Reviewing Burrell’s bike-path roadblock

Bike path, Black Lick, Burrell Township, Pa., June 25, 2019. Photo by David Loomis.

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA — Last week, it finally dawned on Burrell Township supervisors that their lonely four-year fight against a decade-long effort to extend a regional network of bicycle and pedestrian pathways across their dominion lacked one critical supporting element:

A good reason.

At their July 17 board meeting, the supervisors appeared to face the fact that their arguments might have been contrived.  They announced that the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development had revised and resubmitted the hike-and-bike plan they formally rejected on May 24.

That two-page rejection letter, signed by township board Chairman John Shields, expressed objections, for example, as a circular argument or as a mountain made out of a molehill.

— Circular argument:

“The plan does not adequately consider how bicycle and pedestrian traffic will access the north side of the pedestrian bridge, given that there is currently no bicycle or pedestrian trail in the vicinity of the proposed bridge site.”

Translation: Burrell supervisors themselves have gone so far to impede hiker and biker traffic to the designated bridge site as to remove trail markers posted along the way.

— Mountain/molehill:

“The (April 11, 2013, PennDOT) email identifies US Route 422 as the right of way that bridge will be crossing over, when in fact Route 22 is the correct road that the proposed bridge would be constructed over.”

Translation: We can’t bother to correct a typo.

Now, county planners have addressed those concerns, and township supervisors are resigned.

“Our attorney told us there is nothing we can do to stop them if they comply,” said township supervisor Larry Henry at last week’s board meeting.

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Immigration debate erupts on sidewalks of 7th Street

A U.S. immigration-policy protester, left, and a counter-protester at the corner of 7th and Philadelphia streets in downtown Indiana, July 12, 2019. Photos by Anthony Frazier,  Click to enlarge.

By David Loomis

INDIANA – A heated national debate over immigration on the U.S.-Mexico border echoed for an hour on opposite sidewalks in downtown Indiana on Friday evening.

Social media earlier in the week had promoted the 5:30-6:30 p.m. protest at IRMC Park.

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Road rage at 11th and Philadelphia

The stoplight intersection at Philadelphia and 11th streets in Indiana, Pa., looking east along Philadelphia, the central thoroughfare in the borough’s downtown commercial district. The photo was taken roughly where Whites Run flows through a culvert beneath Philadelphia Street, according to state Department of Transportation maps. PennDOT is preparing to replace the culvert and remove the traffic signal. Photo by David Loomis, Friday, July 12, 2019, 9 a.m.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – For a half century the borough’s population has been sliding. In 1970, the U.S. Census recorded 16,100 residents; in 2010, the head count dropped to 13,975, a decline of 13 percent.

The 2020 count is likely to show continued decline countywide. Meanwhile, a parallel decline is occurring at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the county’s largest employer, where student enrollment is facing free fall and faculty hiring is all but frozen.

Echoing the population trends, the state Department of Transportation has advised borough officials that it will not pay to replace a traffic light at the intersection of 11th and Philadelphia streets when it replaces a nearby underground culvert. The signal at the intersection on the western edge of the borough’s downtown commercial district is “not warranted,” according to an Indiana PennDOT staffer in a July 11 phone interview.

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Parsimony and partisanship in Harrisburg

Credit: Clay Bennett, Christian Science Monitor

An opinion

By David Loomis

INDIANA — The nation’s largest full-time state  legislature checked out of Harrisburg last week for a summer-long vacation after passing a $34 billion budget just in time for the new fiscal year, an achievement for the lawmakers. Gov. Tom Wolf signed the budget bill into law, despite misgivings.

One misgiving concerned a provision to eliminate funds to help the neediest Pennsylvanians.

The $50 million a year “general assistance” program had provided up to $205 per month for basic necessities – toothpaste, meds and bus fare, according to one analysis — for about 11,000 Pennsylvanians who are disabled, who survive domestic violence, who are treated for addiction, who have no family support and who receive no other public assistance.

Opponents said the program was ripe for fraud. They said something similar in 2012 when they last eliminated the program. But a unanimous state Supreme Court ruling restored it in 2018.

Unsurprisingly, last month’s legislative votes to kill the program followed partisan lines in Harrisburg, where the legislative branch is in Republican hands and the executive is in Democratic. Indiana County’s representatives ran true to a pledge of unity: State Reps. Jim Struzzi, R-Indiana; Cris Dush, R-Brookville; Jeff Pyle, R-Ford City, and state Sen. Joe Pittman, R-Indiana, all voted to cut the general-assistance program from the budget. (Indiana County records 52 general-assistance recipients.)

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Survey: Burrell supervisors, citizens on different bike paths

A green sign indicates the end of a marked portion of the Hoodlebug Trail in Burrell township at the intersection of Cornell Road, left, and four-lane southwestbound U.S. Route 119, right. A half mile west/southwest is the Blairsville interchange where U.S. Routes 119 and 22 merge. The Indiana County Office of Planning and Development plans to extend the trail about a half mile from here to a proposed bridge on which pedestrians and bicyclists can cross over U.S. Routes 119 and 22 into Blairsville borough and onto its riverfront. Burrell township supervisors are opposed. Citizens are supportive, a survey finds. Photo by Nathan Zisk, June 25, 2019.

By Nathan Zisk

BLACK LICK – For four years, Burrell township supervisors have clashed with Indiana County officials over prioritized construction of a grant-funded, bicycle and pedestrian path and bridge through the township. But a new survey conducted in and around the 4,100-resident municipality this month found strong public support for the project.

Last month, township supervisors Dan Shacreaw, John Shields and board Chairman Larry Henry formally rejected the county Office of Planning and Development project despite its unanimous adoption by county commissioners in 2012. To gauge public opinion among their constituents and neighboring citizens, The HawkEye developed a convenience-sampling survey and administered it in three sites — Black Lick, home to the supervisors’ office; in Burrell Township shopping center off U.S. Route 22, and in neighboring Blairsville borough.

There were 31 respondents who completed the 19-question survey. The surveys were administered June 15, 17, 18 and 22. They asked respondents’ opinions of Indiana County parks and trails, the proposed bridge project, alternatives to the bridge and the project’s effect on the local economy, among other issues.

Overall, most survey respondents said they favored the proposed bridge project and said it would benefit the county’s parks-and-trails system.

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Grant Township v. Goliath

Judy Wanchisn, co-founder of the East Run Hellbenders Society, and daughter, Grant Township Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Stacy Long, attend a screening of the documentary “Invisible Hand,” Elizabeth Pa., June 14, 2019. Photo by Nathan Zisk.

An opinion

By Stacy Long

GRANT TOWNSHIP — This missive addresses Mike Butler, author of a May 28 letter to the editor of The Indiana Gazette. Mr. Butler, mid-Atlantic executive director of Consumer Energy Alliance, made a wildly condescending attempt to sound frightening to Indiana County residents and to those of us in Grant Township.  We know of scarier, Mr. Butler.

Speaking of scared, that came through in your writing.  Your industry is scared.  That’s why CEA — a huge energy-industry-funded PR group founded by a leading proponent of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the Canadian tar-sands industry and whose members include giants like ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell — made its stated goal for 2019 “to counter the message of anti-fracking and anti-pipeline protesters.”

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The new tornado alley

Photo of funnel cloud over Philadelphia Street in Indiana, Pa., from Facebook posting last week.

An analysis

By David Loomis

INDIANA – Last week’s severe weather made banner headlines in The Indiana Gazette, and not because it was a slow news week. On May 28: “Two tornadoes confirmed in Indiana County.” On May 29: “New round of violent weather hits county.”

Neither story mentioned the word “climate.”

The Associated Press reported that last week’s weather had matched Pennsylvania’s annual average spawn of tornadoes with seven months remaining in the year.

The story did not mention the word “climate.”

But residents sensed it. Observed one long-time Indiana, Pa., resident on May 30: “You don’t see tornadoes in Pennsylvania. And we’ve had about eight tornadoes in the past week. Temps are a lot warmer than when we moved here 30 years ago.”

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Senator Pittman’s constituents

State Sen.-elect Joe Pittman. Photo from TV screen shot broadcast May 21.

An analysis

By David Loomis and Nathan Zisk

INDIANA – As he celebrated on election night last week, Republican state Sen.-elect Joe Pittman responded to his Democratic opponent’s pointed campaign assertion that she refused to take corporate political-action-committee donations.

“Corporate contributions are prohibited by law, period,” Mr. Pittman said.

He’s right. Direct campaign contributions by corporations are barred in Pennsylvania. But his remark was beside the point.

Ms. Boser’s point was about PACs – political action committees, which are legal funnels of corporate money to political campaigns in Pennsylvania. And the state imposes no limits on how much money corporate PACs can contribute to campaigns.

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Town-gown comity during annual ‘senior bar crawl’

Casey G. Rupprecht (right), IUP Class of ’19, and friends celebrate at a downtown Indiana, Pa., restaurant, May 4, 2019. Photo provided by Rupprecht.

 

An analysis

By David Loomis and Nathan Zisk

INDIANA – You may have missed it. On Saturday, May 4, IUP students indulged in yet another “high celebratory event,” as the university euphemizes. It was the annual “senior bar crawl,” when presumptively educated, responsible and of-age young adults cheer the end of 15-plus years of formal classroom learning and chill on the eve of final exams.

How could you have missed it? According to one description on social media, “Seniors, especially female seniors, from IUP were wandering from bar to bar downtown, sloppy, staggering drunk well before sundown, falling off barstools in our fine downtown establishments.”

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Why I am a journalist: a 2019 commencement address

By Paula Reed Ward

The author graduated from Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s journalism program in 1996. On April 15, she and a team of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staffers won the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Reporting for their coverage of the shooting deaths of 11 people and the wounding of seven others on Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. On May 10 she delivered the following commencement address to the Journalism & Public Relations Department Class of 2019 at IUP’s Waller Hall.

 

INDIANA — I knew that I wanted to be a newspaper reporter in the sixth grade when I discovered I didn’t have the stomach to be a veterinarian – but realized I could someday write stories about dogs. From that point on, much of my academic and extracurricular activities revolved around accomplishing that goal.

I wrote for my middle-school and high-school newspapers. And when I got to IUP, I worked at The Penn and began stringing for the Tribune-Review, which I now refer to as the “Evil Empire,” and for the Post-Gazette, which I now refer to as “my employer.”

At IUP, I majored in journalism with minors in Spanish and political science, with a grand vision of becoming a foreign correspondent — I wanted to cover war and unrest around the world.

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