Looking back at 2013's big local news stories

| Wednesday, Dec. 25, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Looking back on 2013, we'll remember the revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance programs, the ascension of a new pope and the Pirates' first playoff appearance since a Bush – the first one – was in the Oval Office.

We rooted for Boston to be strong, mourned the dead in a devastating Oklahoma tornado, and debated the ramifications of a government shutdown and the botched rollout of the health care exchanges.

Locally, a superintendent surprisingly left, a construction project moved forward and history buffs honored a significant battle from 1763. Here's a look back at the top stories in the Penn-Trafford area.

Butler leaves

Less than two years after arriving from Elk County to become Penn-Trafford's superintendent, Thomas Butler confirmed in May that he was leaving to become executive director of the Blair County-based Appalachia Intermediate Unit 8.

School board members, who were complimentary about Butler's tenure, said they were stunned by his exit in the midst of planning for a high school remodeling project and the implementation of new “non-negotiable goals” for the district.

Butler's assistant, Matt Harris, a district employee since 2007, was appointed as interim superintendent through early February.

Bridge opens

It took 18 months, but the new Trafford Veterans Memorial Bridge finally opened on Oct. 26.

A volunteer committee organized a parade and threw a party to celebrate residents' ability to drive to Monroeville along Route 130 instead of taking a detour via Forbes Road.

Borough officials say they hope the bridge will help to draw more people into Trafford as a potential linchpin to new development opportunities.

High school project

School board members wrestled all year with the cost of remodeling the high school and decided in June to cap spending at $32 million and in November to organize the selling of bonds so the district can pay off the project debt within 17 years.

Under that scenario, officials said, Penn-Trafford would be able to repay the debt without raising the property-tax rate specifically because of the project, though they acknowledged they might have to OK a tax hike to pay for employee pensions or other operational costs.

As consultants are preparing to seek contract bids in the spring, the proposed work includes infrastructure improvements to the building, a remodeled auditorium and kitchen, an updated gym and locker rooms, an expanded pool deck, better parking-lot lighting, new parking spaces and a new bus loop.

Light leaving

In Penn Township, commissioners are planning their first search for a new manager since 1995.

Commissioners are setting a high bar for replacing Bruce Light by revising the manager's duties to include marketing the municipality to potential developers and requiring an annual update to a five-year plan for all aspects of municipal government.

Light said he intends to retire in May.

McLaughlin hired

Trafford welcomed its first manager since the mid-1990s — Jeff McLaughlin, the former Main Street manager in Uniontown.

Besides leaning on his background in community development, Trafford Council tasked McLaughlin with writing a state-grant application for a complete makeover of Westmoreland Park. Officials learned in November that they'll get $215,120, which will cover 80 percent of the project's cost.

Sewage project

Lower-than-expected bids for Manor's sewage project enabled the borough to reduce the loan it received from Pennsylvania Infrastructure and Investment Authority by about $1 million to $1.6 million.

In turn, that means that the quarterly debt service that customers will owe to help repay the loan starting in January will be $20.04, which is at least $10 less than officials originally projected.

Engineer Ed Antonacci reported in November that the most-pressing part of the project — a state-mandated separation of the combined storm- and sanitary-sewer lines — was complete.

Eminent domain

Sunoco Logistics in July chose a Penn Township property for the first in a series of eminent-domain filings in Westmoreland County for its Mariner East pipeline project.

A judge granted that request, for land near the William Penn Care Center, and another for Penn Township properties owned by Delmont police Chief T.J. Klobucar and his wife.

A third case in Penn Township — for an easement along Route 130 near Hungry Hank's Pizzeria — is pending.

Sunoco's pipeline, which will transport ethane and propane as natural-gas liquids, will run from the Houston area in Washington County to Salem Township and connect to another line that will cross the state and end just over the border in Delaware.

In May, Penn Township commissioners declined to act on Sunoco's offer of $1,550 for 39-foot-by-50-foot right-of-way on township land in Claridge.

Political departures

Several longtime politicos aside in 2013.

Former Trafford Councilman Frank Bruno was the first to go. He resigned in February, nearly a year after council removed him as vice president and finance chairman.

Rita Windsor, a 10-year councilwoman and former council president, decided against running for re-election, while two-year Councilman Henry Schultz lost races for both four-year and two-year seats.

In Manor, Chuck Konkus resigned in March because he moved to Penn Township.

He served 13 years, including several as council president.

Neither Mayor Dave Sturgess nor Councilman Jeff Herman chose to run again.

Penn Township commissioners also are losing their chairman, Chuck Horvat, who is retiring after four terms.

Park projects

Within four days of each other in May, Penn Township officials celebrated the opening of a new dog park in Penn Township Municipal Park, and Trafford residents rededicated Trafford Veterans Memorial Park.

The dog park was one of the highlights of a park $531,000 expansion, while a volunteer committee in Trafford raised more than $75,000 in cash and $14,000 in donated materials and equipment to refurbish monuments and improve the landscaping and walking paths.

250th anniversary

There were some new spins to the Bushy Run Battlefield Heritage Society's annual commemoration of the two-day clash near modern-day Harrison City that was part of Pontiac's Rebellion.

The 250th anniversary, which was observed in August, featured the unveiling of a new monument honoring the dead among the British, the two Scottish Highlander regiments who fought with them and the Native Americans who ambushed them after the end of fighting in the French and Indian War.

A delegation from the Seneca Nation of Indians, which was among the Native American tribes that fought in the battle, also came from New York to participate in a ceremonial burying of the hatchet.

Ranger memorial

The other significant war memorial dedication in the region happened on private property in Penn Township.

James Bell, a former paratrooper, and his wife, Antoinette, paid for the construction of a backyard memorial to the 51 fallen from K Company of the 75th Ranger Infantry Regiment during the Vietnam War.

Several elected officials from the federal, state and local levels joined 13 Ranger veterans among the people who attended the Aug. 24 dedication.

Chris Foreman is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 8671, or cforeman@tribweb.com.

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