke native takes command of USS Ronald Reagan while deployed to Sea of Japan
A Nanticoke man assumed command of the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan last week, days after the warship was deployed to the Sea of Japan in response to a flurry of ballistic missile launches by North Korea.
Navy Capt. Daryle Cardone, a 1989 graduate of Greater Nanticoke Area High School, said he and the approximately 5,000 military personnel he’s in charge of aboard the ship are well prepared to keep the world safe.
“We are on call 24/7 out here to provide the president and the Department of Defense senior leadership with options,” Cardone said in a phone call Friday night from aboard the aircraft carrier. “It’s a challenging mission but it’s one we are well trained for. We execute with precision every day.”
Cardone, 50, made the phone call early Saturday morning in his current time zone after a day of joint military exercises with allies South Korea and Japan in response to recent aggression by North Korea.
The USS Ronald Reagan, which is home-ported in Yokosuka, Japan, is the only aircraft carrier deployed out of the 11 in the Navy’s fleet.
Cardone credits his Northeast Pennsylvania upbringing for helping him achieve success in the Navy.
“The people I grew up with and the town I lived in were the foundations to who I am as a person,” Cardone said. “I just would like to say thank you to the people of the area for the support of all our service members.”
Cardone had been the prospective commanding officer of the USS Ronald Reagan since February, having gone through extensive training before joining the ship in Japan in August. He took command at sea on Oct. 7.
Cardone has been a leader on ships before, but nothing this big. He was commanding officer of the USS Lewis B. Puller for 18 months and the executive officer of the USS George Washington for 22 months.
Before that, he was a fighter pilot who took part in 120 combat missions, including during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In all, he has participated in 2,800 flight hours and made 700 aircraft carrier landings.
While he’s risen in the ranks to near the top of the Navy, the military wasn’t always in Cardone’s plans.
Growing up in Nanticoke as a big fan of the band Van Halen, he dreamed of touring the world as a rock star.
In his 27 years in the Navy, he’s toured the world, but never lived his rock star dreams. “There is still a hope for that after the Navy,” Cardone joked.
After graduating from Greater Nanticoke Area High School, Cardone attended Wilkes University, where he obtained a degree in music education in hopes of pursuing his rock star ambitions.
When the musician life didn’t pan out, he sought jobs with the FBI and Secret Service, but there was a government hiring freeze at the time. He then applied for and was accepted into the Navy’s elite Officer Candidate School.
Cardone was commissioned as a naval officer in September 1995, following in the footsteps of his father, Marty, who was an Army staff sergeant in the Korean War era and later a business teacher at Northwest Area High School. His late mother, Lucy, was a nurse. In 1960 they established Marty’s Pizza, which first opened in West Nanticoke, later moving to its current location on East Broad Street in Nanticoke.
During Friday’s phone call, Nanticoke pizza was the first thing Cardone mentioned, though he admitted he wasn’t very familiar with others besides Marty’s, which was sold to another family in 2016.
“It’s hard to rank the others because I never got to eat them,” Cardone said. “I spent a ton of time there since I was a little kid — making pizza boxes, working the soda machine, as a cashier, cutting pizza. Not long after that, I was making pizzas myself.”
Cardone mentioned another Northeast Pennsylvania connection on Friday, saying he ran into a sailor from the region on the ship.
“His last name was Jarmiolowski. Immediately, in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘You must be from Northeastern Pennsylvania.’ I said, ‘Pleased to meet you. Where are you from?’ He said, ‘Northeastern Pennsylvania, sir!’ I’m like, ‘Me too. Whereabouts?’ He said, ‘I’m from Mountain Top.’ I said, ‘I grew up in Nanticoke, very close by.’”
Cardone said he mentioned his Nanticoke roots in his change-of-command speech aboard the USS Ronald Reagan, speaking about his many athletic coaches, including former Nanticoke teacher and basketball coach James Carey.
He said they motivated him and taught him about competition.
“The most important thing I learned is the competition between who I am and who I am capable of being,” Cardone said.
USS Ronald Reagan
MISSION: The flagship of Carrier Strike Group 5, the USS Ronald Reagan provides a combat-ready force that protects and defends the United States and supports alliances, partnerships and collective maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
• Commander: Nanticoke native Capt. Daryle Cardone
• Personnel: 6,075 enlisted, 200 officers
• Aircraft: 65, including 52 fighter jets
• Length: 1,092 feet
• Built: Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Virginia
• Christened: March 4, 2001 by Nancy Reagan
• Commissioning date: July 12, 2003
• Original home port: San Diego, California
• New home port: Yokosuka, Japan (Oct. 2015)
• Nickname: Gipper
• Motto: Peace Through Strength
• On Twitter: @Gipper_76
• Current mission: Deployed to the Sea of Japan
Sources: U.S. Navy, Naval Vessel Register, Daryle Cardone
Popular kielbasa store damaged by fire in Nanticoke
NANTICOKE — Mark Tarnowski hopes to be back in business sooner than later after a fire severely damaged his store and his daughter’s hair salon business early Wednesday morning.
If the building at 14 E. Union St. can’t be salvaged, Tarnowski said he’ll have his food truck parked in the driveway selling his popular and well-enjoyed kielbasa.
“Honestly, I doin’t know what we’re going to do,” Tarnowski said while standing in front of his business with his family. “If we can’t get up and running, I’ll have the food truck parked here.”
Nanticoke City firefighters along with firefighters from neighboring municipalities responded to the building at about 2:30 a.m. Flames spread to an adjacent vacant house at 20-22 E. Union St. and heat damaged the exterior siding at 28 E. Union St., which is occupied.
Tarnowski said he has been in business at the East Union Street location for 15 years as his family has been making kielbasa since the 1940s.
Tarnowski said they were smoking kielbasa for their stand at the Bloomsburg Fair and his son, Erik, went to the store to turn off the smoker at 2:30 a.m.
“We were making kielbasa sticks last night, cleaned up, did the dishes and set the alarm to turn off the smoker,” Tarnowski said. “When my son went to check on the smoker, he found it collapsed. It just started to spread from there.”
No injuries were reported.
Tarnowski makes kielbasa in the rear of the building as his daughter has a hair salon business in front.
Firefighters from Hanover Township, Newport Township, Plymouth, Kingston and Avoca assisted Nanticoke City firefighters.
Greater Nanticoke Area approves safety upgrades, adjusts contracts
NANTICOKE — The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board held a relatively quick meeting that included votes on three Memoranda of Understanding with unions, two of which passed and one that was unanimously rejected by the six present members.
One MOU with the teacher union allows the district to hire a part-time speech therapist this year without creating a fourth full-time position, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said. The move is intended to take care of an increase in need that doesn’t require a full-time therapist at this point and may be temporary.
A second MOU with the support staff union increased total salary for a lead/head cook in the cafeteria to $15. Grevera said the district has had a “very difficult time” getting lead cafeteria workers.
The rejected MOU was also with the support staff union, and would have created the position of a personal care aide. The rejection of that motion means the district will bring in a nurse from an outside agency as needed, Grevera said.
The board approved a contract with Hillman Security & Fire Technologies at a cost of $3,555 to upgrade school cameras. Grevera said they will be set up to work together better, increasing the ability to track where visitors may go. A separate proposal for high school door improvements got initial approval with the board hiring AE7 to prepare bids for the job at a cost of $17,400. Grevera said some of the doors are half-a-century old and the replacements will be more energy efficient and provide increased safety.
The board also appointed coaches for the current school year: Carmelo Pioquinto for boys soccer assistant I, Terry Schnee for swimming assistant I, Andy Kozlofski for girls volleyball assistant II, Scott Dennis for football assistant II, Taylor Zawierucha for color guard instructor assistant I, and Debra Gavin, James Gavin and Andrew Kozlofski as junior high volleyball coaches paid a split salary.
The board also:
• Approved a deal with Hummer Turfgrass Systems, Inc. to perform clean-up work and laser grading of the baseball field at a cost of $15,625.
• Approved 13 change orders for the bypass and track and field project totalling $21,200. The work was required to get permits from the Conservation District.
• Approved a deal to have the firm of Conrad Siegel complete Affordable Care Act reporting at a cost of $6,850.
• Appointed Mandy Gibson as elementary teacher, Michelle Rondon as cleaner, Jennifer Barrall as math teacher for grades 7-12, Ingrid Duran as cafeteria worker and James Nardone as private contractor for home school visitor.
At the end of the meeting, Jamie Walsh, who does not live in the district and resides in the Lake-Lehman School District, pointed out the district failed to post the agenda at least 24 hours before the meeting as required under a recent change in state law. Grevera said that the district routinely posts the agenda more than the minimum 24 hours in advance, and praised the secretary who usually posts it, but conceded the district had “dropped the ball” for this meeting.
Gov. Wolf touts apprenticeship model at IBEW facility in Nanticoke
NANTICOKE — Gov. Tom Wolf Thursday said he truly believes that Pennsylvanians are the hardest workers around, and they deserve fair, equitable access to high-quality jobs, family-sustaining wages, and the support that will allow them to thrive in their chosen field.
During a tour of IBEW Local 163’s state-of-the-art training facility in Nanticoke, Gov. Wolf lauded the work of union leaders in expanding their registered apprenticeship program for electrical workers and touted the value of the proven “earn-while-you-learn” model that allows them to earn a paycheck while learning a skilled trade.
And, Wolf said, participants of the program graduate with zero student debt.
In June, Local 163 was awarded $446,247 through Gov. Wolf’s PAsmart initiative, which aims to increase the number of registered apprenticeship programs in non-traditional industries, as well as to reach under-served populations, such as women and minorities.
“While apprenticeships have a strong track record of success in advancing the careers of workers, they have traditionally lagged behind in serving under-represented populations and supporting diversity, equity and inclusion,” Wolf said. “On average, apprentices earn a starting wage of $70,000 per year after graduation, putting them on track to earn $300,000 more over their careers, compared to workers who don’t graduate from an apprenticeship program.”
Wolf was joined by several members of IBEW Local 163, as well as Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-Newport Township, Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, and Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin.
“I appreciate Gov. Tom Wolf coming to the IBEW 163 Apprenticeship Training Center in Nanticoke today to invest more than $400,000 in state funding for the best value in education and training in Pennsylvania — union apprenticeship programs that produce safe, quality workers to build the infrastructure that builds the Pennsylvania economy,” Yudichak said.
Wolf’s PA Statewide Movement for Accountability, Readiness and Training (PAsmart) framework is designed to better align education, workforce and economic development initiatives and funding.
With this funding, IBEW Local 163 will serve a total of 96 individuals through its five-year apprenticeship program — 40 of whom will be from under-represented populations across Bradford, Luzerne, Sullivan and Wyoming counties.
“IBEW Local 163 JATC is excited to partner with the PAsmart registered apprenticeships program,” said Local 163’s training director, John Nadolny, who took Wolf on a tour of the facility, a former elementary school. “With the help of Gov. Wolf and the Apprenticeship and Training Office, it is now possible to expand our program by reaching out to under-served populations, minorities, women and veterans.”
Nadolny said this outreach will provide excellent opportunities for new apprentices to earn while they learn.
“After completion of the apprenticeship, graduates will have marketable skills as electricians in this high demand field, earn family-sustaining wages and receive college credit,” Nadolny said. “We are thankful for this opportunity to help those interested in learning a skilled trade.”
Earlier this week, Wolf was in Washington, D.C. with President Joe Biden and IBEW members to celebrate the Inflation Reduction Act, which the governor said will make historic investments to lower prescription drug costs, health care costs, and energy costs for Americans.
Since 2018, Wolf said he has invested more than $35 million in registered apprenticeship programs through the Apprenticeship & Training Office (ATO) — housed within the Department of Labor & Industry — to strengthen Pennsylvania’s workforce.
In this year’s budget alone, Wolf said he helped to secure a total of $7.5 million in funding for apprenticeship training — a $500,000 increase over the prior year’s budget. Wolf said this continues his fulfillment of his promise to create good jobs that pay well when he first took office in 2015.
Walk of Honor at LCCC honors lives lost on 9/11
NANTICOKE — The wind flapping the flags above, behind and around state Sen. John Yudichak stirred a childhood memory.
The flags flew high at the start of the ceremony Friday to mark the 20th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001 at the Walk of Honor Memorial on the campus of Luzerne County Community College. Even when the Nanticoke Fire Department lowered one to half staff to honor those killed in the terrorist attacks two decades ago, it fluttered in the wind.
“I can remember as a boy, my mother telling me when we had a warm gusty wind, just like we knew on this September day, that wind was produced by the wings of angels,” Yudichak told the hundred or so firefighters, students, guests and school personnel gathered for the event. “I’d like to think that on today, that the wings of the angels of nearly 3,000 Americans are pushing that wind to remind us never forget.”
For nearly all of the past 10 years, with last year the exception because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the school has kept the lives of those lost alive in memory, honoring the wish of the mother whose son was among the 343 New York City firefighters who responded to the World Trade Center and perished when the twin towers collapsed.
Yudichak recalled how he and LCCC President Thomas Leary met the late Phyllis Carlo of Wanamie and worked with her to create the Walk of Honor at the school’s Public Safety Training Institute as a legacy to her son, firefighter Michael Scott Carlo, and first responders.
“Phyllis Carlo, God Bless you for teaching us that although tragedy may cast a long shadow, hope will always draw us to brighter days and hope will always cast a longer shadow that evil,” Yudichak said.
Leary found the ceremony to be a teaching moment, especially for the thousands of students who were either not born yet or too young to remember 9/11.
Back then Americans united and cared for one another, Leary said. That same unity is needed as the country faces challenges of equal or greater importance than the aftermath of 9/11, he said.
“The time certainly demands these qualities to be at the forefront of our approach in finding solutions to our concerns and with it, the promise of a bright future. Our next generation deserves the American Promise,” Leary said.
At 44, Mark Mackachinas of Mountain Top was one of the older students in LCCC’s emergency medical services program where he’s studying to be a paramedic. When he’s not attending classes he’s Pennsylvania State Police Sgt. Mackachinas and station commander of Troop P in Shickshinny.
Mackachinas was with the state police for two years before 9/11 and was called to duty that day to work two-person patrols in Bradford County.
“In the back of our minds we were wondering what’s going to happen next, what could we do to prevent something from happening and how can we honor the memories of everybody that just tragically fell to their death,” Mackachinas said.
Mackachinas said he’ll still be a young man when he retires and is pursuing paramedic training so he can work in a field that will keep his interest. He worked with Exeter Borough Ambulance as a teenager growing up.
Knowing his job as a state trooper and his second career as a paramedic come with risks, possibly like those faced by the first responders to 9/11, Mackachinas said neither he nor his classmates have second thoughts.
“I would say with a lot of the guys, obviously, you’re stepping up to the call,” Mackachinas said. “Every day you see somebody that’s at their worst. They’re calling you where they need help and you’re going to put that foot forward.”
LCCC cuts ribbon on new, less awkward ‘steps to your success’
NANTICOKE — Luzerne County Community College President Thomas Leary quipped about giving staff the day off, grappled with a cranky megaphone, and made earnest comments about the college being a place where students climb the steps to dreams. College mascot Blaze the horse hoof-bumped anyone who wanted to celebrate. And yes, one person who climbed the new campus steps after a ribbon-cutting Friday pulled a “Rocky” at the top.
Leary noted that for decades students, visitors and staff had to deal with the awkward steps from a main parking lot up to the campus near the Admissions Center building. The over-long steps seemed more suitable for a mule ride than a human gait: A bit too short to comfortably take two paces on each step, yet a bit too long for most to make broad single strides from step to step. The old arrangement was usually a “love it or hate it” part of the campus, but rarely instilled a “meh” response.
For some on the campus for the first time this semester, the new arrangement — several sets of steps interrupted by longer concrete “landings” that didn’t disrupt the typical stride — evoked just such a response. “It’s just steps,” Alex Parry said, having no reference to what the old steps were like because he’s only been attending the college for two weeks.
“So far so good,” one woman said as she strode up the steps before the crowd gathered for the ribbon cutting.
Blaze the bipedal horse arrived a bit early and gave the steps two hooves up, then offered high-fives, fist bumps and at least one hug to the gathering crowd as people descended from the campus to the bottom step, where the ribbon cutting took place.
Leary was among the last to arrive, taking an offered megaphone and joking that he had tried it out at home the night before. “I was on the street saying ‘nothing to see here’,” he quipped. He also told the crowd, many of them staff, that there would be drinks and cake in the administration building after the ribbon cutting, then added “and dancing, and music, and then take the rest of the day off.” Almost as an aside, he added “I’m going to pay for that.”
But once everyone was gathered Leary got serious, noting he arrived in 1974, the first year the college had moved from its original location in downtown Wilkes-Barre. The campus lacked landscaping, trees or much of any embellishments beyond eight boxy buildings. He became president in 2007, and the campus has seen substantial expansion and improvements during his tenure.
Replacement of the fabled steps was done this summer because the old steps had suffered too much wear and tear from constant exposure to the weather. But the end of an era was marked with a sort of open house in June that drew a lot of alumni who decided they wanted to climb them one last time before demolition began.
Leary thanked the faculty and staff, present and not, for helping LCCC become “the most important educational institution in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” then made the analogy of the physical steps rising to the campus from a main parking lot as the academic steps students climb “to your success.”
“Each of you plays such an important roll in climbing those steps,” he said. “We are re-committing ourselves to serve the future.”
Valley with a Heart Benefits holds annual fundraiser
NANTICOKE — It’s been said for years that the Wyoming Valley is the “Valley with a Heart,” and on Sunday, a big crowd came together to demonstrate just how strong that heart beats.
A benefit motorcycle ride and picnic held by the aptly-named Valley With a Heart Benefits group served as both a fun day of music and merriment for the community, and as a way to raise money for sick children around Luzerne County, including 4-year-old Paige Harman and 7-year-old Jocelyn Laurel.
Jocelyn’s father, Carlos, was immensely grateful to see everyone when he took to the main stage to share a few words, with his daughter standing beside him and even offering her own “hello” to the crowd.
“It’s amazing to see everyone gathered together,” he said. “Childhood cancer is not rare, and it’s not fair.”
Proceeds generated from the picnic’s admission fee, along with the fee for riders to take part and funds from a basket raffle, food and several games, will all go toward helping children such as Jocelyn and their families.
“This is why we do what we do,” said John Davis, from Valley with a Heart Benefits, as Jocelyn and her father left the stage.
Valley with a Heart Benefits has been putting on this annual ride and picnic for 21 years now, all in the name of helping sick children.
“Every penny we raise helps these kids right here in Luzerne County,” said Davis. “This is a labor of love for us.”
The riders departed St. Faustina Grove at about 11 a.m., and what was already a big crowd grew much larger upon their arrival back at the Grove about an hour later. There were about 300 riders participating in total, according to Davis.
Many admirers, friends and family members lined up to greet the riders as they returned from their trip.
“I love the bikes,” said Arianna Hauer, who watched the riders along with her mother, Katie. Arianna pointed out a few of her favorite bikes as they rode past.
“It’s good to see everyone out for a good cause, everyone coming together,” Katie Hauer said. “It’s the perfect way to end the summer.”
Once the ride was complete, the music picked up on the main stage with Sister Esther (the picnic had two stages with live music playing all day long) and the picnic kicked into high gear.
Fresh off their bikes, Duane and Mary Eileen Lindbuchler were looking forward to the rest of their afternoon.
“I’m looking to get a few things to eat,” Duane said.
The Lindbuchlers have been participating in the ride for a “few years” now.
“We do it for the kids, and we love the camaraderie here,” Mary Eileen said.
Outside of the music, the picnic also featured a handful of craft vendors, a bounce house and other fun activities for the children and good food at every turn, including “MeeSo Corny,” selling locally-grown corn with their own special seasoning.
“We’ve been coming here for 15 years, and we’ll never stop,” said Barbara Kobusky. “This benefit just means the world to everybody. … They [Valley With a Heart Benefits] do great things.”
Luzerne County committee discusses Nanticoke/West Nanticoke bridge plans
Replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River came up during Luzerne County Council’s Strategic Initiatives Committee meeting this week.
Council has identified the county-owned bridge as the highest-priority project to be completed with infrastructure funding the county is slated to receive from casino gambling revenue, although the final decision is subject to change and up to council.
Up to $55 million will be available for county-owned projects, although the net proceeds will depend on interest rates and other costs associated with the borrowing required to yield the up-front cash. A possible receipt around $51 million has been cited at prior council meetings due to rising interest rates.
The strategic committee received a list of prioritized projects totaling $54.9 million that has been compiled by the county engineer’s office.
Construction of a new Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge linking Nanticoke and Plymouth Township topped the list, at an estimated $51 million.
The other proposed allocations, in order of priority, would address the most deteriorated sections of the following roadways, the administration said:
• Main Road in Hunlock and Ross townships, $1 million
• Lower Demunds Road and Upper Demunds Road in Dallas and Franklin townships, $650,000
• Ransom Road in Dallas and Franklin townships, $500,000
• Church Road in Wright Township, $500,000
• Oak Hill Road in Wright Township, $500,000
• Crestwood Drive in Wright Township, $250,000
• Old Airport Road in Butler Township, $250,000
• Hanover Street in Hanover Township, $250,000
Strategic committee Chairman Gregory Wolovich Jr. asked if the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge must be included.
Andrew Reilly, executive director of the county community development office and redevelopment authority, said the decision is still up to council.
Councilman Kevin Lescavage said he fully supports constructing a new Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge if Houston, Texas-based Nacero Inc. is committed to building a $6 billion manufacturing facility in that area.
However, he questioned the advantage of investing $51 million on the bridge if the Nacero project is not going to materialize, saying council may consider reconfiguring the priority list.
The span was downgraded to a 15-ton weight limit in 2020 due to issues found in an inspection. The county has no funds set aside to cover this expense, and officials have said it would take at least a decade, possibly much longer, for the bridge to receive federal and state funding allocations based on the large number of infrastructure requests. The next inspection may result in lower weight limits and/or a future closure, the county administration has said.
Lescavage said the bridge may last many years at a reduced weight limit for cars only.
The administration said a feasibility study of the bridge must be performed.
Councilman Stephen J. Urban said he has been researching the Nacero project and is “skeptical” it will become a reality due to the cost and regulatory hurdles.
Heralded as the single largest economic investment in county history, the facility near the bridge in Newport Township would create create thousands of jobs and produce clean gasoline made from natural gas and renewable natural gas — not crude oil, officials have said.
“We don’t have any sense of security that this project is going to come to fruition. If it does, it may be five, 10, 12 or 15 years from now,” Urban said.
Urban suggested a progress briefing for council from Nacero, saying the company does not have to reveal sensitive corporate information.
He also questioned who will serve as the “political point person” on the project after state Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, leaves office later this year. Yudichak decided earlier this year he will not seek reelection to the state senate due to legislative boundary changes impacting the 14th Senatorial District.
Yudichak, who was not in attendance at the strategic committee meeting, said Thursday that the lion’s share of the South Valley area will be in the 2oth Senatorial District currently held by state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township. Baker is running for reelection against Jaclyn Baker, D-Liberty Township, Susquehanna County, in the November general election.
Yudichak said Baker has been very supportive of the infrastructure program and economic development, and he is confident she will be assuming a leadership liaison role on matters involving the Nacero project.
Regarding the project, Yudichak said there is “a lot of work being done” to advance Nacero’s plans. The company is engaged with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and has started discussions with regulators, he said.
There also was recent discussion about the possibility of seeking a portion of funding that will be available for projects on abandoned mine land to help fund site preparation, he said.
“I’m in constant contact with Nacero, and they are also communicating with municipal and community leaders,” Yudichak said.
A project of this scope is complicated, he said.
“It’s clearly on the right path,” Yudichak said.
While a new Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge would help the Nacero project, Yudichak reiterated replacement of the span must be completed regardless.
The senator said there are several other economic development projects underway in that area, and the bridge also is a crucial connection for emergency services and citizen access to a grocery store, medical services, businesses and the Luzerne County Community College.
He cited a figure of 25,000 to 30,000 people living and working in that part of the county and said residents in the Back Mountain also rely on the bridge for access.
“Many would be dramatically impacted if that bridge closed,” he said.
The infrastructure fund is possible because new state legislation customized solely for the county redirects $3 million annually for 25 years from the casino-gambling Local Share Account (LSA) to create the pot of money. The way it is set up, the county Redevelopment Authority must borrow to create the fund and then repay the debt using the annual $3 million LSA earmark. Council agreed to guarantee the loan because the funding will be used for county-owned projects.
Greater Nanticoke Area hires two new school police officers
Mark Guydish, - Times Leader.
NANTICOKE — The Greater Nanticoke Area monthly School Board meeting Thursday opened with a noticeable absence: Superintendent Ron Grevera's chair was empty, though a laptop computer sat open with the screen facing the chair. Board Vice-President Ken James announced that Grevera was attending remotely while staying in COVID-19 isolation.
James headed the meeting because Board President Tony Prushinski was absent, along with Mark O'Connor. Grevera noted that attending remotely maintained his record of attending every School Board meeting, then gave a quick report, noting the first day of School will be Sept. 6, and that kindergarten students and their families will spend the first three days getting familiar with the school and teachers, then start the first kindergarten class on Sept. 9.
Grevera also said teachers will spend the first two days of September getting to know new safety protocols and undergoing some "trauma-informed training.
And Grevera noted that, with the board voting to hire two new school officers that evening, the district will have three full-time officers on the campus every day. During the voting session, the board voted unanimously to hire Brian Stashak and Christopher Wegrzynowicz as school police officers at $46,000 each for the 2022-23 school year, and rescinded the contract with Joseph Nalepa as school police officer. After the meeting Grevera said the new hires both were trained at the Pennsylvania State Police Academy.
The board also voted to raise the salaries of ticket collectors, maintenance workers for football and basketball events, the football chain crew and game announcers. All of them will get $10 increases. Grevera said the salaries vary with the different jobs, and that they range from $35 to $75. The board also voted to raise the pay for constables from $60 to $75.
Board Member Mark Cardone opened his report on the Athletic Committee agenda by noting the district will have women's tennis for the first time this fall. The district is running the program as a co-op with Hanover Area School District.
In other business, the board:
—Appointed Lauren Medvec as English as Second Language Teacher, Theresa Zaykoski as elementary teacher, Michael Zubritski to the co-curricular post of senior advisor, Kristy Guastella as cyber teacher, Karissa Kingsbury as high school chemistry teacher, Ingrid Duran-Reyes as cafeteria worker, Joshua Dries as custodian, and Maurice Perkins as crossing guard and as cleaner.
—Accepted the resignations of paraprofessional aide Renee Amos and cafeteria worker Ann Jaskulski.
—Approved a deal with Clarks Service Group to repair the walk-in cooler condensing unit at the Educational Center Cafeteria at a cost of $8,918.
PennDOT to preview plans for Sans Souci reconstruction in Hanover Twp.
PennDOT officials will be hosting an open house later this month regarding a proposed reconstruction of the Sans Souci Parkway in Hanover Township set to start in 2025.
Plans will be displayed for public viewing from 6-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 16 in the Hanover Area Junior/Senior High School gym, 1600 Sans Souci Parkway.
An online display of the plans is available now, and will be visible to the public until Aug. 29 at https://www.penndot.gov/RegionalOffices/district-4/PublicMeetings/Pages/default.aspx.
Click on the Luzerne County box, then choose the tile marked SR 2002 Sans Souci Parkway Reconstruction.
PennDOT officials say the purpose of the project is to reconstruct Sans Souci Parkway from just west of Loomis Street to just east of West End Road and is necessary to address deteriorated and substandard highway features including pavement, highway design, driveway access management, bridges, drainage, traffic signalization as well as to address vehicular, bike and pedestrian safety issues.
Work will consist of pavement replacement, the replacement/improvement of drainage, sidewalk, driveway access control, traffic signalization and highway lighting as well as the replacement of the bridge/culvert structures over Nanticoke Creek and Warrior Creek. Generally, one 11-foot through lane and 8-foot shoulder are proposed in each direction, with separate left turn lanes provided where warranted, officials said.
During the work, crews are expected to maintain one lane of traffic in each direction by initially moving both directions onto the existing eastbound roadway while constructing the new westbound roadway, and subsequently moving both directions onto the newly constructed westbound roadway while constructing the new eastbound roadway, PennDOT officials explained.
Construction is expected to begin in the spring of 2025 and will be complete by the winter of 2027.
PennDOT officials said the purpose of the plans display is to introduce the project, display and describe the planned traffic control during construction, and receive public input regarding questions or concerns with the project.
The project documents can be made available in alternative languages or formats if requested by contacting Chris Tomaszewski, PennDOT Project Manager, at 570-963-3326 or email@example.com.
Safelite AutoGlass opening new distribution center in Nanticoke
Denise Allabaugh – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — Safelite AutoGlass is opening a new distribution center in a warehouse being constructed on about 130 acres of former mine-scarred land off the new Dziak Drive.
Katie Moore, talent acquisition manager for Safelite AutoGlass based in Columbus, Ohio, said Safelite is occupying 357,575 square feet of space for a new distribution center at 301 Dziak Drive, Suite 200, in part of a building under construction in the Tradeport 164 development.
Moore and other Safelite officials came to Luzerne County Community College Educational Conference Center in Nanticoke for a hiring event on Tuesday that continues 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday.
She said Safelite is initially looking to hire 80 to 90 people for positions that include distribution center associates and shipping coordinators as well as managers and supervisors and a human resources generalist.
The starting rate for jobs is about $16 an hour and goes up to more than $20 depending on the job and experience, Moore said. All hourly roles are currently being offered a $1,000 welcome bonus, she said.
“Because there are a variety of career opportunities, the pay scale varies but is competitive,” Moore said.
In addition to competitive weekly base pay and bonuses, she said Safelite also offers tuition reimbursement, a 401(k) plan with company matching and a benefits marketplace.
Moore could not yet say the opening date for Safelite’s new distribution center but she said she expects it to open in the fall.
She said Safelite is hiring people in August to get inbound operations ready and there will be another wave of hiring for outbound operations.
“Hopefully by the end of the year, it will be fully operational,” Moore said.
Safelite, which provides vehicle glass repair and replacement, has stores throughout Northeast Pennsylvania including locations in Kingston, Pittston, Scranton and Hazle Twp.
The new distribution center will house shipping and receiving efforts as well as retail inventory deliveries to Safelite AutoGlass locations and other vehicle glass retailers, Moore said.
“It will serve our retail partners. This is where we will store in-stock glass for the most common windshields, the side windows and all of that to be able to provide what the retail partners need,” she said. “We are committed to providing superior service to our customers.”
Safelite’s nearest distribution center now is in Georgia and she said the new location will provide much quicker service to the Northeast.
“Safelite is a great place to work and we’re looking forward to growing in the Nanticoke community,” Moore said. “We work hard to set standards for quality and service to our customers and our associates alike.”
Moore said the hiring event at LCCC is “focused on bringing smart, talented associates to Safelite’s diverse and growing team.” As of Tuesday morning, she said 400 people signed up to attend the hiring event.
People could register online to attend the hiring event at LCCC and upload their resumes at indeed.com. Walk-ins also are welcome.
Judgment issued in pool payment dispute, couple waits for refund
NANTICOKE — It was easier for Jim and Lisa Swanberry to put in a new pool than get a refund on the deposit for one they said was never delivered.
The husband and wife from Nanticoke went to court and prevailed with a judgment against Michael Calore and Superior Pools & Spa, ordering him to refund them $1,500 refund plus additional costs they incurred in the civil case.
Calore has not paid, and said Tuesday that the amended order signed by Luzerne County Judge Lesa Gelb on May 13 was not final.
“This is a simple contract dispute,” Calore said.
It’s been anything but simple for the Swanberrys.
Each step of the way has been a challenge, from the complaint filed on March 18, 2021 at the magistrate level, to Calore’s appeal of the judgment against him that sent it to county court, and the May 9 order mistakenly finding in favor of Calore after the case went to arbitration.
“What’s terrible about it is it’s such a process. My wife basically almost got a law degree at this point because no lawyer wants to touch it for what little amount of money it is,” Jim Swanberry said.
“And a lot of people won’t hire a lawyer, so they just quit,” said Lisa Swanberry who pursued the case on her own “pro se.”
The couple didn’t and they’re still trying to figure out how to have the judgment enforced despite Calore’s assertion they breached the contract instead of him.
The case stemmed from the couple’s meeting with Calore at his store on Mundy Street in Wilkes-Barre Township in February and March of last year in search of a new pool. They wanted to purchase a pool to replace the one they’ve had for 23 years and had a tight deadline to install it and purchase wood for the deck around it. They said other local stores did not have any available, except for Calore who assured them he had six pools in the warehouse and they could pick up one on March 13, 2021. Jim Swanberry put down a $1,500 deposit on March 6, 2021, almost half the total cost of $3,135.
But they said Calore called Lisa Swanberry on March 9, 2021 alerting her there was a problem at the warehouse and the pool would not be there by the agreed date. He also told her he would be out of town and would call when he returned, she said.
Not hearing back, Jim Swanberry said he called Calore on March 15, 2021 asking for a refund and was told to come to the store and get it. When they arrived Calore refused to give them the refund and called the police, the couple said. They returned on March 17 and again Calore refused to refund the money, they said.
In a counterclaim filed last year, Calore disputed the Swanberrys’ account, describing Lisa Swanberry’s conduct as “hostile” and saying no delivery date was promised. Calore said the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the supply chain and made the delivery of the pool “on the date she first expected impossible and/or impracticable.”
The Swanberrys said Calore never attended any of the court proceedings and also acted as his own attorney. In a phone call with the parties the judge asked them to try to resolve the matter on their own. Calore offered to refund a third of the deposit, but Lisa Swanberry said she refused.
On Feb. 9 of this year, the day before the case was to go to arbitration, Calore said he had contracted COVID-19 and asked for a continuance. It was rescheduled to May 5.
“I went to court. He did not show up again,” Lisa Swanberry said. The arbitration panel of three attorneys ruled in her favor. She said she asked whether Calore could appeal and was informed he could unless a judge issues a ruling. “I said, ‘Well then, get me a judge,’” she said.
By then it had been more than a year of court proceedings and filings and the Swanberrys had installed a pool purchased from Olympic Pools & Spas.
“Other people would give up probably,” Lisa Swanberry said.
“We’re not those people,” Jim Swanberry added.
Greater Nanticoke Area to install artificial grass after upcoming football season
Michael P. Buffer - Citizens Voice
Greater Nanticoke Area High School’s football field will have natural grass for another season.
The Greater Nanticoke Area School District will install artificial grass on the high school football field after the upcoming football season because of permit delays, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said.
“We are waiting for permitting from the conservation district,” he said after the last school board meeting on July 14. “Because they’ve taken so long to permit it, we’re going to hold off and wait for the end of the season now.”
In April, the school board approved a $3.1 million bid with Field Turf to install artificial turf, a drainage system and a rubberized track for the high school sports stadium, and to move a stormwater pipe away from the field.
The project then was expected to begin in late May and end by early October. Grevera said he now hopes to begin the project in November. The district has $900,000 in state grant funding for the project.
Puck Cancer Festival draws big crowd in Nanticoke
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — Turnout at the Puck Cancer Festival at Quality Hill Playground keeps getting bigger and bigger.
Saturday’s festival was the ninth, and heat, humidity and a little rain didn’t keep the festivalgoers away.
“It’s crazy. There’s nothing different that we didn’t have last year, except the crowd. The crowd this year is incredible,” said Lauren Myers, co-founder of Puck Cancer Inc. “It’s really great to see this. I don’t know what brought everybody in. Obviously, each year we get bigger and bigger, and more and more people hear about it.”
Myers and her husband Shawn Myers founded the nonprofit organization in 2012, after his mother Michelle Myers died of cancer in 2011, to raise raise money for the Medical Oncology Associates of Wyoming Valley’s prescription assistance fund.
Tickets were $15 in advance and $20 day of at the gate. Children 12 and under received free admission with a paying adult.
There was food, non-alcoholic drinks, live entertainment, a foot hockey tournament, kids games, an inflatable obstacle course, basket raffles, a cornhole tournament, axe throwing and instant bingo.
Puck Cancer raised $12,000 in 2012 and more than $100,000 in total after last year.
“We’re really hoping to hit $50,000 this year,” Lauren Myers said. “Last year we did $40,000. So go big or go home.”
Around 500 bought tickets in advance, Lauren Myers said, estimating another 200 bought tickets Saturday. She and her husband live in Forty Fort with two daughters — Akeyzia, 7, and Harper, 5.
Ashley resident Aubrey Kennedy said she’s worked at the Puck Cancer Festival every year since the first in 2012.
“I remember the first one. It was just me, Lauren and a couple other people with the guys playing foot hockey,” Kennedy said. “Now we’ve quadrupled our size. This turnout is one of our biggest. Over the years, with word of mouth, everyone’s getting to the point of where they are very familiar with us as a nonprofit.”
Posted: Jul 12, 2022 / 11:37 PM EDT
Updated: Jul 12, 2022 / 11:38 PM EDT
Luzerne County Council votes to repair Nanticoke bridge
Madonna Mantione – Pahomepage.com
WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Many roads and bridges in our area are in need of significant and costly repairs. Tuesday night, Luzerne County Council made decisions on how to secure the money necessary to fix them up but not everyone agreed with the decision.
On the list is the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge. Officials previously determined its total replacement would cost between $40-$50MIL.
Built, in 1919 this historic bridge connects Nanticoke to West Nanticoke over the Susquehanna River.
Its weight limit was reduced to 15 tons in 2020 after issues came to light during an inspection, prompting concerns about a possible closure like others in the area.
“Me personally, I don’t live in the area. But, I’ve heard a lot from a lot of residents and from a lot of people who use the bridge that, it’s needed. Just like you would say water street’s not needed, you got a bridge right there, but, we found out, it’s needed,” said Larry Plesh, Luzerne County Engineer.
At Tuesday night’s Luzerne County Council meeting, members discussed approving an agreement with the county redevelopment authority to move forward with a proposed reconstruction project of the bridge.
“It seems like this is focused solely on the bridge, and there’s so many residents out there who utilize roads all across the county that I think are being shafted by this. This is a perfect opportunity to help a mass amount of residents in the county instead of a bridge that sits a half-mile up the road from another bridge,” said Gregory Wolovich, Luzerne County Council Member.
After a lot of debate, county council voted in favor of taking the next steps. The project involves a $55MIL infrastructure loan guarantee to be used to address county-owned roads and bridges like this one.
“Nanticoke provides police, fire, and ambulance services to Plymouth Township, my hometown, where I was born and raised, where my father and many of my family members still live. That bridge is essential to public safety,” said Gregory Wolovich, Luzerne County Council Member.
The Redevelopment Authority is set to meet Wednesday to vote on the agreement and loan application. From there, the Commonwealth Financing Authority will make the ultimate decision if the project is approved before ground is broken on the bridge.
Luzerne County Council set to vote on loan guarantee that would fund Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge replacement
Luzerne County may secure the estimated $40 million needed to replace its Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge, shown here on a snowy day earlier this year, by providing an infrastructure loan guarantee. Built in 1919, the bridge over the Susquehanna River was downgraded to a 15-ton weight limit in 2020.
Under agreements up for possible adoption Tuesday, Luzerne County Council would guarantee a new $55 million infrastructure loan if the entire pot of money is used to address county-owned roads and bridges, including replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River, the documents say.
An estimated $40 million is needed to replace the span linking Nanticoke and Plymouth Township, which was downgraded to a 15-ton weight limit in 2020 due to issues found in an inspection. The county has no funds set aside to cover this expense, and officials have said it would take at least a decade, possibly much longer, for the bridge to receive federal and state funding allocations based on the large number of infrastructure requests.
“Due to the current state of the bridge, county staff is concerned that the next inspection may result in lower weight limits and/or future closure,” the administration’s agenda submission said.
For background, the loan is possible because new state legislation customized solely for the county redirects $3 million annually for 25 years from the casino-gambling Local Share Account (LSA) to create an infrastructure fund.
The way it is set up, the county Redevelopment Authority must borrow to create the fund and then repay the debt using the annual $3 million LSA earmark.
However, the county is involved because financial institutions want assurance the county would repay the debt if the Mohegan Sun Pocono casino in Plains Township unexpectedly closes down the road.
The legislation leaves it up to the county redevelopment authority to recommend projects that should be funded, with final award approval by the Commonwealth Finance Authority — a state entity that already approves other LSA awards that are not part of this special program.
Originally, municipalities would have been invited to seek the infrastructure funding.
But some county council members have said they would be more amenable to a providing a loan guarantee if they were assured county-owned projects are funded, which prompted the revised agreements now before council.
Although the Commonwealth Finance Authority has the final say, officials have said the state authority would rely heavily on the county authority’s recommendations.
County council appoints the five citizens serving on the redevelopment authority board, with the seats currently filled by Nina DeCosmo, Scott Linde, John Pekarovsky, Stephen E. Phillips and Mark Rabo.
Two resolutions are on Tuesday’s council agenda.
The first is a memorandum of understanding between the county and redevelopment authority to ensure reconstruction of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge and the county’s guarantee of the debt if necessary.
In this agreement, the authority agrees to accept and approve the county’s LSA funding application to reconstruct the bridge and submit that application to the Commonwealth Financing Authority for approval.
Council in turn agrees to proceed with enactment of an ordinance to back the borrowing and submit necessary documentation to the state Department of Community and Economic Development as required by law.
It states the bond proceeds will finance the design, acquisition, construction and equipping of the bridge reconstruction. Any funds remaining after the bridge completion will be applied to public infrastructure projects approved by the county and authority.
The second county resolution formally requests the $54.9 million LSA grant from the county redevelopment authority and Commonwealth Financing Authority to fund work on the bridge and other county-owned infrastructure.
“Luzerne County has the responsibility to maintain over 100 miles of roadways and 300 bridges that connect both communities and commerce throughout Luzerne County,” the agenda says.
State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, had remotely appeared before council in May to personally seek its support, saying proceeding without a county guarantee would likely double the cost of the financing and cut in half the amount of funding available for infrastructure projects.
He’s also concerned a council rejection would prompt state legislators to reconsider how the $3 million is allocated and “seriously puts in question whether the program will be received by Luzerne County.”
While Yudichak is viewing the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge replacement as a need for economic development, he said the main concern is keeping a safe river crossing in that area for the public.
Contacted last week, Yudichak said he is grateful for the due diligence completed by council, the redevelopment authority and administration, noting new county Manager Randy Robertson has been “engaged at an intense level.”
Yudichak described the package as a “historic partnership” to address county infrastructure maintenance that has been deferred for decades.
County officials have long complained their infrastructure was left out of LSA awards, he said.
“This uses those gaming funds as they should be for projects of regional value — projects that transcend just one municipality and benefit the county and region from a public safety and economic development standpoint,” Yudichak said.
He is confident the $3 million is solid because casino earmarks for county projects have been averaging $12 million annually. The remainder of the funds would continue to go to municipalities for a range of community purposes, such as the purchase of municipal equipment and vehicles, officials say.
Council’s Tuesday meeting starts at 6 p.m. in the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre. Instructions to attend the meeting remotely are posted under council’s online meeting section at luzernecounty.org.
The redevelopment authority is scheduled to meet the following day and will vote on the agreements if they are accepted by council.
Honoring a Nanticoke legend
Mary Therese Biebel | Times Leader
NANTICOKE — From Australia and Japan to Chicago and Bloomsburg and many points in between, 86-year-old John “Stanky” Stankovic of Nanticoke is known as the leader of a polka band who started to play the accordion at age 9.
Perhaps less well known is the fact that he’s been a firefighter for almost as long.
On Wednesday evening, Nanticoke Fire Department Engine No. 4, Espy Street Station, honored Stanky with a plaque and a proclamation to commemorate his 60 years as a firefighter.
“Oh, thank you very much,” Stanky said, grinning as he accepted the plaque. “This goes right on the wall.”
About half an hour earlier, the honoree had arrived at the firehouse where the firefighters hold monthly meetings. He didn’t go upstairs to the meeting itself because his legs have been bothering him, but stayed on the first floor, where his buddies regularly gather to socialize after a meeting is adjourned.
That might have made planning Wednesday’s formal accolades easier on the organizers, who wanted to surprise Stanky with an appearance by Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin as well as Fire Chief Mark Boncal and fire department president Matthew Glidden.
“He has been a mentor, a teacher and most importantly a loyal friend,” Glidden described the guest of honor to a group of about 30 people.
As he reminisced about the past several decades, Stanky said he’d been on the road so much he didn’t fight a huge number of fires. But he did remember one memorable blaze, in the Hanover section of Nanticoke, where firefighters rescued the potential victims.
“We saved some people,” he said, noting that had been a great feeling. “It must have been 50, 60 years ago.”
“These guys here, they’re fantastic,” Stanky said of his fellow firefighters.
Some of his younger comrades said that, while they never had the chance to fight a fire side-by-side with Stanky, they have enjoyed hearing his music at various parties and on television — times when he’d play such standards as “Apples, Peaches, Pumpkin Pie,” “Roll Out the Barrel” and “The Pennsylvania Polka.”
“We’d watch him on WVIA,” Brian Zegarski of Nanticoke said, remembering a time when his children were very young. “If we turned it off they’d start screaming.”
Stanky’s late father had worked in the anthracite mines, and in his honor Stanky called his polka band “Stanky and the Coal Miners.”
“We started out wearing blue jeans and hats with lights on them, like miners,” Stanky said.
When his daughters were children, he and his wife, former Luzerne County Registrar of Wills Dorothy Stankovic, encouraged Debbie to play trumpet and Kim to play saxophone and clarinet.
Stanky’s wife and musical daughters attended Wednesday’s festivities, along with granddaughter Ashley, who said she has sung with her grandfather’s band, in both English and Polish.
“God was good to us,” Dorothy Stankovic said. “We’ve had a good life.”
“My father, he came from the old country and made me practice,” Stanky said. “I wanted to play baseball. I wanted to play basketball. He said, ‘You’re a pretty good ball player … but if you learn to play the accordion you’ll never starve.”
Nanticoke celebrates with another ‘Big Bang’
NANTICOKE — In lieu of the typical red, white and blue attire worn by most everybody else at Saturday’s “Big Bang” holiday celebration, Hunter Walts had a getup that symbolized America just as much as the colors of the flag.
Walts, 12 but about to turn 13, was dressed as a hot dog.
“My mom and stepdad are selling hotdogs,” Walts said, gesturing to their tent situated across the LCCC parking lot.
The costume didn’t prevent Walts from having the time of his life at the City of Nanticoke’s annual Fourth of July celebration, which kicked off at 2 p.m. Saturday and included food, games and the traditional fireworks display after dark.
The almost 13-year-old rode the giant inflatable slide, attended to by the Faith Church, 13 times to symbolize his coming birthday.
Pastor Maureen Gregory said that her church’s station, which also included face painting and popcorn, had grown from the previous year.
“Last year we were here, but there were only two of us,” Gregory said. “We want to be here supporting the community, it’s very important to our church.”
Dating back at least seven years by the count of Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin, the Big Bang Fourth of July celebration has become one of the city’s favorite traditions, and with gorgeous weather and plenty to do on Saturday, it was easy to see why.
A trio of bands kept the party rocking from open until close, starting with the Husty Brothers from 2 to 4 p.m., followed by The Tyme Band at 4 p.m. and Mellifluous closing out the entertainment from 6 to 8 p.m., leading into the night’s fireworks extragavanza.
Around the lot, there were an endless amount of food options, with pierogies, barbecue, ice cream and all sorts of good eats on the menu.
One of the city’s newest businesses, Gene and Jay’s Hot Dogs, set up shop for their first Big Bang event; it was this business that young Hunter Walts was representing with his hot dog suit.
Hunter’s mother, Theresa, explained that the restaurant had opened in February and that they were off to a good start, both at Saturday’s celebration and in general.
“Today’s been good so far, we expect it will get a lot busier later on,” she said. “Nanticoke has been good to us.”
The celebration also featured a few vendors and a big basket raffle.
Coughlin was pleased with the turnout and pleased with the work done to make this year’s Big Bang celebration another big success.
“It’s terrific, the weather has cooperated and we’ve had a lot of good help from our council and our city workers,” Coughlin said. “It’s a great day.”
Greater Nanticoke Area final budget lowers tax increase from prior proposal
NANTICOKE — While the proposed budget in May looked grim for Greater Nanticoke Area taxpayers, the final budget offered a bit of relief. The budget initially included a 5.2% property tax hike, the maximum allowed under state law without voter approval or limited state exception. The final version approved this week whittled the tax hike down to 2.9%. The rate will rise from 12.4473 mills to 12.8083 mills. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.
Superintendent Ron Grevera said the change was possible in part because of federal COVID-19 relief money and because the district only had to pay half the health insurance premium for one month to the Northeast Pennsylvania School District Health Trust, a consortium of area districts formed to lower insurance premiums.
The budget sets spending at $35.65 million and income at $36.75 million. If those numbers hold, it would let the district increase the fund balance by $1.1 million by the end of June, 2023. Coupled with about $600,000 more in this year’s ending fund balance than expected, that would give the district nearly $3.7 million in reserve, replenishing a fund balance that had been shrinking for years.
Business Manager Tom Melone noted this year’s tax increase will be offset for some property owners by an increase in the state Homestead Exemption, provided to home owners and farm owners each year using money from legalized gambling. The amount eligible residents will see knocked off their property tax bills increased from $174 in 2021-22 to $233 for 2022-23.
The board approved the budget 8-1 with Board President Tony Prushinski voting against it.
Nanticoke receives $1.1 million
A long-time eyesore in Luzerne County can now be torn down, thanks to new state funding. Officials say it's a step in the right direction.
Author: Chelsea Strub
Published: 5:07 PM EDT June 13, 2022
Updated: 5:07 PM EDT June 13, 2022
NANTICOKE, Pa. — From Skycam 16, you can see the remnants of a silk factory turned warehouse turned bowling alley along East Washington Street in Nanticoke. It's been empty for over a decade, and police say it's a public-safety issue.
"We have major problems here with people squatting and coming in and out of the building. The building right now is about ready to collapse in certain areas, so it is very unsafe to be in or near," said Nanticoke Police Chief Michael Roke.
"If somebody gets hurt inside their building, it just makes our job a lot harder because the building itself is very unstable," said Nanticoke Fire Chief Mark Boncal.
Funding is on the way from the state through a community safety project to take the building down.
"This grant was approved by the Commonwealth Financing Authority on Friday. The city was awarded $1.1 million, give or take around that number. And this is the biggest piece of that puzzle," said Cody Forgach, a staff member for State Rep. Gerald Mullery.
It's exciting news for people who call Nanticoke home.
"They're thrilled. I mean, it's been sitting like this for so long," said Mayor Kevin Coughlin
The mayor hopes this will be a future site for residential development.
"Down the road, that Nacero gas plant coming up in Newport. I'm sure we're going to need housing for that too. "
City officials hope the demolition will take place in the fall and cost close to $500,000.
The remainder of the grant will be used to provide the police department with two new cruisers and a fire department with a new engine, all of which they say are greatly needed for upgrades in public safety.
State Labor Relations Board rules in favor of Greater Nanticoke Area in dispute
NANTICOKE — The Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board ruled that Greater Nanticoke Area School Board and district administration did not violate the state Public Employee Relations Act in suspending and dismissing a teacher aide who took a leave of absence after the leave request was denied. The teacher was later re-instated without back pay following a separate arbitration hearing.
According to the written decision from the PLRB, the case centered on a Dec. 20, 2017 request by Pamela Aftewicz for an unpaid leave from March 21 through March 28, 2018. Superintendent Ronald Grevera granted that request, but the trip was canceled and Aftewicz worked the requested days.
On Oct. 23, 2018, Aftewicz submitted another request for unpaid leave for Dec. 6, 7, 10, 11 and 12 of 2018. She purchased airline tickets thinking the request would not be denied. But Grevera denied the request and Aftewicz was unable to get a refund for her ticket. Grevera warned her that if she left, he would recommend her termination to the school board for insubordination and job abandonment. She went on the trip and missed five days of work.
Grevera suspended her without pay Dec. 12, 2018 and recommended dismissal. The board voted to dismiss, without providing the employees name, at the Jan. 10, 2019 public meeting. The PLRB noted Aftewicz attended the meeting but left “immediately following the vote because she became upset.” The ruling includes a lengthy quote from Board President Tony Prushinski regarding his opinion that it was rude of people to leave school board meetings once they began.
As the Times Leader reported, Prushinski said “Do they have a right to walk out? Absolutely. But it is rude.” He added that he would always speak against such behavior when it occurs.
Between the Dec. 12 suspension and Jan. 10 dismissal, the union filed two grievances on Dec. 16 and 18, 2018, one challenging the discipline and the other challenging the denial of unpaid leave. An arbiter eventually ruled the board had just cause to suspend Aftewicz for insubordination but not to terminate her. Following the arbitration order, she was reinstated without back pay, benefits or seniority.
In May of 2019 the union filed charges of unfair labor practices with the PLRB. The decision on that case was issued last week, dated May 17, saying that the union had to establish a “three part conjunctive standard: that the employee engaged in activities protected by law, that the employer knew the activities were protected, and that the employer engaged in conduct that was motivated by the employee’s involvement in protective activities.” While the union proved the first two, it did not prove the third.
Key reason for the failure: Grevera had warned Aftewicz she would face suspension before she left, and he suspended her and recommended dismissal before the grievances were filed. “Needless to say, the superintendent could not possibly have been unlawfully motivated as his conduct predated (the grievances).
The union also argued Prushinki’s comments the day the board voted to dismiss and his written response to the grievances “should yield an inference of anti-union animus.” The PLRB rejected both arguments.
“The district has offered credible and compelling reasons for its conduct here, i.e. that Aftewicz openly flouted the superintendent’s clear denial of her leave request, as well as his direct admonishment that he would recommend her termination to the School Board if she went.
“Why Aftewicz did not simply grieve the denial of her leave request in the first instance before leaving work is a mystery. ”
The decision dismissed the charge and ruled the district did not commit any unfair practices in the matter.
GNA passes proposed budget with maximum property tax increase
NANTICOKE — The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board on Thursday passed a proposed final budget with a 5.2% property tax increase, the maximum allowed by state law without voter approval or a state exemption.
The proposed budget, which must be passed by the end of May, is not the final budget, which must be passed by the end of June, and the numbers could change.
Business Manager Tom Melone said the proposed budget does not include any increase in state education funding. Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has proposed a big increase in money but it is not clear how much, if any of it, will get through the Republican controlled legislature.
Melone also said the projections show the district taking in about $1.1 million more than it spends in 2022-23, which would boost the fund balance to about $3.1 million.
The proposed budget raised property taxes from 12.4473 mills to 13.0945 mills. A mill is a $1 tax for every $1,000 of assessed value. The proposed budget sets expenditures at just under $35.7 million.
The board also approved a resolution to issue general obligation bonds. Melone said the total being borrowed is $3 million with repayment spread from 2023 to 2046. The average annual increase in debt service will be about $150,000. Superintendent Ron Grevera said the money will be used for field house renovations, turf for the field and a new rubberized track. He also noted the district has received two Local Share Grants from the state — money acquired through legalized gambling — totalling $900,000 for the project.
And the board approved an Act 93 Administrator Compensation plan running from July 1 this year through June 30, 2027. Act 93 is the state law that defines how employment terms for administrators are set up. Grevera said the deal includes a 4% annual raise and covers 13 employees.
‘Time for me to move on’
In a move that prompted emotional reactions, Board Vice President Ken James gave the Athletic Committee Report, then announced it was his last night as that committee’s chair as he was resigning the post, though staying on the board. All of the other six board members present voted against his resignation, prompting him to give some comments while, at one point, appearing to hold back tears.
Noting he has been on the board for 25 years and served as athletic committee chair for most of that time, James said sports is often the most “volatile” aspect in the district, with frequent criticism of board choices. “A lot of times parents aren’t objective.” He alluded to arguments the board has in executive session behind closed doors.
“Things over the years have built up,” he said. “The number one thing I always wanted was what was best for our athletes.
“It’s just my limit. It’s time for someone else to chair the committee,” he said. “I appreciate the nay votes, but it’s time for me to move on.”
Other board members remained silent until Board President Tony Prushinski said the board would accept his resignation. James left immediately after the meeting without comment.
The board also:
• Approved a deal with M&J Excavation, Inc. to mill asphalt in the upper stadium parking lot at a cost not to exceed $12,000.
• Accepted a quote from Rice Food Equipment and Consulting, Inc. for one Combi electric Oven at a cost not to exceed $23,238. The purchase is being made through the state COSTAR program, which allows districts and municipalities to buy equipment at a price already set by the state, avoiding the need to seek bids.
• Appointed girls basketball coaches — Ed Grant as head coach, Brian Reed as assistant I, Lindsay Quinn as assistant II, Bill Goodman as assistant III, Len Paczkowski Assistant IVa at half salary and Kayla Aufiero as assistant IVb at half salary.
• Appointed Sterling Kepp as football assistant IIIa coach at half salary, John Pietryzk Jr. as strength coach, and Mark Matusek as boys soccer coach.
• Approved posting for two K-12 physical education teachers, a K-12 art teacher, a K-12 music teacher, and a K-12 special education teacher.
• Accepted the retirement of health and physical education teacher Brenda Sowa.
• Appointed Richard Yale as cleaner.
• Appointed Malik Smith, Lynn Headman and Heidi Grabko as drivers for contractor Keystone Valley Transportation.
Nine displaced, dog dies, after fire at Nanticoke home
NANTICOKE — Nine people were displaced, but uninjured, after a fire broke out at a double-block residence on Shea Street Sunday evening.
Nanticoke City Fire Chief Mark Boncal said that the American Red Cross was on their way to the scene of the fire to assist those displaced — six adults and three children, including a four-month-old infant — in finding a place to stay.
Nanticoke and Hanover Township firefighters responded to the double-block home at 24-26 Shea St. around 5:30 p.m. on Sunday.
Boncal said that his crews encountered heavy fire on the 26 side of the residence, coming from a bedroom. That side of the residence sustained heavy fire and smoke damage, as well as water damage from the fire hoses running through the residence.
The other side of the double-block sustained primarily smoke and heat damage, according to Boncal. He said that he believed both sides to be salvageable, but that the damage on the 26 side was much more heavy and extensive.
Boncal said that EMS workers checked out the three children displaced by the fire on scene and determined them to be alright; none of the other victims were injured, though a dog was killed in the blaze. No firefighters were injured fighting the fire.
The fire was deemed accidental by crews at the scene, based on conversations with the residents of the double-block. Boncal said that it was believed that a candle burning in the bedroom on the 26 side of the double-block may have caused the fire.
The chief said that he spoke with a fire marshal but, after talking through what they knew, the marshal wasn’t needed to come to the scene and investigate.
Greater Nanticoke Area approves 5-year-deal with teachers union
The Citizens Voice File
The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board unanimously voted Thursday to approve a new five-year contract with the district teachers union.
According to the union deal that starts Sept. 1 and ends Aug. 31, 2027, teachers will get an average annual pay increase of roughly 3%, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said. That increase factors in advancing a pay step on the 20-step pay scale and increases to salaries on the pay scale.
Greater Nanticoke Area had 121 classroom teachers in 2020-21 with an average salary of $70,629 and with an average of 13.7 years with the district, state records show. The average salary for a teacher in a Luzerne County district was $72,088 in 2020-21, and the state average was $71,478.
Teachers will pay more for health benefits. The premium share increases from 2% to 2.5% in 2022-23, 3% in 2023-24, 3.5% in 2024-25 and 4% in 2025-26 and 2026-27. The annual cost of the premium share will be capped at $1,092, Grevera said.
Free lunch program
The school board also on Thursday applied for the Community Eligibility Provision federal lunch program with the state Department of Education Food and Nutrition for the 2022-23 school year. That will allow the district to provide free lunch and breakfast meals to all students in the district for the next school year, Grevera said.
The district was able to provide free meals to all students in 2020-21 and 2021-22 under federal regulations in place for the COVID-19 pandemic. Those pandemic regulations are expiring.
The board also approved a $3.1 million bid with Field Turf to install artificial turf, a drainage system and a rubberized track for the high school sports stadium and to move a stormwater pipe away from the field. The field is currently natural grass.
The project is expected to begin in late May and end by early October. The district has $900,000 in state grant funding for the project.
Most high schools in the area use artificial turf for football games. Hanover Area and Wyoming still play football on grass.
Ice cream business reopens in Nanticoke
Denise Allabaugh – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — A local couple has reopened a popular ice cream business in Nanticoke after it’s been closed for more than three years.
Attorney Shandra Kisailus and her husband, Mike Yuscavage, recently purchased Dream Whip at 1 Alden Road and reopened it Friday.
Kisailus and Yuscavage, who also own Carter’s Dairy Freeze in Exeter, said they are excited to bring the staple back to the Nanticoke community.
“We’re very excited,” Kisailus said. “Anytime you could open and continue a business that’s been in existence for so long, it’s good for the overall community. We understand that this has been here for 30 years or longer. It’s always good to have family-owned businesses and that’s what this is.”
They will serve hard and soft ice cream that will include ice cream from Leiby’s in Tamaqua in several flavors as well as slush flavors, Dole whip, Italian ice, sundaes, shakes, floats and yogurt.
Kisailus said she thought the location was “fantastic” for an ice cream business. They will employ about 14 people. Dream Whip will be open daily from 12 to 9 p.m.
Nanticoke resident Jessica Thompson, who came to Dream Whip on Friday to order black cherry ice cream, was happy to see the business reopen.
“I’m glad it’s open again but it’s the only ice cream place in Nanticoke,” Thompson said. “A lot of older people here don’t drive like my mother and she loves to come here on Sundays with the grandkids.”
Nanticoke police donate body armor to Ukraine war effort
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — Expired body armor from the Nanticoke City Police Department is on its way to help the people of Ukraine standing up to the Russian invasion.
The department on Wednesday delivered seven protective vests to the Nanticoke office of state Rep. Gerald Mullery, D-119, of Newport Twp., to assist the effort spearheaded by state Sen. Marty Flynn of Scranton.
Flynn, D-22, of Scranton, is working with St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Catholic Church in Scranton to send medical supplies and protective military equipment to Ukraine.
“Sen. Flynn’s humanitarian effort on behalf of the people of Ukraine goes without saying. It’s thoughtful. There is a big Ukrainian population here in Northeastern Pennsylvania,” said Cody Forgach, Mullery’s chief of staff. “These vests could be used to protect a mother or father or a child in Ukraine.”
While the vests, all more than five years old, no longer comply with law enforcement standards due to possible liability issues, they still provide protection. Law enforcement entities around the country have donated expired vests and other equipment to Ukraine.
After being contacted by Flynn’s staff, Forgach said he reached out to Nanticoke police — the biggest department in Mullery’s district — and Chief Mike Roke was immediately cooperative, saying the department had seven expired vests to donate.
“He said ‘yes, absolutely,’” Forgach recalled. “They can’t be used. They otherwise would go to waste.”
Roke said his officers were “happy to help.”
“Thanks to Rep. Mullery for reaching out to us and working with all involved to make this work,” Roke said.
Flynn announced Wednesday his office will be collecting medical supplies — including bandages, gauze, first-aid kits and over-the-counter pain medication — to send to Ukrainian refugees. In addition, his office will also be accepting helmets, body armor, bulletproof vests, boots and other protective gear to assist Ukrainian military, fire fighters, police officers and aid workers.
“The Ukrainian people have shown incredible bravery in the face of Russia’s unprovoked, violent invasion. We want the people of Ukraine to know we stand with them in solidarity. It has to be more than just words, though. We have to act. We have to really help,” Flynn said. “New, used, lightly used, expired — we’re accepting it. If it’s going to save someone’s life, we’re accepting it. The Ukrainian people are in dire need of body armor of any kind. This is a situation where any amount of body armor could be the difference between life and death. These are the highest stakes imaginable, and we want to send as much aid as possible.”
Pastor Myron Myronyuk, of St. Vladimir’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, 430 N. 7th Ave., Scranton, has been working with Flynn to send the supplies to Ukraine.
“After learning of Father Myron’s work getting supplies to Ukraine and talking with him about the struggle Ukrainians are facing to protect themselves, I decided we had to do something,” Flynn said. “Every bit of aid helps, but I wanted to focus on sending protective equipment. I want to help keep the Ukrainian people safe. They’re fighting for their lives, and we’re in a position to make a potentially life-saving difference.”
Donations can be dropped off at Flynn’s offices at 409 N. Main Ave. in Scranton and 307 Betty St. in Eynon, or at Joyce Insurance at 409 N. Main St. in Pittston. Donations are being accepted Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Former Glen Lyon school could be converted into luxury lofts
Denise Allabaugh – Citizens Voice
A Nanticoke resident has proposed to convert the former Pulaski Junior High School on South Market Street in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. into luxury lofts and apartments.
Alexander McNitt has filed a zoning application requesting a variance to convert the closed school into a 3-story apartment building with 29 units.
A potential storage facility, rooftop solar panels and landscaping improvements would be part of phase two of the project, according to his zoning application.
His proposed project will be discussed at a Luzerne County Zoning Hearing Board public meeting 7 p.m. April 5 in the second floor jury meeting room at Luzerne County Courthouse.
According to his narrative for the project, the intended rental market would be for “middle class workers and families supporting the warehouses and plants in Nanticoke, Newport and surrounding areas.”
“This rental market would not be accepting Section 8 and/or CEO,” his narrative said.
The former Pulaski Junior High School closed in the 1980s, said Newport Twp. manager Joe Hillan. He said the proposed project is “great news for the township.”
It follows a similar project from developer J. Naparlo, who converted the vacant K.M. Smith Elementary School building in Newport Twp. into apartments.
The former school on Robert Street, that dates back to the 1930s, was last used for pre-K, kindergarten and first graders. It closed after the 2017-18 school year. In August 2018, the Greater Nanticoke Area School District opened the new Kennedy Early Childhood Center and since then, all Greater Nanticoke Area schools have been located on one campus off Kosciuszko Street in Nanticoke.
Naparlo also has proposed to build townhomes on the former softball field next to the school, Hillan said.
“A lot of good things are happening in the township,” Hillan said. “We’re excited about the revitalization.”
In other developments, NorthPoint Development will soon construct a 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse on former mine-scarred land off Front Street in Nanticoke. NorthPoint Development has not yet identified a tenant. It will be the largest development in decades in Newport Twp., which lost about 400 jobs when the State Correctional Institution at Retreat closed in 2020.
Luzerne County officials have been considering SCI Retreat as the site for a new county prison which Hillan said “would be a great boost for us.”
A $1.3 million Luzerne County grant is being used to replace sidewalks in Newport Twp. and a $530,000 state grant is being used to demolish blighted properties, Hillan said.
Four properties in Newport Twp. were demolished and blighted properties at 15 W. Main St., 239 W. Main St., 169 Newport St. and 56-58 E. Main St. will be demolished in the first week of April, Hillan said.
Harveys Creek cleaned up, stocked for trout season
James Halpin – Citizens Voice
Members of the Nanticoke Conservation Club, along with Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission personnel, gathered along the shoulders of state Route 29 on Saturday morning to clean up the banks of Harveys Creek and help stock an influx of trout for the approaching fishing season.
The biannual cleanup, which the club has held since 1975, drew 32 volunteers who helped stuff roadside refuse into bags left along the highway for workers from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to collect.
“We want it to look good for when they come for the opening day of trout,” club President Gary Gronkowski said. “If they see a clean creek, they’ll keep it clean. That’s our thought process. It doesn’t always work out that way — we still find bait containers and stuff like that — but most of the anglers respect what we do here.”
Gronkowski said he’s recently noticed a big change in the amount of litter along the creek due in part to the work of some 8-year-olds.
Jared Cross said his children in the Millennium 4H club created some handmade anti-littering signs that have been posted in major parking areas alongside the creek.
“Since we put them up last year, we’ve noticed that not as many people are dumping big amounts of garbage in those areas,” Cross said.
The work put in Saturday will allow youth anglers to find a clean creek when they show up for Mentored Youth Trout Day next Saturday. The statewide opening day of trout season is April 2.
Gronkowski said that, in an effort to help the Fish and Boat Commission spread, the club had laid out five float baskets that will help distribute the stocked trout more evenly throughout the creek.
Fish and Boat Commission Executive Director Tim Schaeffer was also on scene, helping to clean up the banks as well as overseeing the stocking operation being organized by Conservation Officer John Cummings out of the northeast regional office in Sweet Valley.
“I got here at eight o’clock this morning and grabbed a couple trash bags,” Schaeffer said before heading upstream to the stocking operation. “I helped out the team and got dirty. I was doing a little bit of mountain goat action down along the creek — anything I can do to show my appreciation for the agencies, appreciation for the work that the club does here.”
Schaeffer said he is grateful to have groups like the Nanticoke Conservation Club that not only help clean up the state’s waterways but also assist with the fish stocking.
“We’re a small agency. We have a little over 400 people statewide. We simply can’t be on every creek everywhere in Pennsylvania,” Schaeffer said. “We really rely on guys and ladies like this to help us move fish, spread the fish out for the anglers. It builds, I think, a sense of ownership in the resource. These guys love this place. It’s clear that this is their creek.”
Greater Nanticoke Area amends COVID-19 safety plan
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board voted Thursday to amend its COVID-19 safety plan to include the new optional mask policy.
The school district ended its mask mandate Feb. 28 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its mask guidance and COVID-19 metrics. The new CDC guidance recommends universal school masking only in communities with high levels of transmission.
Luzerne County is at the low community level and was at the medium level when the month began. Community levels can now be low, medium or high based on hospital beds being used, COVID-19 hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.
Greater Nanticoke Area only has two COVID-19 cases, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said at Thursday’s board meeting.
A total of 33 school-age children — ages 5 to 18 — tested positive for COVID-19 in Luzerne County from March 2 through Tuesday. Sixty tested positive from Feb. 23 to March 1.
The seven-day total has been dropping since peaking at 957 from Jan. 5-11. Over the last 28 weeks, a total of 7,269 school-age children in the county tested positive.
Grevera said students will have to wear masks if they test positive and return to school for days 6-10 upon their return or if they are in quarantine from close contact with the virus and return to school for days 6-10.
Family-owned pierogi business sees high demand and plans expansion
Denise Allabaugh – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — Success has come fast for young business owners Lauren Gorney and Frank Marcinkowski.
Since the couple opened NEPA'rogi with their family members at 579 E. Main St. next to Tarnowski's Kielbasa in September, they have been overwhelmed trying to keep up with the demand for their traditional hand-pinched pierogi.
They started the small business after Gorney was laid off from her fundraising job during the COVID-19 pandemic and Marcinkowski, a local musician, was impacted by the shutdowns.
As they try to keep up with all the orders piling in, they are looking to expand and build a second location that would be a manufacturing facility in Nanticoke or Newport Twp., Gorney said.
The expansion would bring the potential for more jobs and more pierogi and it's part of the long-term plan for their business, she said.
"We're very realistic about how much this process is going to take but we're also very committed to it," Gorney said. "The demand is there. The community is so supportive."
In the meantime, it has been busy at NEPA'rogi that employs about 10 people that are family members and friends.
Inside their small 300-square-foot space on Tuesday last week, Gorney and her mother Janella Albertson joined Marcinkowski, his mother Deneen Marcinkowski and his brother Nick Marcinkowski as they quickly made pierogi with prune filling.
Gorney described their process of making pierogi by hand as a "labor-intensive art form." They recently purchased a machine manufactured in Poland to assist with the pierogi-making process.
"We make them the same way we did when I was a kid and I went to my grandparents and made them in their house when they made about 10 dozen," Marcinkowski said.
The difference: they make thousands of pierogi and they typically work more than eight hours a day and six days a week doing it.
Last week, they prepared more than 100 dozen pierogi for Wychock's Mountain Top Beverage, which now sells NEPA'rogi's frozen pierogi by the dozen.
The White House Diner in Forty Fort also recently began selling NEPA'rogi's potato and cheese and farmers cheese pierogi by the dozen. Starting on Ash Wednesday last week, the diner added the pierogi to its dine-in and takeout menu as well.
Gorney said she also has met with restaurant owners in the Scranton area who are interested in selling their pierogi. She said Lent will be a busy time for NEPA'rogi since Christians abstain from eating meat on Fridays.
"Our goal is to have enough supply ready so we don't sell out as quickly as we did at Christmas," Gorney said. "We weren't able to keep up at Christmas but we made a plan following Christmas about what we could do for Easter to produce as many as possible. We're trying to learn from what happened during COVID and where we might be able to change some things."
People can buy frozen pierogi by the dozen at their window inside the lobby of Tarnowski's Kielbasa with fillings that include potato and cheese, farmers cheese, prune, sauerkraut and cabbage.
The team at NEPA'rogi also recently made chicken wing pierogi for the Super Bowl and teamed up with Michael Mootz Candies in Hanover Twp. to make chocolate-covered strawberry pierogi for Valentine's Day.
"We take the year like one holiday at a time and see where we can grow and not bite off more than we can chew," Gorney said.
They also operate a food truck and have served pierogi at Pisano Family Wines in Lehman Twp. and events throughout Northeast Pennsylvania. This year, they look forward to participating in the Edwardsville Pierogi Festival for the first time in June and the Bloomsburg Fair in the fall.
Gorney, 32, and Marcinkowski, 25, are both fourth generation entrepreneurs who come from families that operated businesses.
The Marcinkowski family operated a service station in Nanticoke for decades and Gorney's family operated a grocery store in Glen Lyon.
During the pandemic, Gorney said she thought it would be a good time to start NEPA'rogi after losing the 9-to-5 job she had for five years.
"I was happy with all the securities that were provided by a 9-to-5 job but I feel like I've always had the entrepreneurial spirit," she said. "It's in my genes. It's in my blood."
Gorney said she thought the pandemic was a great time for everyone to ask themselves what they want to do with their lives and if they are able to make changes.
"We were able to make a change because we had a blank canvas. We were back at zero. Our careers were put on hold or taken with us," she said. "Did I ever imagine we would be pierogi makers? No. But have we always been deeply committed to our culture and heritage, our ancestry and our families? Yes."
Marcinkowski, who sings and plays guitar in the band Mellifluous, said his experience starting a band and booking events introduced him to what it's like to own a business. He said an important lesson he learned is: "If I don't make it work, nothing is going to happen."
Since they have seen such a high demand for their pierogi, he said he has been overwhelmed and thankful to be in the same building as Tarnowski's Kielbasa.
"It's a good thing that we're overwhelmed," Marcinkowski said. "It's like an unnatural growth."
As stores ban Russian vodka, Nanticoke distillery pledges funds for pro-Ukrainian cause
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
Instead of advocating for a Russian vodka boycott, the LBC Distillery is promoting a Nanticoke vodka fundraiser to assist the people of Ukraine.
The owners of LBC Distillery — which makes its vodka in Nanticoke and sells it in Pittston — are pledging 10% of vodka sales in the near future to a pro-Ukrainian cause.
“Instead of being anti something we wanted to be pro something,” said Maryann Lang, who owns and runs LBC Distillery with her husband, Jonathan.
The vodka sale fundraiser was inspired by a growing boycott of Russian-made vodka that has been sweeping the world since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Pennsylvania has banned the sale of vodka made in Russia at its Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores in response to the invasion.
But, to the surprise of many, the banned list only includes two brands that were regularly stocked — Russian Standard and Ustianochka — and several special-order products with minimal annual sales.
Other popular vodkas, like Stolichnaya and Smirnoff, and bottom-shelf brands, like Nikolai, Crown Russe and Vladimir are branded as Russian, but are actually made elsewhere.
Around the country, people have taken to social media to dump their vodkas — with many discarding the non-Russian-made vodkas like Stolichnaya, better known as “Stoli” and now made in Latvia, and Smirnoff, now made in Illinois. Both do have roots in Russia.
“They dumped perfectly good vodka in an effort to feel good,” Maryann Lang said.
With vodka in the news, the Langs felt it was a good time to remind people there is a family-owned distillery that makes vodka right here in Luzerne County that reinvests in the community.
“If they want to limit the availability of some vodka, that means ours may stand out a little more,” Jonathan Lang said.
The LBC Distillery retail outlet and tasting room at 350 Kennedy Boulevard in Pittston is open Thursday and Friday, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., and Saturday, 2 p.m. to 9 p.m.
According to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, only 1.3% of vodka imported to the United States is from Russia.
In fact, Russia was a distant sixth in total dollars of vodka imported to the United States, behind France, where Grey Goose is made, Netherlands (Kettle One), Sweden (Absolut), Latvia (Stolichnaya) and Poland (Belvedere).
“Most ‘Russian’ vodka we get is only Russian in name. People don’t do their research and just go off of memes,” said Travis Lindenmoyer, founder of the Facebook group “Honest Trav’s Virtual Dive Bar,” a page that connected bar enthusiasts in the Lehigh Valley and Northeast Pennsylvania during the COVID-19 shutdown and has grown to 46,500 members.
Lindenmoyer, 41, said he’s heard about the boycotts and vodka dumping, but that doesn’t sound like something his crowd is doing when posting selfies with their favorite adult beverage.
“I don’t see, or condone, dumping of any good liquor,” Lindenmoyer said. “We are about building people up — one beer at a time.”
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced Sunday it would “remove Russian-made products from shelves as a show of solidarity and support for the people of Ukraine.”
Those products included Russian Standard, Ustianochka, and certain special-order Russian products with sales so minimal the board didn’t even release the names, according to Shawn Kelly, a spokesman for the Liquor Control Board.
“For some people, these may be their favorite brands. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board doesn’t take this lightly,” Kelly said. “We believe consumers will shift to other brands.”
The state is not restricting sales of Russian-branded products that are not sourced from Russia because doing so “could unfairly and adversely impact those brands,” the LCB said in Sunday’s press release.
The products pulled from the shelves have been paid for, though it’s unknown if the proceeds have made it to the manufacturers in Russia yet or are still with LCB vendors, Kelly said.
“They are stored on location in the back of our Fine Wine and Good Spirits stores,” Kelly said. “We are still determining what their future will be.”
Wilkes-Barre Area, Greater Nanticoke ending mask mandates Monday
Michael P. Buffer – Citizens Voice
Wilkes-Barre Area and Greater Nanticoke Area school districts are ending universal requirements to wear masks Monday.
Wyoming Valley West and Dallas are expected to make decisions on their mask mandates Sunday.
In an announcement on the Wilkes-Barre Area website, Superintendent Brian Costello noted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed COVID-19 guidance metrics and Luzerne County is now at a medium community level based on the new metrics.
The CDC is recommending universal school masking only in communities with high levels. Community levels can now be low, medium or high based on hospital beds being used, COVID-19 hospital admissions and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area.
“We will continue to monitor the community levels. At any time we move into the ‘high’ threshold, masks will become mandated again,” Costello said.
The CDC also is no longer requiring the wearing of masks on buses or vans operated by public or private school systems, including early care and child care programs, Costello added.
In an email, Greater Nanticoke Area Superintendent Ronald Grevera also noted the change in CDC guidance and said the district mask mandate “will be back in place” if the community level increases to high.
A total of 79 school-age children — ages 5 to 18 — tested positive for COVID-19 in Luzerne County from Feb. 16 through Tuesday, according to data provided by the state’s department of health.
Last week’s total was 89, and the seven-day total has been dropping since peaking at 957 from Jan. 5-11. Over the last 26 weeks, a total of 7,177 school-age children in the county tested positive — an average of 276 per week.
After the state Supreme Court ruled the state mask mandate was invalid in December, Crestwood, Lake-Lehman and Northwest Area school districts ended mask requirements. Hanover Area announced Thursday it is ending its mask mandate Tuesday.
Habitat for Humanity's ReStore moves into new and improved location
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
HANOVER TWP. — The ReStore is reborn.
After more than 15 years in business in Nanticoke, the discount building materials store run by the Wyoming Valley Habitat for Humanity moved a mile and a half down the street into the old Noble Furniture building at 825 E. Main St., just across the Nanticoke border in Hanover Twp.
The new and improved ReStore opened Feb. 15 after six months of planning and moving.
“We are in the soft opening. We are doing very well. Sales are brisk,” said Karen Evans Kaufer, executive director of the Wyoming Valley Habitat for Humanity. “It’s open to the public. Not everyone knows that.
People aren’t quite sure what the ReStore is.”
A grand opening celebration is slated for March 5.
The ReStore specializes in selling new and gently used building products consumers could find at hardware, home improvement and retail stores at discounted prices. Prices generally are about 30% off retail price, Kaufer said.
Retail stores, contractors and even private homeowners donate the goods. Many new products are donated as a result of the products being overstocked, out of season or a result of order mix ups, Kaufer said.
“We have been very fortunate for these outlets and warehouses who have supported our mission. Lots of people when they are redoing their kitchens, they’ll call us to take their cabinets,” Kaufer said.
The local ReStore first opened in 2005 in a 10,000-square-foot building it leased at 421 W. Main St. in Nanticoke. The new location is in a newer 14,000-square-foot building the local Habitat for Humanity purchased following the closure of Noble Furniture.
“We outgrew the other store. We are very happy to be growing and thriving,” Kaufer said. “We are delighted with the new location. It’s a very convenient location. The highways are right there.”
The Hanover Twp. ReStore, one of 1,100 in six countries, is the only one in the region. The two closest others are in Williamsport and Whitehall.
All proceeds go toward helping Habitat for Humanity’s mission of building and renovating homes for people in need. Proceeds from the ReStore helps the organization provide interest free mortgages to the homeowners they assist.
“Everybody thinks we give away houses for free. They all have mortgages. And those mortgages help the next house and the next. Our families work at least 200 hours of sweat equity as part of their down payment, then pay a down payment,” Kaufer said.
Volunteers, both skilled and unskilled, help build and renovate the houses.
The Wyoming Valley Habitat for Humanity has eight employees, including Kaufer and those who work at the ReStore.
Joseph Hartman, manager of the ReStore, said the response to the new location has been great.
“The process was six long months. But it was well worth it. Since we opened to the general public, it has been overwhelmingly exciting,” Hartman said. “There’s a big floor plan and more openness. Overall, it’s a nicer environment and more inviting.”
Girls wrestling growing in WVC
Tom Fox – Citizens Voice
Kaitlyn Pegarella has a vivid memory.
For as long as she can recall, her mind never drifted away from the sport of wrestling. It’s all the Nanticoke Area senior wanted.
It wasn’t about donning the singlet, snapping up the headgear or proving any specific point. The amount of hardware she could bring home at tournaments didn’t really matter, either.
Rather, it was about something she loved.
“I’ve wanted to wrestle since I was in third grade. But my parents wouldn’t let me. They kept telling me it was a boys’ sport,” the Trojan said. “But my brother, who is three years younger than me, brought home a flyer one day and wanted to try out the sport. I told my parents that if he got to wrestle, then so did I. They thought that I would quit in the first six months, but here I am, 10 years later.”
For McKenna Nay, there was really no rhyme or reason. No earth-shattering moment that gravitated her toward the mat.
It was a premonition that popped into her mind while at work. And it was a thought that just wouldn’t escape.
“It hit me one day. I really wanted to try wrestling,” the Hanover Area junior said. “It just came out of nowhere.”
Pegarella and Nay are two of the female wrestlers across the Wyoming Valley Conference as the sport begins to gain traction around Pennsylvania with the Sanction PA movement to get girls’ wrestling recognized by the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.
Two area teams, Nanticoke Area and Hanover Area, were sanctioned in November 2021. Other District 2 schools — Honesdale, Delaware Valley, Western Wayne and Wallenpaupack — are also part of the 34 teams that have officially started female programs.
In order for the PIAA to officially recognize girls’ wrestling, at least 100 schools must be sanctioned.
“We are hoping that this movement catches fire, and we can get there by next year,” Hanover head coach Dave Griffith said. “The girls deserve it.”
There are numerous success stories about how the girls have hung with the boys on the mat. Gettysburg’s Montana DeLawder and Benton’s Vayle-Rae Baker are two that achieved success at the scholastic level and have transferred it to the college ranks.
But one of the women that paved the way for them is currently coaching at Wyoming Seminary.
Erin Vandiver was the first woman in Pennsylvania history to place at a district tournament and have her hand raised at a regional event while wrestling at Grove City High School.
“For me, it was such an exciting time and it helped to pave the way for me as a person,” said Vandiver, a two-time United States World Team member. “Wrestling teaches you so many valuable lessons about life. It teaches about hard work, determination and perseverance. For girls thinking about joining wrestling, it doesn’t have to be about winning district medals. Rather, it’s about building memories and learning the traits that are so valuable in life.”
Locally, girls have been pretty close to breaking that glass ceiling.
At Nanticoke Area, Krystal Daniele was the first girl to land on the medal stand as she finished fifth in 2014. One year later, another Trojan sent shockwaves around the Kingston Armory. Megan Kocher became the first girl to win a match at the District 2 tournament, and was one victory away from reaching the PIAA Class 2A Northeast Regional bracket.
“Megan and Krystal were my role models. I am so grateful that I had them on the team. I really owe some much to them because they helped me establish my place on the team,” Pegarella said.
In 2021, that ceiling was shattered by a 106-pound freshman that brought fans out of their blue seats at the Mohegan Sun Arena every time she jogged to the circle.
Seeded No. 6, Lake-Lehman’s Lexi Schechterly ripped through two opponents to advance into the district final, which assured her of becoming the first girl from District 2 to qualify for a regional tournament.
“Honestly, I look up to Lexi because she is so amazing,” said Nay, who recently made Hanover Area history by becoming the first girl to win in a boys’ dual. “She is proving that girls can have success in this sport. It’s a hard sport, there’s no doubt, but it’s so rewarding to me. I can’t wait to see how I grow after one complete year on the mat.”
Sanctioning the state
Brooke Zumas hears the misconceptions about girls wrestling. That’s why the chairperson of Sanction PA is quick to talk with everyone to address any concerns.
“I think a lot of people are talking about funding the sport, but wrestling is so unique,” Zumas said. “If you have a boys’ program, you already have everything you need in terms of mats, facilities and singlets. In terms of schedule, a lot of the bigger events are starting their own girls’ division to let those athletes showcase their talents. There are pieces already in place. There isn’t any misconception or issue that we can’t talk through with a school.”
Zumas isn’t really surprised how quickly the movement has spread since JP McCaskey was the first school to “sanction” a team in March 2020, meaning they are officially recognized by the school board or the administration as an official sport. Mercer Area was the last to join in January. As for a time frame, Zumas hopes to reach 100 schools “as fast as possible.”
“Girls’ wrestling is wrestling,” Zumas said. “I think people around the state are starting to see that the girls’ division is just an extension of the sport. According to the PIAA, to be an official team, you need one person to form a team score. And if you look around the sport, a lot of the boys’ teams have a female in some weight class. We are hoping some of the teams that have reached out look at it in the offseason, and decide to pursue a girls’ team. The sport really is growing around the country, so it’s not too surprising to see the success here.”
Crowing the Knights
While the Sanction PA movement grows, Wyoming Seminary is in its fifth season of fielding a girls’ program.
“We kind of went in a different direction and focused on the freestyle niche,” Vandiver said. “We chose freestyle because that’s what you wrestle in college and on a global level, so it made sense for our program. That’s the direction we wanted for our girls. And we are very fortunate because our success came rather quickly. We have worked hard to establish ourselves on both the national and world level.”
Many of the top-ranked girls in the nation call Seminary home, including Kennedy Blades, who, at 17, stunned the world when she made the finals of the Olympic Trials in the 68-kg weight class.
“Walking into that room every day, it’s inspiring and motivational,” Vandiver said. “These girls, they work hard for every honor they receive. They continue to push each other to new heights.”
Growing the WVC
Now, it’s about riding that tidal wave of momentum. Looking around the conference, girls aren’t just stepping on the scales and cheering from the sidelines.
Schechterly (13-3) is listed as one to watch by PA Power Wrestling in the Northeast Regional rankings, and has the chance to be the first girl to claim district gold later this month. Nanticoke Area’s Savannah Wisneski and Wilkes-Barre Area’s Nathalie Olarte are regulars in their starting lineups, and have combined for 46 matches. Wyoming Area’s Gia Larson joined Schechterly and Olarte as one of three girls to compete at the Wyoming Valley Conference Championships earlier this season.
In terms of numbers, eight of the 12 teams in the WVC have at least one girl on the roster, a far cry from the days where it was just Pegarella holding the banner.
Since the numbers are still growing, teams are opting to attend tournaments around the state instead of trying to piece together dual meets. Griffith has taken the Hawkeyes to all parts of the state, starting with Central Mountain’s Queen of the Mountain Tournament, while hitting up other invitationals in Honesdale, Easton, Lehighton and Governor Mifflin.
The girls do have a state tournament, although it isn’t sanctioned by the PIAA. After competing in the East and Central Regionals, which take place on March 6 at Parkland and JP McCaskey, respectively, the state championship is March 13 at Central Dauphin High School. It’s the day after the boys award their gold medals in Hershey.
“It’s amazing to see how far girls’ wrestling has come in our area,” Pegarella said. “I know there are some girls that won’t try wrestling because they don’t want to wrestle against the boys, but in the near future, they won’t have to worry about that hardship. I know I won’t be around to see it because this is my senior year, but knowing that I made kind of an impact, it’s enough for me.”
And it’s something Griffith wants to build on. He has seven girls still in his varsity/junior high program after 16 signed up to give the sport a try.
“The process isn’t as hard as everyone thinks,” he said. “From when we reached out to the Sanction PA group until we got final board approval, it was about two months time. Everyone was so supportive of what we wanted to do here at Hanover Area. But it’s something we believe in because the girls deserve it. They are working just as hard as the boys in our program. I do challenge the other administrative personnel in the conference to sanction the sport. Just seeing the success of our girls here at Hanover, it’s worth the time.”
Bengals fans thrilled about end to Super Bowl drought
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
Diehard Cincinnati Bengals fan Ken James of Nanticoke used to be a Los Angeles Rams fan in the 1960s. That was an easy decision as a teenager since Nanticoke’s sports teams were then known as the Rams.
But after the Rams fired their coach and traded James’ favorite player, he decided to root for a different team and settled on the Cincinnati Bengals, a relatively new expansion team.
James, 66, has been dreaming of a Bengals Super Bowl victory ever since.
“In those 50-some years, there weren’t many great seasons,” James said.
James is hoping the Super Bowl drought ends Sunday against the Rams.
“Before this season I told everyone this isn’t the same Bengals team you remember,” James said. “Everyone laughed at me and I said, ‘You’ll see.’”
James plans to watch the big game with his daughter, Diane Kivler, 36, also a big Bengals fan.
“Ever since I was a baby, my dad always had sports on TV. I could remember watching the games sitting on his lap,” Kivler said. “I was hooked at a very young age and it formed a forever bond with my dad … I am going all out for Sunday because having the chance to experience this with my dad is one I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
Kevin and Beth Quinn of Wilkes-Barre Twp. love the Bengals so much that they announced Beth’s pregnancy in December with a photo on Facebook from a Bengals home game while posing with a onesie outfit that said “Bengals Baby.”
“We thought it was something different to do it there,” said Beth Quinn, 36. “We didn’t want to do something standard.”
The couple said there’s a strong likelihood the baby boy will be named after a current or former Bengals player. Their ginger-colored cat is named Andy, a tribute to the team’s former red-haired quarterback Andy Dalton.
Kevin Quinn, 41, said he’s been a Bengals fan since he was a child because he liked their tiger-striped helmets and uniform.
“I’ve suffered ever since. I’ve been waiting 30-plus years for a playoff win and it finally happened,” Kevin Quinn said.
Kevin Quinn was in attendance for the Bengals playoff win versus the Las Vegas Raiders on Jan. 15 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, the team’s first playoff win in 31 years.
“It was one of the best days of my life — besides marriage and going to be a father,” Kevin Quinn said. “People were pounding on their seats, high-fiving strangers. It was just amazing. There were tears of joy.”
Upset win inspired fandom
Adam Sieminski of Fairview Twp. wasn’t much of a football fan until 2003 when a few of his friends from Mountain Top asked him to watch a Bengals game.
The mediocre Bengals beat the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs. He’s been a big fan ever since.
“We watch every game. We have not missed a game since 2003,” said Sieminski, 38.
He and his friends try to attend a game in Cincinnati every year.
The 38-year-old said he’s optimistic about his team’s chances in this year’s Super Bowl.
Sieminski said he ordered Bengals jerseys with his last name on the back.
“I have my name on it because players will leave, but I’ll still be there,” Sieminski said.
Joe Cunningham has a man cave dedicated to the Bengals in the basement of his Dallas Twp. home.
“This is the jungle,” Cunningham, 35, said. “My wife won’t let me keep it upstairs.”
Cunningham said he never misses a game. He even watched a Bengals game at his daughter’s christening party years ago at a local restaurant
“I was like, ‘Do they have the NFL ticket?’ They didn’t, so I watched it on my phone,” Cunningham said.
Cunningham said he is teaching his daughter, 7, and son, 5, to be Bengals fans.
“When it comes to football, they have to be Bengals fans,” Cunningham said.
Super Bowl role reversal
During last year’s Super Bowl run by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tyler Rushton served as his father’s loyal “sidekick” while watching games and cheering along.
Those roles are reversed this year.
Rushton, 20, of Newport Twp., said he became a Bengals fan years ago after watching their rivalry games against the Pittsburgh Steelers on local television.
“When I was young my father tried dressing me up in all Buccaneers stuff. I think I just wanted to have my own team and watch my own team. Here I am a Bengals fan,” Rushton said.
Rushton said his father has been his biggest supporter during this season. He, his parents and brother attended a Bengals game in Baltimore this season. Cincinnati is appearing in the Super Bowl for the first time in 33 years.
Rushton said his father is returning the favor from last year by rooting for the Bengals.
“He is doing the same thing I did — being like my sidekick,” Rushton said.
Greater Nanticoke Area getting artificial turf field and track at stadium
Michael P. Buffer – Staff Writer Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — Greater Nanticoke Area School Board District will seeks bids for an artificial turf and track project at its football stadium.
The cost estimate is around $2 million, and the district can use $900,000 in state grant funding for the project, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said after Thursday’s school board meeting. The stadium field is currently natural grass.
The district wants the artificial turf installed by August and the new track installed by September, Grevera said. The district will use Local Share Account grant funds through the city of Nanticoke for the stadium project. Local Share Account grants are funded with gaming revenue generated by casinos, including Mohegan Sun Pocono.
At Thursday’s meeting, the school board accepted a $46,030.75 quote from Degler-Whiting Inc. to replace gymnasium seats. The current plastic seats are 20 years old and starting to crack, Grevera said.
The district negotiated with company that installed the current seats 20 years ago and got a discount of around a $25,000, Grevera said. The new seats will be installed in the spring or summer, Grevera said.
The board also voted to increase the substitute teacher pay rate from $95 per day to $125 per day and $145 per day for teachers in a position over 20 days. The district is down to six regularly available substitute teachers and would like to have around 20, Grevera said.
The board began the meeting with a moment of silence for former superintendent Anthony Perrone, who died last week. Perrone worked for the district for 50 years, starting as a Spanish teacher and also worked as a school psychologist and guidance counselor. Perrone stepped down as superintendent in 2014.
Greater Nanticoke Area increases substitute pay, replaces gym seats
NANTICOKE — The Greater Nanticoke Area School Board increased substitute teacher pay to $125 a day at Thursday’s monthly meeting, with the rate bumping up to $145 per day for teachers in a position more than 20 days. The rate was $95 per day, but the district, like others in the area, is struggling to attract substitutes, and the increase is similar to those in other districts.
After the meeting, Superintendent Ron Grevera said the district currently only has about six reliable substitutes, and that it could probably use about 20.
The board also approved a plan to have Degler-Whiting Inc. replace the gymnasium seats at a discounted cost not to exceed $46,031. Grevera said the 20-year-old plastic seats had started cracking and become a safety risk. The district negotiated with the company, which had originally installed the seats, and got the price of replacement reduced from about $70,000.
And the board voted to seek bids for the artificial turf and track project at the stadium. The cost won’t be known until bids come in, but the project has been estimated at about $2 million. The district has obtained about $900,000 toward that through the state Local Share Account, money the state gives out to communities from legalized gambling income.
In other sports moves, the board appointed Jeff DeRocco as head girls track coach, Ed Lukowski as track assistant coach, Ronald Bruza Jr. as head football coach, Ken Kaspryzk and Ronald Bruza Sr. as football assistants at half salary each, Deborah Gavin as head girls volleyball coach, James Gavin as girls volleyball assistant coach, Jake Biehl as head softball coach, and Christian Mavus as a lifeguard for the remaining two swim meets at $50 per meet.
The board opened the meeting with a moment of silence for the death of former Superintendent Tony Perrone. Grevera noted Perrone had served the district for nearly 50 years, as a teacher, administrator and Superintendent — working for $1 a year in his later years in the post, helping the district through a tough financial stretch and through some needed construction and renovations.
The board also:
• Approved a donation of $5,000 to the Mill Memorial Library.
• Accepted the retirement of special education teacher Carmella Brown.
• Accepted the resignations of teacher Tara Ebert, cafeteria worker Johanna Relica, cleaners Angela Moran and Alberta Miller, and chorus director Mary Ann Rutkowski.
• Appointed Scott Tarnowski as custodian.
‘Taxing’ stretch keeps Nanticoke fire department busy — even outside the city
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
NANTICOKE — In his 22 years as a full-time Nanticoke firefighter, Capt. Greg Grzymski can’t remember many times as busy and as grueling as the last two months.
“When I see people, they say, ‘Boy you guys have been busy.’ It’s been an unusual year for how many fires we have had,” Grzymski, 46, said. “We had some busy stretches when I was a volunteer in the 1990s, but we had an arsonist running around town then.”
Since an inferno at a double-block home on East Church Street on Dec. 8, the department has responded to 14 calls for structure fires. Ten of them occurred outside city limits — from Wilkes-Barre to Shickshinny — and the department was dispatched as a mutual aid partner.
“They need our help and sometimes we need help,” Grzymski said about the tradition of fire departments helping other departments and municipalities.
Several of the city’s career firefighters describe the recent workload as “taxing,” especially battling blazes in sub-freezing temperatures.
“You’re dealing not only with the fire. You’re dealing with the elements outside. Snow. Ice. Cold. It wears you down,” Grzymski said.
Being a combination career and volunteer department, Nanticoke has paid firefighters on duty around the clock, which is a key to a quick response, including into neighboring towns. Nanticoke also has an asset many others don’t: an aerial truck with a 105-foot ladder.
“We can reach many more places than others around here,” Nanticoke Fire Chief Mark Boncal said.
Nanticoke is automatically dispatched with its ladder truck to all fires in Newport Twp. The department automatically sends a rapid intervention team to all fire calls in Hanover Twp. to be on standby to help crews battling a blaze. Nanticoke also covers a section of Plymouth Twp. stretching from near the Garden Drive-In on Route 11 to near the former Plymouth Twp. Recreation Park.
The city is not reimbursed for its out-of-town responses except for calls in Plymouth Twp., which no longer has its own fire department and contracts with other municipalities for coverage, city and fire officials said. The other responses are considered mutual aid, they said.
Since Dec. 8, Nanticoke responded to four fire calls in the city, five in Newport Twp., and one each in Hanover Twp., Huntington Twp., Shickshinny, Wilkes-Barre and Wilkes-Barre Twp.
During last week’s deadly fire at the Genetti complex in Wilkes-Barre — which displaced more than 100 people — Nanticoke sent a rapid intervention team.
Days earlier, the department scrambled to battle a stubborn blaze in the Wanamie section of Newport Twp., positioning its aerial ladder truck as the main apparatus on scene. A second alarm in Wanamie summoned Edwardsville and its ladder truck. Other departments arrived as part of the standard mutual aid protocol. A third alarm was called and the county’s water tanker task force was activated when crews encountered frozen hydrants.
Uncertainty about turnout by volunteers forces fire crews to request and need backup from other towns, Nanticoke firefighters said.
Fortunately, Nanticoke has a dedicated group of volunteers who have even responded to many of the fires outside the municipality, they said.
“They’re not required to go. That’s just dedication,” Boncal said. “We have a good working relationship with a lot of these fire departments. If they call us, we will go.”
Boncal recalled arriving at the Dec. 8 daytime inferno at the East Church Street property with the three other on-duty men. They needed help quickly.
“That was it for the first couple of minutes. We were trying to put the fire out until the other troops came,” Boncal said.
In addition to off-duty and volunteer Nanticoke firefighters, crews from Hanover Twp., Newport Twp., Plymouth, Kingston and Edwardsville arrived to help fight the blaze.
Most of the fires have been the result of issues with supplemental heating, careless smoking and cooking incidents, Boncal said.
The chief said he was proud of everyone under his command during this most recent stretch of fires.
“This time of year, the guys get beat up because of how cold it is. We have to rotate the guys, put them in the engine to warm up,” Boncal said. “It’s very taxing on everybody, especially the volunteers. They have to go home and get some sleep and go back to their primary jobs in the morning.”
Justin Gildea, 34, a full-time firefighter since 2014, said he doesn’t mind helping out in other municipalities because it’s appreciated when others come to help Nanticoke crews.
“We rely on mutual aid and mutual aid relies on us. It’s a group effort,” Gildea said. “When you are on a stretch of a couple fires, it takes a lot out of you. It’s taxing on the body, yes. A single fire is a lot of work. You start adding three, four, five a month and you get run down pretty quick.”
Assistant Chief John Polifka, 50, a full-time firefighter for 27 years, said the declining number of volunteers “is leading to more mutual aid needed.”
“We go all over the place and we invite people in, too,” Polifka said. “You have to rely on out-of-town departments because everyone is hurting for manpower.”
Greater Nanticoke Area agrees to keep property tax increase in state limit
NANTICOKE — Greater Nanticoke Area joined a rapidly growing list of local school districts voting to keep any property tax increase for the 2022-23 school year within an annual state-set maximum known as the Act 1 Index. For Greater Nanticoke Area, this year the maximum is 5.2%
The index can vary year to year and district by district, but voting to stay within the limit does not mean there will be a tax increase. The vote gives the district until the end of May to make that decision and approve a preliminary budget, with approval of a final budget required by June 30.
A district can only exceed the limit either by getting state approval for exceptions or voter approval through a spring primary referendum. Pursuing those options requires approving a preliminary budget in early February.
The board also approved making Feb. 21, Presidents Day, a make-up day requiring school attendance, compensating for the closure of schools Sept. 20, 2021 due to having no water throughout the district. Board President Tony Prushinski cast the only no vote, saying that with the surge of COVID-19 sweeping Luzerne County, he would prefer the day be made up in June.
Students to return Jan. 18
Superintendent Ron Grevera re-affirmed plans to return students to classrooms on Jan. 18. The district went virtual Monday due to COVID-19 and staffing concerns.
In other business, the board:
• Approved the formation of a swim club in compliance with Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association rules.
• Accepted the resignation of David DeLuca as head softball coach, and agreed to advertise for applicants.
• Voted to have Kleinfelder proceed with geotechnical and infiltration testing at the existing running track and football field at a cost of $7,950.
• Approved participating with the WVIA Enhanced Scholar program at a cost of $2,375.
• Approved an agreement with the Luzerne Intermediate Unit to provide a Community and School Based Behavioral Health Team.
• Approved a deal with ConradSiegel to provide Affordable Care Act employer reporting at a cost of $6,850.
• Approved an agreement keeping Albert B. Melone Company as district business consultant through Dec. 1, 2022 at a one-year cost of $84,196.
• Agreed to purchase 600 Google Chromebooks from CDW-G at a cost of $153,300. The purchase is going through the Pennsylvania Education Purchasing Program for Microcomputers, a state system designed to keep costs down and allow districts to bypass bidding requirements. The computers will be paid for with federal COVID-19 relief funds.
• Accepted the resignations of cafeteria workers Kathleen Heddings and Michelle Bardo, head teacher Edward Grant, and custodian John Fisch.
• Appointed Mary Pliska as special education aide, David Prizniak as custodian, and Colleen Shepanski as Personal Information Management System coordinator at a salary of $40,000.
• Approved the purchase of seven Knoxbox 3200 high-security key lock boxes, designed to give emergency responders access to locked property in emergencies. The boxes are being bought through the City of Nanticoke Fire Department at a cost of $3,130.
Nanticoke receives $300,000 to support affordable housing
NANTICOKE — Gov. Tom Wolf Monday announced the distribution of $8.2 million in funding through the Pennsylvania HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME) to support affordable housing in counties — including $300,000 in Nanticoke.
“Pennsylvanians should not have to choose between paying for basic necessities or needed home repairs to ensure the safety of their loved ones,” Wolf said. “The HOME program provides low-income individuals with access to the affordable, safe and reliable housing they and their families deserve.”
HOME is a federally funded program that provides municipalities with grant and loan assistance to expand and preserve the supply of decent and affordable housing for low- and very low-income Pennsylvanians.
Nanticoke Mayor Kevin Coughlin said the Nanticoke First-Time Homebuyer Program will provide a down payment and closing cost assistance of up to $15,000 to eligible households that purchase a primary residence in Nanticoke for less than $133,000.
To qualify, Coughlin said households must have income between 40% and 80% of the area median and meet other eligibility and underwriting criteria. He said homebuyers that participate in the program will also receive eight hours of housing counseling services.
The program, funded through the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development with federal HOME Investment Partnership funds, will begin accepting applications in early 2022.
Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, said he appreciates the work of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Moosic, and U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, as they work together to drive federal dollars, through the HOME program, to Luzerne County.
“As we continue to attract national companies and thousands of new jobs to the South Valley, these welcomed federal dollars will ensure working families in Nanticoke have access to affordable housing,” Yudichak said.
According to the governor’s office, HOME program funds can be used in a variety of ways to address critical housing needs, including market-oriented approaches that offer opportunities such as home-ownership or rental activities to revitalize communities with new investment.
The Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) receives HOME program funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through the annual entitlement appropriation process.
Greater Nanticoke Area going virtual next week
Citizens Voice – Staff Report
The Greater Nanticoke Area School District will shift to virtual learning this week due to COVID-19 cases and staffing concerns, Superintendent Ronald Grevera said Saturday.
Students will follow their schedules by logging into Google Classroom, attending classes and completing assignments, Grevera said.
The district will reopen to “in-person” learning on Jan. 18 immediately following the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, Grevera said.
Nanticoke City Hall closed
Citizens Voice – Staff Report
NANTICOKE — City Hall is closed until further notice due to increasing COVID-19 cases, city officials announced on Facebook.
All administrative employees are working and can be contacted by calling 570-735-2800 or by email.
Refuse payments for 2022 can be dropped off and placed in the black drop box in front of City Hall.