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Indiana County takes legal steps to address Cherryhill road access

| Thursday, Nov. 15, 2012, 9:02 p.m.

The Indiana County Commissioners, after a unanimous vote at Wednesday's meeting, will act on the Indiana County Planning Commission's recommendation to file legal action in County Common Pleas Court against the owners of a Cherryhill Township subdivision who, the planning commission says, neglected to complete required improvements to the road granting access to four homes on the property.

Charles and Mildred Altemus have owned the property since 1998, the planning commission said, and have failed to make the road improvements required under the Indiana County Subdivision Ordinance.

“The Indiana County Subdivision Ordinance requires that the public road improvements be constructed to local Cherryhill Township specifications, and be dedicated to the township for public use and maintenance,” planning commission chairman Ed Nehrig said. “The road improvements have never been completed since Mr. and Mrs. Altemus acquired the property in 1998.”

Nehrig also said the Altemus family attempted to do some work on the road over the summer but left the conditions worse than they had been before.

“The road and access for some of the property owners to their homes in the development is actually worse after Altemus attempted to do some road work in the middle of summer without restoring their access,” Nehrig said. “A second legal action is to request the court to order Altemus through temporary injunctive relief to restore the road to a condition prior to his work in June which would permit the property owners to access their homes and provide maintenance for the private road this winter.”

Rod Ruddock, chairman of the county commissioners, said meetings between the Altemus family and county officials have not yielded appropriate results and the county could face legal ramifications for not enforcing the subdivision ordinance.

“I just want to make note that the county commissioners were aware of this issue at some point last year in more detail,” Ruddock said. “We actually organized a meeting with the Altemus family and with the planning commission to actually discuss those issues with Mr. Altemus to see if there was a last-minute effort that they could make which could take care of this problem so it would not come to this particular level of decision-making. There was action that was taken, but it abruptly ended ... and nothing more has been done. And now we are fearful that the property owners will have an unsafe area in which to travel and in fact the property owners could take action against the county if we do not at least enforce the provisions of what was laid out by the planning commission.”

“It's my understanding that they can't even get their vehicles into their own garage. It's not just a casual situation,” commissioner David Frick said before moving that the commissioners act on the planning commission's recommendation.

The commissioners also unanimously approved the planning commission's recommendation to appoint Tom Rivosecchi as special counsel to assist in the legal action regarding the Altemus family.

The Altemuses declined to comment on the situation.

Another special counsel was appointed Wednesday. Marie Milie Jones was appointed special counsel for District Attorney Patrick Dougherty in a pending prisoner civil rights case filed by Sanford Edwards in which Dougherty is listed as the defendant.

Edwards was convicted in Indiana County of criminal homicide in the late 1970s, Dougherty said, and is serving a life sentence.

“Mr. Edwards has exhausted every appeal he has, now he has taken to sue, I guess, me personally as the district attorney,” Dougherty said. “He's trying to get biological evidence, DNA, to have it examined. The state courts have already denied his requests, so now he's gone into federal court and filed a lawsuit which I got served with yesterday.

“I met with (County Solicitor) Mr. (Michael) Clark and I met with your chief clerk, Robin (Maryai), and we need to get somebody that handles federal litigation to do this,” Dougherty added. “The normal scope of my office would be habeas corpus matters and things like that, we go into federal court all the time. But when myself and the county are named as a defendant, Mr. Clark and I felt that it's probably best to get somebody that is in federal court on a regular basis. It's probably a pretty standard thing that Ms. Jones has dealt with on a regular basis.”

The commissioners also appointed Frank Holuta, Robert Joseph and Elizabeth Duncan to positions on the Tri-County Workforce Investment Board for terms to expire Sept. 30, 2015, and appointed David Orr as farmer director of the Soil Conservation Board, with Frick appointed as commissioner member of the same panel. Orr's term expires Jan. 1, 2017 while Frick's term expires Jan. 1, 2014.

Joseph LaVan was appointed to the board of Indiana County Municipal Services for a term to expire in January 2018.

The county was awarded a waiver from the Federal Communications Commission's Narrowbanding Mandate after demonstrating the county had taken steps to transition its emergency management communications systems from the VHF radio band to a new 800 MHz system.

The VHF band is a low-frequency band from 150 to 175 MHz. The narrowbanding mandate would have required the county to narrow its emergency management channel from 25 kHz to 12.5 kHz by Jan. 1. Because the county had already begun to transition out of the VHF band entirely, the FCC determined enforcing the narrowbanding mandate would be “unduly burdensome” and would force the county to spend money on “a narrowbanding system it intends to abandon,” when the new 800 MHz system is operational.

Two change orders and a budget revision were unanimously approved at the meeting, all related to the county's Office of Planning and Development.

The first change order dealt with a roofing project at the Emergency Management Agency building, allotting an additional $10,000 from the capital budget for the replacement of deteriorated plywood sheathing and mineral board. The revised total for the project is $78,944.

The budget revision and second change order stemmed from a competitive community development block grant for the Glen Campbell Water System Improvements Project. Because the original construction bid for the project came in under estimate, county planners recommended addeing construction work items to the project.

The revision removed $419.30 from the administrative line of the budget and added the same amount to the construction line to cover engineering fees incurred by the additional construction work items.

The second change order increased the CDBG project contract amount by 3,409.98 for additional permitting fees required to use CDBG funds left over after the original contract work was completed. Project funds were sufficient to cover the increase.

The commissioners read proclamations recognizing Janet Neal as Senior Corps Volunteer of the Year and November as National Caregivers Month. Neal volunteers at Aging Services' Two Lick Valley Social Center in Clymer.

In other business, the commissioners authorized the county probation department to allot $3,500 for one year to provide a direct connection to the “Commonwealth Law Enforcement Assistance Network” (CLEAN) to expedite the registration of sex offenders as federally mandated by the Adam Walsh Act.

The county received a settlement check in the amount of $71,100 from L.R. Kimball & Associates to pay for the installation of a fluid cooler for the geothermal system at the county jail.

The commissioners also awarded a bid for the replacement of the Dixon Run Bridge on Ash Road in Rayne Township to Francis J. Palo, Inc. in the amount of $448,278 at PennDOT's recommendation. A total of 15 bids were placed for the project.

Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913 or

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