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Elk Co. Coroner Report: Overdose deaths more than double in 2017

RIDGWAY — Overdose deaths in Elk County more than doubled between 2016 and 2017.

And two more are on the books already, just two weeks into 2018, according to Elk County Coroner Michelle A. Muccio.

Of the 92 deaths she investigated in 2017, there were six drug overdoses, three of which were combinations of fentanyl and heroin.

There was also one homicide last year, which was a drug delivery resulting in death. It also involved fentanyl.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, fentanyl is similar to morphine but is 50 to 100 times more potent, which is typically used to treat patients with severe pain or to manage pain after surgery. However, now that it has increased in popularity among drug users, Muccio said it is formulated by drug dealers in clandestine labs.

And the Elk County numbers don’t necessarily portray the true depth of the problem.

Muccio said she knows of three other overdose deaths, which are not counted in the Elk County numbers, because the patients were transported to out of area facilities where they ultimately died.

“Even though it’s only six (overdose deaths), it’s twice as much as last year, which means something in a small county like this,” Muccio said.

By comparison, in 2015, there were four drug overdoses and three in 2016. None of them involved fentanyl.

“Fentanyl is interesting. It’s mixed in with the heroin. So a lot of times people intend to use heroin and they don’t realize it has the fentanyl in it. Other times they’re seeking out the fentanyl. What they don’t realize is that when their drug dealer is manufacturing their drugs, he’s not adequately measuring to make sure there isn’t enough fentanyl in there that he doesn’t kill anybody,” Muccio said.

“As little as three grains of sand of fentanyl can kill someone,” Muccio said. “When we send our toxicology reports in we see that a level of three can kill you, the last four (deaths) have (had scores of) 58, 67, and some 150. That is literally enough fentanyl to kill 30 to 40 people.”

While the numbers themselves are staggering, Muccio said the potency of the drug also raises concerns for first responders and those in the coroner’s office as fentanyl can be absorbed through the skin and trace amounts can be deadly for people with no opioid tolerance.

To combat that fear, the coroner’s office is constantly reading up on information and precautions to keep prepared and safe, but the threat still looms.

“It is shocking to hear that and it’s sad,” Commissioner Matt Quesenberry said after Muccio’s presentation Tuesday.

Public hearing held on proposed Aqua water project

DuBOIS — A public hearing regarding a request from Aqua Pennsylvania Inc. for a modification to an existing planned residential development in Treasure Lake for a proposed water filtration plant was held Monday by the Sandy Township Supervisors.

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, Zoning Officer Jim Keck said.

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.

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 will accommodate the higher water production rates and to update the water treatment system. It will include the construction of a 45’ by 63’ building that will house the water treatment system and related facilities along with parking. The project will also include an 8-inch raw water main line with easements.

“This is a judicial proceeding held for the purpose of presentation of testimony and evidence in support of and in opposition to the application,” said township Solicitor Greg Kruk. “It is not for public comment tonight.”

Representing Aqua Pennsylvania, attorney Kim Kesner called Treasure Lake Property Owners’ Association Property Control Officer Connie Conner to provide testimony. She said she did not review the application for modification.

Conner also said that the TLPOA management and Aqua presented the application to the board during an open work session.

“I don’t think there was any opposition at that time,” Conner said. “They also posted it in the minutes so it was available to the public.”

Kesner asked Conner if the management staff fully supports this project as something that is needed.

“I believe the (board) feels that it would be a good impact for the community as far as an upgrade in the water system. I can’t speak on everyone’s behalf,” Conner said.

Conner was cross-examined by Attorney Christopher Mohney, representing Robert and Betsy Hooven, of Treasure Lake, who live near the proposed project and oppose the modification. Mohney asked Conner if anyone who lived in the area and would be directly affected by this project was given any advanced notice of the open work session. Conner said she did not know.

Aqua Western Area Manager for the Greater Pennsylvania Operations James Willard also provided testimony. He said that Aqua owns, operates and maintains the Treasure Lake water and wastewater facilities throughout the entire Treasure Lake area after acquiring it in March 2013.

“It is our duty to serve the entire customer base,” Willard said.

After identifying a substantial need to put in a new facility, Willard said Aqua conducted a site search for a new facility.

“We searched extensively for an alternate location for a treatment facility,” Willard said. “That search really had to meet a number of fundamental criteria.”

The criteria included: Proximity to the well source, accessibility under all conditions, the ability to have deliveries to the site for treatment process and operation, electrical power and proximity to the piping network to feed the water into the overall distribution system to serve the entire customer base, according to Willard.

“Plus, this is a planned residential development,” Kesner said. “One of your criteria had to be that any construction would not do a disservice to the essential nature of that subdivision.”

Willard said that’s correct and it was the best location to meet all of the factors that needed to be met by Aqua.

“We also have the ability to blend it into the character of the neighborhood,” said Willard, noting that the proposed site also has the greatest distance from any other existing structures.

Although it was standing room only during the 2 1/2 hour hearing, no opportunity for public comment was given. Supervisors said they would allow comment during the regular meeting which followed the hearing.

No action was taken by the supervisors on the modification request.

Photo by Andy Stine 

Brockway's Eric Johnson (behind) applies a cradle on Redbank's Kobe Bonanno during their 182-pound match. Johnson pinned Bonanno in 4:58.

Sandy Twp. manager provides more details on water rate increase

DuBOIS — Sandy Township Manager Dave Monella explained in more detail Monday why the new year brought a water rate increase to residents.

He reiterated that it was partially due to the fact that a Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission rate case awarded the City of DuBois an increase on the water rates and also to satisfy the township’s loans with the USDA, a total of $3,400,000, which is paid through the water user rates.

The USDA indicated their concern that water rates were not adequate and the authority should be increasing rates accordingly.

“After review of the authority budget and rates with the assistance of our auditor and the township engineer, we concluded the water rate increase of $3.67 per thousand was necessary to make the water system self sufficient,” Monella said. “Failure of the authority to take action on water rates could lead to action by the USDA to call the loan which would put the authority in great distress. If the loan is called out, this could result in even higher interest costs and higher rates.”

Although DuBois provides water to the township’s municipal authority system, Monella said the authority has to provide all the services required to distribute the water to the individual customer properties. The authority purchases water from the city and the water is received at five locations near the city corporate boundary through master meters.

The water is then distributed by the authority through 27.4 miles of water main line to the individual customer properties in the township. The authority is responsible for operation and maintenance of those water distribution lines, the associated valves and hydrants, one pressure booster and chlorination station, and one 250,000 gallon water storage tank, Monella said. The authority is responsible for operation and maintenance of those water distribution lines, the associated valves and hydrants, one pressure booster and chlorination station, and one 250,000 gallon water storage tank.

“Although DuBois and its employees and staff do an excellent job of providing quality water to the township at a reasonable cost, operation of the Sandy distribution system is not just a matter of sending bills to its customers, collecting their money and passing it along to the City of DuBois,” Monella said.

The authority employs a sewer and water crew of two full-time employees working every day checking the system meters to detect large leaks, collecting samples for checking water quality as required by the state Department of Environmental Protection, assisting customers with individual water supply or quality issues and flushing, maintaining, repairing and replacing components of the water distribution system as needed. The crew has also been used to replace significant portions of the aging water lines which were taken over from small private water companies in the township.

The township office also has several employees used to take care of the administrative functions including the billing and collection, monthly and annual reporting, etc., Monella said.

“These are all functions that are not provided by DuBois for those customers on the authority’s system,” he said.

Breakdown of Sandy Twp. water rate

DuBOIS — Due to a smaller customer base, any water rate increase has a much greater impact on the rates Sandy Township must charge its customers, Manager Dave Monella said at Monday’s municipal authority meeting.

The township water system serves approximately 924 customers. In comparison, DuBois has approximately 4,000 direct customers in addition to Sandy Township and Sykesville, two very large customers, to share its cost of providing water service.

The current Sandy water rate of $16 per thousand gallons can be broken down as follows:

  • Water purchased: $5.50 per 1,000 gallons
  • Wages, benefits and administrative: $3.64 per 1,000 gallons
  • System operation and maintenance: $3.52 per 1,000 gallons
  • Debt service: $3.34 per 1,000 gallons

This equals the total Sandy water rate of $16 per 1,000 gallons.

“As recently indicated by the city, their current rate of $5.50 per thousand gallons was approved by the Public Utility Commission and is not the majority of the rate charged by the township municipal authority,” Monella said.

The PUC approved rates are applied to the amount of water sold to the authority through the five master meters. The authority has two full-time sewer and water employees and several office personnel who work part of their time on water system functions, Monella said. Their wages and benefits allocated to reflect the amount of their time spent on water system functions results in a cost of$3.64 per thousand gallons.

The $3.52 per thousand gallons operation and maintenance costs includes supplies, chemicals, lab testing, utilities, vehicle expenses, legal and auditing fees and other costs associated with the daily operation of the system.

The $3.34 per thousand gallons debt service charged as part of the overall water rate is used to make loan payments for the South Main Street, West Liberty and Kiwanis Trail water line extension, pressure booster station and water storage tank constructed in 2010.

“Totaling all the above costs gives the total rate of $16 per thousand gallons charged by the township,” Monella said.