Top 10 Norwin stories of 2012
By Brad Pedersen
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Here are the top 10 stories in the Norwin region of 2012:
10. Recreation Organization of North Irwin
North Irwin council dismantled the Recreation Organization of North Irwin, or RONI, board in October after council accused the group of not holding public meetings, not communicating with borough officials and not holding several of its annual events.
The group is responsible for planning all of the borough-sponsored recreation events, such as the Halloween parade, Light Up Night and the annual senior citizens dinner, as well as providing gift cards for groceries to needy families around the holidays.
Although the borough does not include money in its annual budget for the recreation group, council President Kim Macalus said, it typically receives an annual $500 donation from the Norwin Community Foundation, along with donations from borough residents.
In December, council appointed five residents and two council liaisons to the Recreation Organization of North Irwin, or RONI.
The new board is Michelle Frye, Sonnett Kettren, Jennifer McCutcheon, Deb Schade and Shannon Schade, and council liaisons Ron Brown and Macalus.
Frye and Kettren were members of the former RONI board.
The appointments leave two spots open on the RONI board, which council hopes to eventually fill.
The newly formed RONI board plans to meet for the first time in January.
Borough residents interested in joining the RONI board should send a letter of interest to North Irwin Town Hall, 21 Second St., North Irwin, PA 15642.
9. Commissioners establish “Truth in Advertising” law
North Huntingdon officials enacted a “Truth in Advertising” ordinance in March that allows officials to issue fines to township businesses or organizations claiming their physical location is anywhere other than North Huntingdon.
The ordinance requires businesses in the township to note their physical location is North Huntingdon, not Irwin, in all advertising and promotional materials.
The ordinance also applies to churches, schools and nonprofit agencies.
It went into effect on May 13. Since enacting it, officials sent letters to each of the township's 865 businesses that included a copy of the ordinance and an explanation,township manager John Shepherd said.
Although there are no staff members dedicated to enforcing the ordinance, officials plan to keep their eyes and ears open for violators, Shepherd said.
The commissioners began discussing the ordinance after pointing out several businesses throughout the township say their location is Irwin when advertising.
For example, the Pittsburgh-based Giant Eagle lists its locations in North Huntingdon Square as the North Huntingdon Giant Eagle but lists the adjoining Get-Go gas station as its Irwin location.
Although the ordinance comes with fines of up to $500 per day for violators, Shepherd said officials plan to send several letters to business owners before enacting the penalty.
Officials issued one warning but no fines to businesses violating the ordinance.
8. Changes in North Irwin council
North Irwin council underwent several changes in 2012.
In January, council appointed now-President Kim Macalus to fill a two-year term on the board after she lost in the election.
During the November general election, councilman Ron Brown garnered enough write-in votes to secure the two-year seat but declined after receiving enough write-in votes to earn a four-year term.
Macalus got 82 votes, which was not enough to overcome Brown, Republican Zack Laughery and Democratic incumbent Bernie Reynolds.
Laughery, who was the top vote-getter in the 2011 council race, resigned from his first term on council in August. He cited personal reasons.
The next month, council appointed former Democratic mayoral hopeful Matt Berkhouse to fill the remainder of Laughery's term, which expires on Dec. 31.
In September, council also released its longtime solicitor, John Campfield of Greensburg-based Campfield & Ferraro, to hire attorney Luke Wilson of Irwin.
Mayor James Douglas said Campfield was the borough solicitor as far back as 1995, during Douglas' first term as a councilman.
Macalus said the move was an effort to save money on legal fees. Campfield charged the borough $85 per hour, while Wilson charges $65 per hour.
7. Residents resist pipeline plan
Dozens of North Huntingdon residents showed opposition to a proposed Sunoco Logistics high-pressure pipeline slated to run through their properties in the southern portion of the township in August.
Sunoco Logistics sent letters to several property owners in the region informing them that surveying crews would be coming onto their properties to scout a possible route for the Mariner East pipeline. The company hopes to establish rights of way on private and public properties for the pipeline.
According to a news release from the company, the Mariner East pipeline will transport propane and ethane, which is a byproduct of Marcellus and Utica shale gases. The 50-mile pipeline is scheduled to run from Houston, which is about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, through North Huntingdon and into Delmont.
In Delmont, the pipeline would connect to an existing line that runs to New Jersey, according to the company‘s website.
The company expects the pipeline to transport 65,000 barrels per day of natural gas liquid, but has the potential to support higher volumes.
Sunoco Logistics expects to transport ethane through the Mariner East pipeline by mid-2013. The company expects the pipeline could transport propane by the second half of 2014, and fully operational by the first half of 2015.
6. Gloria's Cantina Lounge raided
Pennsylvania State Police shut down Gloria's Cantina Lounge, a strip club on the western end of Route 30 in North Huntingdon, after a series of undercover investigations between Sept. 4 and Oct. 10.
The investigation resulted in drug charges against a dancer and club patron, and prostitution charges filed against another dancer.
Nathan Edward Moore V, 34, of Third Street, Pitcairn, faces 12 counts of possession of a controlled substance with intention to manufacture or deliver and six counts of possession of a controlled substance, while Ashlee Nicole Campbell, 30, of North Avenue, East Pittsburgh, faces two counts of possession of a controlled substance with intent to manufacture or deliver. Police also charged dancer Selene Amber Vicini, 35, of Case Road, Rochester, with prostitution.
All three waived their rights to a preliminary hearing in District Judge Douglas Weimer's courtroom on Dec. 5, and face formal arraignments in the Westmoreland Court of Common Pleas on Feb. 27.
According to court records, police hope to label Gloria's Cantina Lounge as a nuisance bar and close its doors permanently.
The club remains closed indefinitely after Westmoreland County Common Pleas Judge Richard McCormick Jr. stormed out of a hearing last week after the attorney for Gloria's, Dante Bertani, said he had not received investigatory reports from the county's district attorney, John Peck.
McCormick has not set a date to reconvene the case.
5. Little Knights Kingdom
In June, Irwin council President John Cassandro said the end could be near for Little Knights Kingdom in Irwin Park, unless community groups and residents step up to make improvements and rebuild it.
Cassandro said the borough might be better off demolishing the 18-year-old play structure, instead of attempting to continue funding repairs.
Borough officials estimated it could cost up to $75,000 to repair or move the bridge from Irwin Park into Little Knights Kingdom, on top of the cost of any improvements to rehabilitate the structure and to make it compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The bridge is too steep to be considered compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, or ADA.
Officials also questioned the stability of the bridge after engineer Lucien Bove conducted a geotechnical study of its foundation. The study revealed officials would have to replace the bridge's foundation because of erosion caused by water running down the steep slope and the stream it crosses.
In February, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and the Pennsylvania Recreation and Park Society rejected Irwin Council‘s request for a $100,000 grant to refurbish Little Knights Kingdom because it is not compliant with the ADA.
When applying for the grant, borough officials did not present plans to bring it into ADA compliance.
Officials submitted the original plans for Little Knights Kingdom, which were made in 1993. According to the ADA website, the act did not require play areas to be accessible to those with disabilities until November 2000.
In addition to problems with the bridge, the play area is missing several boards, and most of the cushioning is washed away.
Since it opened in 1994, chains throughout the playground have weakened and boards have come loose.
4. Norwin Towne Square
Demolition began on the blighted Norwin Towne Square over the summer, and officials granted developers a five-year tax break to rehabilitate the property.
In November, the North Huntingdon commissioners unanimously approved a Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance agreement with Colony Norwin LLC, which plans to restructure the 60-year-old shopping center.
Don Tarosky, a partner in Colony Norwin LLC, said the designation allows him to redevelop the property, which would increase the value.
The agreement designated Norwin Towne Square as a blighted property and grants 100-percent tax relief on the improved portions of the complex for five years, starting after construction wraps up, when the township issues the final occupancy permits, township manager John Shepherd said.
Torosky said the complex's framework and flooring are the only parts officials plan to reuse. Crews already replaced the roof, storm-water management and electrical systems, and are going to refinish the parking lot.
Colony Norwin LLC finalized the sale of Norwin Towne Square in June and plans to demolish the shopping center from the former Scozio‘s Family Supermarket to Sun Capsule Tanning Salon.
The space along Lincoln Way would be used to make room for a new 38,000-square-foot Shop 'n Save grocery store and more parking, Tarosky said.
At the other end of the shopping center, developers plan to demolish from Norwin Barbershop to the vacant storefront next to Pizza Hut and the former Flynn's Tire Center, to make way for Bob Massie Toyota along Malts Lane.
Tarosky said developers plan to open Shop ‘n Save and Bob Massie Toyota in 2013.
“We hope, in a year, people will look at Norwin Towne Square and be proud that it's located right in the center of the township,” Tarosky said in November.
3. Township hires new police chief
North Huntingdon hired former Green Tree police Chief Andrew Lisiecki in May to replace retiring police Chief Michael Daugherty.
Lisiecki took over in early June with a salary of $97,400 per year. He had served as Green Tree's police chief since 2009.
Daugherty's final day on the job was March 1. In his absence, the commissioners appointed Lt. Rod Mahinske as acting chief.
Daugherty, 59, was the township's top police administrator for five years.
He started his career as an officer in North Huntingdon in 1974.
Commissioners Donald Austin and David Herold voted against Lisiecki's hiring after expressing interest in promoting an officer within the department to its top administrative spot.
2. DUI checkpoints
North Huntingdon commissioners backpedaled on a decision to seek a state grant to start a regional DUI task force in September.
A month before the final vote, a majority favored starting the task force after a 4-2 vote, with commissioners Rich Gray and Brian West dissenting, while president Lee Moffatt was absent.
The final vote was 6-1, with commissioner Donald Austin dissenting.
“I don't want checkpoints in North Huntingdon, Penn Township or anywhere else in the United States,” Moffatt said.
“If we accept this grant, we‘re condoning checkpoints, even if they‘re run somewhere else.”
Chief Andrew Lisiecki said the grant would have supplied funding for a task force composed of officers from Manor, Trafford, Jeannette and Penn Township, with the North Huntingdon police serving as the task force leader.
The PennDOT grant could have supplied the communities with additional funding to provide overtime for officers to create DUI checkpoints and roving patrols.
During checkpoints, Lisiecki said, officers ask for the driver's license, registration and insurance cards while looking for any signs of intoxication, such as glassy eyes, slurred vision or the smell of alcohol.
The checkpoints always are conducted in areas where intoxicated drivers and accidents commonly are reported, such as Route 30, he said.
1. Lamp Theatre plans stall
The Westmoreland Cultural Trust's work at the 71-year-old Lamp Theatre in Irwin came to a standstill after bids to rehabilitate the building came in too high in July.
Westmoreland Cultural Trust officials received bids from just two contractors to rehabilitate the theater, which came in higher than expected, according to Michael Langer, trust president.
Langer declined to reveal the cost or firms involved.
Officials estimated it would cost about $650,000 to get the theater running again, a cost that would be split between the state, county and Irwin Borough.
According to the estimate, the county and state each would contribute about $250,000 to the project to repair the structure, while the borough could contribute about $150,000 for interior work. The Trust's plans included 381 seats and an expanded entryway to make the building accessible to those with disabilities and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Langer said.
The bid documents included plans to demolish portions of the restrooms to make way for new fixtures and partitioned, floor-mounted toilets, wall-mounted urinals and new sinks, and new cold and hot water piping.
Plans also included refinishing the floors and walls, installing new ceilings, light fixtures, doors and windows, and a new electrical system.
The final part of the project included reinforcing the stage and installing sound and lighting systems, curtains, backdrops, seats and safety devices, such as fire and smoke detectors, Langer said.
The Westmoreland Cultural Trust would own the theater and plans to run and manage the Lamp if it reopens, and it would feature between 80 and 90 performances per year.
Since the bids came in, Langer declined to discuss the project further with the Norwin Star. He said there has been no concrete decision made on the organization's next steps with the Lamp.
Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8626, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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