The HawkEye Poll: managing White’s Woods

By David Loomis

INDIANA — Three times in the past quarter century, White Township supervisors have sought to hire a forester to “manage ” White’s Woods, the 250-acre, township-owned recreational forest that partly straddles the border between the township and Indiana borough.

Twice before, the supervisors have abandoned efforts to cut and clear the forest in the face of spirited public opposition. Now, as the supervisors mount a third try, The HawkEye asks readers’ opinions.

To encourage informed responses to the opinion survey, below are recently published documents and news stories about the township’s latest plans to cut and clear White’s Woods. You do not need to read the information to respond to the poll, which follows immediately after the information:

— White’s Woods management-plan documents submitted to the township by contractor Millstone Land Management LLC, of Marion Center: The documents were posted on the website of Friends of White’s Woods. Click here to review the documents.

— News stories published in The HawkEye that cover the controversy: Click here and here to read the stories.

 

Take the poll:

 

 

If you have a comment, you may add it in the “reply” box or click on the “leave a comment” link, below.

Thank you.

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David Loomis, Ph.D., emeritus professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye.

The HawkEye invites comments on this and other issues of community interest. Email doloomis@iup.edu or click on the “contact us” drop-down menu, above.

 

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White’s Woods logging: ‘There will be a lot of tears’

White’s Woods Nature Center entrance, North 12th Street, Indiana, Pa., May 2, 2020. Photo by David Loomis.

By Sara Stewart

“In childhood the wilds seemed infinite. Along Crooked Creek in the Allegheny Mountains of western Pennsylvania there was a tract of forest we called the Big Woods. The hemlock, beech, poplar, red oak, white oak, maple, and shagbark hickory grew on slopes so steep they had never been logged… Now I would not care to visit those faraway scenes. The forest which seemed so vast to us was only a small thing after all, as the bulldozers, earth movers, and dragline shovels have proved.” 

                   — excerpt, “Shadows from the Big Woods,” by Edward Abbey

INDIANA — The author and environmentalist Edward Abbey, a native of Home, wrote these lines in 1974. They have a particular resonance now, during the latest dispute between the five-member White Township board of supervisors and a growing number of Indiana residents over the township’s plan to remove trees from White’s Woods Nature Center.

How many? The number is proving difficult to pin down. At the township board’s meeting on May 13, a member of the Friends of White’s Woods group asked township manager Milt Lady how FWW had counted nearly 700 trees spray-painted for removal when the official tally given by the township was 250.

Map of White’s Woods, submitted to White Township officials by Millstone Land Management LLC, of Marion Center, the contractor township supervisors have chosen to perform work in the recreational forest. The map’s seven tracts indicate areas within the 250-acre forest where Millstone plans to schedule its work. Source: Friends of White’s Woods website. Click to enlarge.

And this was just on the initial tract, one of seven tracts shown on a map submitted by Millstone Land Management LLC, of Marion Center, the contractor chosen by township supervisors to perform forestry work in the publicly owned recreational forest.

An earlier map showed five tracts.

“I need to talk to our forester and clarify that discrepancy,” said Lady at last week’s meeting, adding that Millstone owner Mike Lawer “may have marked additional trees,” and that any forest project involving “any type of timbering, we have to do the data.”

Although the township has protested that it has not yet submitted any timbering plan to the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, its forester’s overview clearly includes it.

“If you look at the documents,” FWW member Christina Ruby, an IUP biology professor, told The HawkEye, “they have planned on removing something like 56 percent of the tree volume in the entire park.”

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Reopenings at the Indiana Mall

Kohl’s department store at Indiana Mall, May 19, 2020. Photos by David Loomis.

Coronavirus Diary

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Indiana Mall is a commercial ghost town, lately because “Governor Wolf’s Yellow Phase mandate does NOT permit Shopping Malls to open,” according to the mall’s website.

There are exceptions:

“(T)enants with external entrances can open during the Yellow Phase,” the website notes. Harbor Freight, a hardware seller, and H&R Block, the tax-preparation service, have external entrances. But they have been deemed essential businesses from the outset.

Kohl’s department store reopened Friday, May 15, for drive-up service. Customers were admitted inside on May 18.

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Politicking Pennsylvania’s pandemic

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf and Health Secretary Rachel Levine. Photo: Daily Item/AP

Coronavirus Diary

By David Loomis

INDIANA – “In just a swoop of a pen we had our rights taken away just like that!” … “Unconstitutional!!!!!” … “Throw out the masks!”

Some local social media posts recently read like the latest crop from a troll farm  – divisive exclamations of anger over Gov. Tom Wolf’s exercise of authority to protect public health and safety during the current pandemic. To fact-check the assertions:

— The Wolf administration has helpfully listed the rules of law that empower the governor’s executive actions. They include the criminal code; the liquor laws; the Pennsylvania Disease Prevention and Control Law of 1955, enacted during the polio epidemic, and others.

— The constitutionality of governors’ “police powers” has long been recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court to authorize regulation of virtually everything within states’ borders. The most compelling use of a state’s police power is protection of public health and safety, the court has consistently ruled.

— Rhetorical flourishes about face masks make sweeping statements. (One state lawmaker at last month’s Capitol rally described the governor’s protective orders as “tyranny.”)  But as a public health matter, such gatherings as the rally redux scheduled for the Capitol today, do not inspire public confidence. Drawing a statewide – or interstate — crowd unprotected by masks and gloves for a prolonged period is a recipe for seeding and spreading the virus fast, far and wide. (Case study from Pennsylvania history: Philadelphia’s patriotic Liberty Loans Parade during the flu pandemic in September 1918, “the deadliest parade in American history.”)

“That is how Covid-19 spreads,” warned state health secretary Rachel Levine (Pennsylvania’s Anthony Fauci) last month.  Continue reading

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Logging White’s Woods, version 3.1

Jessica Jopp, board member, Friends of White’s Woods, May 2, 2020. Photo by David Loomis.

By Sara Stewart

INDIANA — As spring slowly comes to Indiana, a battle is reheating over the fate of White’s Woods Nature Center, the 250-acre wooded tract of land owned by White Township.

For the third time in the past three decades, the township’s supervisors — chairman George E. Lenz, vice chairman Rich Gallo, Gail L. McCauley, A. Eugene Gemmell, and Sandi Gillette — are attempting to enact a forest management plan that includes extensive timbering of White’s Woods, with the new element of removing invasive species, all purportedly to improve forest health.

Also for the third time, the Friends of Whites Woods community group has come together to oppose what they say is greed-fueled overreach, faulty forestry planning and a lack of respect for public opinion.

This time, they say there’s a deliberate attempt by the township’s supervisors to use the Covid-19 stay-at-home order as cover for a plan that would likely meet with widespread disapproval. Again.

“I don’t think any of us is convinced that the supervisors’ main interest is the health of the forest,” FWW board member Jessica Jopp told the HawkEye. “They’ve thrown out the invasive species thing as their defense, but it’s hard to assess that, because their actions have been kind of dubious.”

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Jim Fogle’s justice

Exoneree Lewis James “Jim” Fogle, Indiana University of Pennsylvania public forum, March 23, 2016. Photo by David Loomis.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA – On April 20, a federal appeals court in Pittsburgh issued a ruling in a lawsuit brought by Lewis James “Jim” Fogle, the Indiana County man wrongfully convicted in 1982 for the 1976 rape and murder of a Cherry Tree teen.

For Fogle, the ruling was good news. For criminal justice in Indiana County, the ruling was discouraging news.

In 2018, following his exoneration, Fogle filed a federal lawsuit against Indiana County, the county’s prosecutors and state police officers who he says trumped up charges that sent him to prison. He spent 34 years behind bars for a crime that DNA forensic analysis showed he could not have committed.

The recent appeals court ruling addressed only a preliminary question of whether prosecutors were guaranteed absolute immunity from lawsuits for conduct of their official duties. (The state troopers were not part of the preliminary question.)

In the ruling that the court labeled “precedential,” the three-judge panel concluded that the prosecutors enjoyed only qualified immunity. Therefore, they could be sued.

“Immunity from civil liability enjoyed by prosecutors hinges on the sanctity of our judicial process, not ‘any special esteem,’” the ruling said. “And so only truly prosecutorial functions, not investigative conduct, justify complete protection from suit.” (Italics added)

The county prosecutors’ unprotected investigative conduct in Fogle’s case fits a profile that the Innocence Project (partners in Fogle’s defense) has drawn of prosecution “errors” that have contributed to thousands of criminal convictions, like Fogle’s, that have been overturned nationwide.

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Hard times, Indiana County, summer of 1933

Unemployment line, Pittsburgh, Great Depression.

By James P. “Jim” Dougherty

INDIANA — In 1933, the nation’s fourth year of the Great Depression, 37 percent of Pennsylvania’s workforce was jobless. Those fortunate enough to find work faced declining wages and shortened weeks.

In May of that year, members of the Indiana Workers Unemployment Council voted to change the organization’s name to the Workers’ Federation of Indiana County and to join a new state-wide organization called The Workers Federation of Pennsylvania.

A press release said, “Many of our members are employed, both part-time and full-time, and the old name seemed to exclude them.” But the real reason for the change was that local members wanted to become more involved with an organization that sought to bring about social change on the state level.  These members thought grassroots organizing had to be amplified with state-level political advocacy.

In the summer of 1933, tensions between the unemployed and the county’s welfare officials heightened. In the community of Armagh, 300 members of the Workers Federation protested against the unfair treatment they were receiving from their local welfare board.

On July 19, more than a thousand members of the Workers’ Federation gathered at the County Relief Board to protest the “present allowance of relief.”  They were given a conference with the Indiana County Emergency Relief Board, where they presented an extensive list of demands.

One was for the removal of eight relief investigators who were notorious for harsh treatment of the unemployed. The mistreatment reportedly included verbal abuse and general searches of houses to gather evidence for reports. Federation members proposed a “fairer” allotment system for the distribution of relief based upon family size and asked for increases in clothing, shoes and medical care.

After the meeting, they marched down Philadelphia Street and rallied in front of the Fifth Street School, where more speeches were made before disbanding.

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Of experts, amateurs and viruses

Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

Coronavirus Diary

 By David Loomis

INDIANA – “The virus will tell us.”

So responded Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, to questions about when to reopen the U.S. economy and loosen community mitigation measures.

Fauci, the bespectacled personification of pandemic expertise, is a trusted pundit. Even Fox News says so.

And virologists and epidemiologists say testing for coronavirus infection (and tracing of social contacts) is how the virus will tell us — including Pennsylvanians — when it’s safe to reopen for business.

On Sunday, nationwide testing data reported by The Associated Press appeared on the front page of The Indiana Gazette. The headline said most states are falling short on testing, and Pennsylvania is among them.

The state health department says testing capacity has improved. But collaborating researchers for the AP and for Harvard University say the capacity falls well short of what’s needed.

The researchers calculated the number of COVID-19 diagnostic tests needed for each state to accurately gauge exposure to the pandemic and risks of reopening for business. In Pennsylvania, the number of daily tests needed is 15,075.

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May Day caravan and Covid-19 closures

A caravan of a dozen or so cars and trucks honked down Philadelphia Street at noon on May Day in support of local businesses trying to cope with COVID-19 restrictions. Photos by Fred Kipp. Click to enlarge.

Coronavirus Diary

By David Loomis

INDIANA — At noon Friday, a caravan of cars and trucks circled a largely shuttered downtown business district, honked horns and displayed hand-lettered signs in support of local entrepreneurs struggling through an ongoing global public-health quarantine.

Organizer Tammy Graham Curry prepares to depart a caravan staging area at the Bi-Lo grocery on North Fourth Street in Indiana.

Event organizer and shop owner Tammy Graham Curry led the parade at the wheel of a heavy-duty pickup truck wearing a red-and-black plaid lumberjack shirt over a black-and-white T-shirt that read “Straight Outta Toilet Paper.”

In social media posts on Thursday, Ms. Curry asserted the “We CARE-avan Cruise” was “NOT political.” But it was “bipartisan.” And in other posts she expressed opposition to Gov. Tom Wolf’s strict closure rules on non-essential businesses under emergency powers COVID-19 pandemic.

In Harrisburg, meanwhile, Gov. Wolf announced relaxation of restrictions on shops and businesses in 24 largely rural counties beginning next week. Indiana County was not among them.

Caravanners display non-political signs. Click to enlarge.

Earlier in Harrisburg, Republican lawmakers backed a party-line bill unsuccessfully challenging the governor’s business-closure orders. State Rep. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana, voted for it. So did state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana.

Both lawmakers, among other local officials, attended the May Day car-cruise. Some wore masks. Some didn’t.

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Indiana County and the infodemic

Tammy Graham Curry, gun-rights rally, White Township, Pa., Aug. 16, 2019. Photo by Anthony Frazier.

Coronavirus Diary

By David Loomis

INDIANA – A second front in the commander-in-chief’s “war” on the “invisible enemy” of COVID-19 is an “infodemic” — a global tsunami of misinformation.

The infodemic comes in various sizes and shapes, from the president’s spinning to Alex Jones’ grifting to postings on social media.

Examples of the latter are found on the publicly accessible Facebook pages of local Trump supporter, conservative activist and shop owner Tammy Graham Curry. She has been a prominent public figure in Indiana County’s controversial 2015 property-tax reassessment and more recently in support of gun rights

Ms. Curry’s Facebook page  — and a companion page devoted to her small business — is a rough barometer of local conservative sentiment, and that sentiment seems as strong as ever for the president, who swept the county 2-1 in 2016.

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