We bring you the year in review, a look back at the past 12 months in news coverage. This year has seen the first real return to normalcy in community engagement with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic receding and the widespread availability of a vaccine for the disease.
Locally, our region participated in an election that garnered national attention. Residents suffered through shortages of materials and higher costs for goods, including baby formula. Leadership in our boroughs and townships changed and localities decided how to spend COVID-19 relief money.
This year was one of transition for us.
Our Editor, Jamie Wiggan, left us to pursue opportunities at Pittsburgh City Paper, we won an award for outstanding local news coverage and gave up our physical office to work from home.
In the coming year, we look forward to continuing our coverage of what matters most to you.
On Jan. 6, 2022, the Gazette 2.0 reported on records detailing a chemical leak at a plant on Neville Island showed surrounding residents were exposed to thousands of pounds of irritants, toxicants and carcinogens.
The Neville Chemical plant released nearly 25,000 pounds of chemical emissions during a two-hour period on the morning of Sept. 2, 2021.
These included five compounds known to pose cancer risks to humans or animals and multiple others that bring on headaches, dizziness, itching and coughing when inhaled in small quantities. Almost all the chemicals identified could cause organ damage with prolonged or concentrated exposures.
The biggest single contributor listed – dicyclopentadiene – is designated hazardous by the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labeling of Chemicals and can cause damage to the central nervous system, kidneys and liver in large or prolonged doses. Nearly 10,000 pounds were released during the September leak.
Parilla retains seat
Robin Parrilla retained his position as Stowe commissioners president despite objections to his personal record voiced by several residents due to the fact that Parilla owed more than $30,000 in unpaid property taxes.
On Jan. 11, Mayor David Flick was sworn in as the new mayor of McKees Rocks. His predecessor, Jack Muhr, had been in the office for 20 years. On the same day, Former councilwoman Coletta Perry was sworn in as newly-elected mayor of Crafton. Former mayor Jim Bloom served for 12 years.
On Jan. 11, the Stowe Board of Commissioners approved the resignation of ordinance officer Harry Seretti, who had been on the job for seven years. According to Seretti, an increase in criminal activity elevated his working stress levels and introduced concerns for his safety.
Stowe Township hired University of Pittsburgh graduate Nick Leffakis as its next enforcement officer. Leffakis previously worked at Etna and has a master's degree in public policy. He began working at Stowe on March 21. Leffakis stepped down in July, citing interference from “over-involvement” in his job by Commissioner Kelly Cropper Hall. Leffakis said Cropper Hall did not trust his assessment regarding certain properties and insisted there was a violation when he didn’t find evidence of a problem. He also said Cropper Hall wanted to go with him to a property, which was highly unusual. Cropper Hall declined to comment on the matter.
The township’s latest ordinance officer, Edward Snyder, is a resident of Beechview who graduated from Propel Montour High School in 2021. Previously he worked for the township as a police dispatcher and a Stowe volunteer firefighter beside his brother, Richard Stewart.
In August, Stowe Secretary Dwight Boddorf resigned, citing the need to be closer to family.
On Aug.10, Roberta Farls was appointed to the position at a salary of $65,000 and was approved as the official Right to Know Officer. Farls had initially been hired as the Stowe Police Secretary in June.
The latest redistricting plan shifted House District 45, occupied by State Rep. Anita Kulik primarily south and west, dropping Kilbuck, Ben Avon and Emsworth north of the Ohio River and adding McKees Rocks, Collier, and Bridgeville. Carnegie was also cut. The district maintains Stowe, Kennedy, Robinson and Coraopolis.
District 27 shifted in a similar direction, as it’s pushed south and west by the expansion of District 19 into Pittsburgh’s westernmost neighborhoods. Accordingly, Esplen, Sheraden and several other city wards were cut, while suburban communities, Rosslyn Farms, Carnegie and Scott Township were absorbed.
The redistricted senate map shifted District 42 which is represented by State Sen. Wayne Fontana dropped Coraopolis while expanding into Pittsburgh’s South Hills. The district maintains McKees Rocks, Stowe, Kennedy, Crafton, Ingram and the majority of Pittsburgh’s westside neighborhoods.
District 37 added Coraopolis while maintaining Robinson, Moon, Thornburg, Pennsbury Village and other communities stretching south of Pittsburgh into Washington County.
The Crafton Council saw several new members. Senior councilperson John Oliverio was voted in as president, while newcomer Kirsten Compitello was selected as vice president. At the first official meeting on Jan. 13, new board members Vincent Ridilla, Erin Bollenbacher and Justin Marks debuted as a cohesive unit, having campaigned together under the “Crafton Forward” committee.
During a Jan. 27 voting meeting, the Sto-Rox School board appointed Interim Superintendent Joseph Dimperio to oversee the search process for a new superintendent in return for a one-time $3,000 stipend.
Dimperio joined the district in November 2021 to fill in for outgoing Superintendent Frank Dalmas.
Megan Van Fossan, formerly of the Slippery Rock Area School District, joined Sto-Rox as assistant to the superintendent at an annual salary of $99,500. She was ultimately appointed as superintendent in May.
On Jan. 6, William Gorring, 41, tried to snatch a 9-year-old girl waiting at her Coraopolis bus stop. He grabbed her hair and covered her mouth, but she fought him and broke free. When the bus pulled up, Gorring fled and was later caught by Coraopolis police. The little girl testified against Gorring. He pled guilty to attempted kidnapping and other charges on Jan. 28 and was sentenced to between four years and six months and nine years in prison.
March 15, a judge ruled against Robinson Township in a lawsuit challenging the legality of six LED “welcome signs” constructed through an agreement with a private advertising corporation.
The electronic signage was improperly erected under the guise of government signs, which carry looser zoning restrictions than regular billboards. National advertising giant Lamar filed the suit in December 2020, claiming it was put at a professional disadvantage by the underlying agreement between Robinson and PTM Advertising.
The case was re-opened April 28, and is still in mediation.
134-year tradition ends
Coraopolis Hardware, which had operated in the area since 1888, closed its doors on March 31. The business was launched in 1888 by H.W. Wickenheiser, who sold it in 1927 to Joe Sweterlitsch Sr. Three generations of the Sweterlitsch family had been running it ever since. Supply chain issues caught up with the business in 2021 and the brothers ended up selling.
Chester Glowacki III, formerly of Stowe, punched and kicked his girlfriend before attempting to strangle her with a telephone cord. The victim came forward Feb. 7 following three days of
beatings, according to the report, and has since been granted a temporary protection from abuse order.
Glowacki’s behavior was the center of a Stowe public meeting July 13, 2021, after a resident recounted what he claimed was a similar instance of domestic abuse that took place in public view several weeks prior. The witness said he called the police and was told charges could not be pressed unless the victim came forward. He accused Glowacki of receiving preferential treatment from Stowe authorities on account of his father, Chester Glowacki II, who was a commissioner until his term ended in December 2021.
President Robin Parrilla, a relative of the Glowackis, responded with indignation at the accusation and at one point threatened to have the witness thrown in jail by police.
Several firefighters planned to leave the McKees Rocks Volunteer Fire Department after learning no charges will be brought against their chief from an investigation into claims of credit card misuse.
Deputy Chief Jim Tarbert and life members, Nick Petrunio and John Kadlecik say they were shunned for assisting with the investigation and have no confidence in their leader even after police decided not to charge him.”
County police began the investigation Jan. 12, after Tarbert presented reports to McKees Rocks officials of irregular gasoline purchases recorded on one of the company’s credit cards. The card is funded by the borough, and Tarbert said Council President Archie Brinza and then Substitute Manager LeeAnn Wozniak encouraged him to pass the information on to the McKees Rocks Police Department, which turned it over immediately to the county.
Two months later, a county spokesperson said the investigation concluded without charges.
Sto-Rox accepted a sweeping, 80-page plan to make the district financially solvent over the course of five years.
The district had been running budget deficits for so many years that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania stepped in during 2021 to put them back on sound financial footing. The district was already so strapped, the state’s recovery plan didn’t include many budget cuts and, in fact, had increases in spending to improve schools.
To balance the books, the plan relied on luring 110 charter school students back to the district. More than $4 million of state and federal revenue have been lost because of the 1,800 school-age children in the district's area, roughly 600 attend charter schools.Teachers and classroom aides were asked to pay more for their health insurance and principals were given the power to make staffing changes.
The plan also included incentives to get a handful of teachers to retire early and required significant increases to local property taxes, increasing from 25 to 27.5 mills in the first year alone. It included cuts to the transportation and special education budgets.
Assistant Manager Dan Manius, hired in January 2021 to oversee public works projects for Robinson Township, tendered his resignation. “The ideas he brought were unreal,” said Manager Frank Piccolino. “We’re sad to see him go.”
More than 15 environmental groups worked together on applications headed by Carnegie Mellon University’s Breathe Project that included funding requests for additional air monitoring equipment around Neville Island and the broader Ohio Valley area. Each sought a slice of the $20 million put forward by the EPA using American Rescue Plan funding. According to Matt Mehalik, executive director for the Breathe Project, the particular emphasis on smaller community groups marked a turning point from previous EPA grant programs that channeled funding through larger research institutions.
Members of Allegheny County Clean Air Now, an advocacy group based in Emsworth, delivered a petition to officials on the day of the county council’s April 12 meeting to increase facility inspections at the Metallico scrapping plant. They also wanted to enforce stricter operating restrictions and establish an alert system to notify residents of dangerous air conditions.
The Allegheny County Sanitary Authority is under court order to fix overflows of raw sewage which are polluting area rivers to the tune of 9 billion gallons per year. In January 2021, ALCOSAN pled guilty to violating the Clean Water Act and agreed to fix the issue.
On April 12, the McKees Rocks Borough Council voted to bring its sewage systems into compliance with federal law. The agreement required McKees Rocks to reduce the amount of untreated sewage and rainwater that gets captured and conveyed to the ALCOSAN treatment plant. Currently, large portions of combined rain and sewage water collected in McKees Rocks end up in local rivers and streams without being treated.
More than 80 other municipalities with older sewage infrastructure face similar issues and have also been served with agreements from the DEP.
Nearly 60 property owners around McKees Rocks received letters from ALCOSAN setting in motion possible eminent domain proceedings.
Pennsylvania’s eminent domain codes permit municipal authorities to inspect or survey properties to determine whether they intend to later obtain them. The next formal step would be to issue a “Declaration of Taking.”
In a May 6 opinion, Judge J. Nicholas Ranjan said the borough of Mckees Rocks had valid concerns about the economic and environmental impacts of a pending ALCOSAN tunnel project and permitted the borough’s lawsuit against the county sanitary authority to move forward.
ALCOSAN held public meetings on Sept. 29 to explain its plan and help garner public support. The project is still scheduled to move forward within the next two years, while the lawsuit makes its way through the court system.
ALCOSAN is bound by a legal timetable demanding the project begin by 2023. By 2024, the design will be completed and the project will be put out for bid. The project must begin by Jan.1, 2025 and the infrastructure work will occur between 2026 and 2028. Every part of this phase must be completed by 2029. Infrastructure improvements, which are projected to be completed by 2036, will eliminate seven billion gallons of sewage. That still leaves two billion gallons of sewage that will need to be addressed.
McKees Rocks council looked to fill two vacancies following the death of Chas Maritz and the resignation of Leslie Walker. In May, McKees Rocks filled those positions.
Frank McQuillan was the only applicant for Walker’s second ward seat and was unanimously approved for the job during council’s May 10 meeting along with Maryann Holland who was unanimously approved as a replacement for Maritz.
Robinson lawyers appealed a March 15 court order ruling against the construction of six township-sponsored billboards, and are seeking through a separate filing to hold the contracted advertising firm responsible for any damages brought against the township. The March ruling came nearly two years after national advertising firm Lamar sued the township for allegedly bypassing their zoning laws while approving the signs’ construction. Lamar – which operates several billboards in the township – claimed the unique arrangement between the township and PTM Advertising put them at a professional disadvantage.
Stowe commissioners delayed a vote to more than double their annual salaries. If passed, the item would have raised commissioner pay to $4,190 per year or $349.16 per month. This is the maximum allowed for a first-class township with a population of between 5,000 and 10,000 people. Stowe has around 6,400 residents.
Bobbi Sangricco resigned May 11 from the Sto-Rox School Board and Board members were unable to select a new candidate at the June 9 meeting. The position was filled Aug. 11 when Judge Bruce Boni swore in Shawn Evans. On Nov. 17, Evans resigned, citing the recent death of his son as the reason why he no longer wanted to pursue the job.
The Pennsylvania Department for Transportation began its preservation project on the Thornburg Bridge in June, with rehabilitation work expected to last for 12 to 18 months. The bridge, which is located on Route 60 between Thornburg, Crafton and Ingram, crosses over Chartiers Creek.
Dire shortages in baby formula, which were caused by contamination at a single plant manufacturing Enfamil formula and rules associated with imports, peaked throughout June. The shortage began in February after several babies died after consuming tainted formula, prompting the Abbot plant shutdown. Formula was airlifted in from Europe.
Families who rely on WIC were hit especially hard because the program only paid for certain brands, many of which were no longer being produced. Babies who needed speciality formula were in direst need. Local mother Katherine Cobbs of McKees Rocks shared her story of searching for specialty formula for her premature son Dreyton Green. By October the crisis had eased, but certain formulas were still in short supply.
McKees Rocks council members voted unanimously to accept the retirement of former borough manager, Ruth Pompey on May 24. Pompey had been struggling with cancer and been on unpaid leave. LeeAnn Wozniak was initially named substitute manager in June, being promoted to borough manager July 12. At that same meeting, Jennifer Slavicek was made assistant borough secretary and Amantha Schoen was named administrative assistant. Pompey died Sept. 29.
An investigation by intern Alice Crow detailed an ongoing saga involving the 94 S. Petrie Road house in Robinson Township and its neighbor Santo Bonadio. He repeatedly complained to commissioners about a gang of pit bulls living on the property and the aftermath of a landslide currently under litigation and allegedly caused by illegal dumping of fill. Bonadio believed more was not being done to address the problem because the property was owned by the Vietmeier family.
“Let's not play the name game here. We all know who [owns the property],” Bonadio said during a June 6 township meeting. “What really upsets me is the good old boy network,” he said.
Duquesne Light Company and the Municipal Authority of the Township of Robinson are both suing the Vietmeiers for damages accrued to their equipment due to the landslide. The claimed damages total more than $2 million. The Vietmeiers and Country Club Gardens Landscaping were granted a permit to fill 499 cubic yards of clean fill on the property in October 2014. The permit was set to expire in October 2015. In the lawsuits, MATR and DLC claim the Vietmeiers and the other defendants regularly dumped debris and organic materials, exceeding the permit’s limits.
A grant which will be used to revitalize the Hays Manor Housing project divides the community between those who want to improve housing for those receiving Section 8 housing and those who simply want the housing project, and those who live in it, to go away. Development of the plan is being funded by a $450,000 Choice Neighborhoods planning grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The grant was awarded late last year and was one of eight nationwide. A more concrete framework for the plan should emerge in early 2023.
Editor's note: Check back with us next issue (Jan. 5) as Gazette 2.0 continue the second half of its Year In Review coverage.