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Ridgway fire injures 8, including first responders

RIDGWAY — Three people were transported to a Pittsburgh hospital for burn injuries sustained in an early morning house fire in Ridgway Township Thursday.

State police fire marshal Cpl. Greg Agosti said he is investigating the origin and cause of a fire that destroyed a two-story wood frame residential home at 4236 Grant Road.

Crews were called to the home just after 1:50 a.m. Officials say the home was fully involved when they arrived.

Police say that 57-year-old Chad Ecklund, 48-year-old Tammy Ecklund, 27-year-old Brandon Ecklund, and 24-year-old Patrick Ecklund self-extricated themselves from the blaze.

Chad, Tammy, and Brandon were transported to UPMC Mercy for burn injuries. Patrick was transported to Penn Highlands Elk and released.

Three firefighters and one paramedic received minor injuries.

Crews cleared the scene around 5 a.m. but were called out again around 11 a.m. when the fire rekindled, threatening nearby vehicles.

The home was a total loss. A damage estimate was not available by press time.

Anyone with any information about the fire is asked to contact state police at (814) 776-6136.

DASD board solicitor:
DASD board solicitor: Teacher contract issue may be resolved soon

DuBOIS — It’s been 567 days that the teachers in the DuBois Area School District have been working without a new contract. Thursday, board Solicitor Carl Beard said he hopes that will change within the next week.

Before a standing room only crowd filled with parents and teachers, Beard said the board held an executive session prior to the work session and talked about teacher negotiations. Lawyers from both sides, the board and the DuBois Area Education Association, the teachers’ union, have been discussing a new contract for several months.

Friday, Beard said he expects to have a conference call with the DAEA’s attorney to talk about one clarification on the salary schedule. If the DAEA attorney agrees, Beard said the union representative will hear that the board is going to accept the teachers’ salary schedule.

“It is your salary schedule,” Beard said. “That should really pave the way. We are not really sure we need to have a full blown negotiation, if Mr. Lamar (DAEA’s lawyer) says we’re good, because whatever we had requested personally we backed off. We had a mutual agreement on the health care arrangement. There are no changes to the health care over the next five years. If that is in fact the case, then everybody should be able to say in a relatively short period of time we have an agreement.”

One thing has been constant throughout the process, Beard said.

“Whether a new board or old board, everybody appreciated all the hard work,” Beard said. “That had been repeated at the table. I would understand you have a difficult job and they know that you do the best you can and all of you care a great deal for everybody in this community. At least you have one positive coming out of this meeting that should resolve this issue hopefully within the next week.”

That last comment resulted in applause throughout the board room.

Prior to Beard’s comments during the public comment portion of the meeting, DAEA President and Chief Negotiator Dawna Vanderpool expressed her frustration about not having a contract yet.

“For 567 days, we have been without a contract. We have waited patiently through many extraordinary events that most negotiating teams do not experience,” Vanderpool said.

Those are:

  • Three different superintendents
  • Two new members of the board’s negotiating team
  • The closing of three elementary buildings and the ensuing reshuffling of hundreds of students and teachers
  • And, the unfortunate loss of nine teachers

“Yet, we have still done our jobs with dedication and fidelity,” Vanderpool said. “We have still volunteered to chaperone, to organize book fairs, to stay after school to help kids, and to buy classroom supplies and fundraiser items, among many other tasks. And we still don’t have a contract. I am hopeful that will change soon.”

“There are those who think I am too hopeful. Too patient,” Vanderpool continued. “Those same folks also think it was no accident that details of the board’s latest offer were given to the press a day before they were emailed to me. Yes, those percentages had been discussed and considered so they were familiar to our team, but our membership had not heard of them yet because a percentage doesn’t tell the whole story. There are other important factors to consider.”

Some of those factors won’t really affect DAEA current members, Vanderpool said. However, they would most definitely affect the district’s ability to attract teaches in the future. From 2013-15, there was a 62 percent drop in the number of graduates from Pennsylvania teacher preparation programs. In the entire state, there were 204 math teachers certified in 2015.

“Although we still may get over 100 applicants for an elementary position, in a few years, most districts will likely have difficulties filling certain classrooms. Food for thought,” Vanderpool said. “We look forward to settling this dispute soon.”

Sandy Twp. OKs plan for proposed water project

DuBOIS — A land development plan for Aqua Pennsylvania Inc. for a Treasure Lake Well Station was approved Tuesday by the Sandy Township Planning Commission.

The land development plan is contingent on approval by the township supervisors for a Treasure Lake planned residential development modification application for the Well N23 treatment facilities to be located on the newly consolidated Aqua property adjacent to Barbary Coast Court, according to Zoning Officer Jim Keck.

Keck said the approval is also contingent on a letter of support from the Treasure Lake Property Owners’ Association.

“It’s a good point for them to give their support for the filtration plant so that history would show that we did have something in our files from the property owners’ association,” Keck said.

According to the project narrative, Aqua Pennsylvania is proposing an upgrade to the existing Well N23 treatment facility that serves the Treasure Lake residential community. The upgrade to the water system in order to accommodate the higher water production rates and to update the water treatment system. The Well N23 treatment facilities will be located on a newly consolidated Aqua property adjacent to Barbary Coast Court.

Jim Willard and Mike Starr, both from Aqua Pennsylvania, and Ann Reynolds of GHD Inc. were on hand to provide answers to questions from the planning commission members.

On Monday, a public hearing regarding a request from Aqua Pennsylvania for a modification to the existing planned residential development in Treasure Lake for the proposed water infiltration plant was held.

Aqua is requesting a modification to the Treasure Lake PRD to allow the consolidation of Lots 92, 94 and 95 in Section 7A to be approved and their use to be changed from residential to utility services, according to previously published Courier-Express reports.

If approval is granted, Aqua proposes to construct a water treatment facility on the consolidated lots. The properties are located off of Barbay Coast Court within Treasure Lake PRD.

The supervisors may take action on the request at its next meeting on Monday, Feb. 5, at the municipal building on Chestnut Avenue.

Photo by Chris Wechtenhiser 


Referee Tim Blankenship calls the fall as Ridgway’s Jake Kunselman, top, pins Redbank Valley’s Aiden Gardner 26 seconds into the second period of their heavyweight bout Thursday night. Kunselman’s pin was one four for the Elkers in 48-22 win over the Bulldogs.

DuBois appoints new city controller

DuBOIS — The DuBois City Council breezed through a short work session Thursday, highlighted by the one item that wasn’t on the agenda.

Voting 3-0 with two abstentions, the council accepted the recommendation of city Treasurer Lisa LaBrasca Becker and appointed Shane Dietz as the new controller.

LaBrasca vacated that post when she was elected treasurer in November.

Dietz will serve the remaining two years of that term, through the end of 2018.

The council had interviewed Dietz and George Kutsel for the position.

LaBrasa Becker said both men are very well qualified and making a recommendation was “a tough choice.”

Mayor Gary Gilbert and Councilmen Randy Schmidt and Ed Walsh voted for Dietz. Councilwoman Diane Bernardo and Councilman Jim Aughenbaugh abstained since they were not at the interview session.

Water rate response

Bernardo called Sandy Township’s response concerning a water rate increase “very mature.”

The city refuted claims that it was responsible for a $3.67 increase in rates to a cluster of township residents. The city was granted a 35-cent per 1,000 gallon increase by the state Public Utilities Commission, bringing the total charge to $5.50 per 1,000, even though the township charges customers $16 per 1,000.

Township Manager Dave Monella broke down the township’s costs earlier this week; details were featured in a Courier Express story in Wednesday’s edition.

Debt ordinance

The council approved the first reading of Council Bill 1930, which amends Ordinance 1826 by adding the useful life of the projects that will be funded by up to $8.6 million in non electoral debt pending receipt of reimbursement from various state and federal governments sources.

The baseball and softball fields, pool improvements and new equipment and new drainage facilities, curbing, traffic signals and sidewalks as part of the state’s Turnback program are expected to last 20 years while accessible sidewalks and crosswalks will last for 25 years.

Sewage capacity

The council agreed to send a letter to Falls Creek Borough verifying that the city’s sewage system can accommodate the estimated 525 gallons per day that will be generated by a new business in Falls Creek — Hi-Tech Turning and Milling, which is expected to employ 15 workers.

Workers thanked

Council members and City Manager John “Herm” Suplizio thanked workers in the streets, public works, water and sewage treatment departments during the recent spell of severe weather.

Police report

Police Chief Blaine Clark presented the police activity report for December.

The breakdown of 921 calls included 13 thefts, seven burglaries, 12 forgeries or frauds, 28 alarms, eight criminal mischiefs, 24 assaults, 15 disorderly conducts, 21 domestic disputes, 10 animal complaints, 36 suspicious persons or circumstances, five trespassing incidents, 29 checks on individuals’ welfare or mental health, two missing persons, five drug investigations, seven DUIs and 206 supplemental or follow-up contacts. Police issued 34 citations, eight warnings and 170 parking tickets.

Monday meeting

The council’s regular meeting will convene at 7 p.m. Monday in council chambers in the city building on West Scribner Avenue. The meeting will be preceded at 6:45 p.m. by three hearings to consider reallocating Community Development Block Grant funds from three fiscal years.