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2024 Newport News

5/18/2024
Woman pleads no contest in Glen Lyon baby's dehydration death
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice
 
A woman pleaded no contest Friday to charges related to the dehydration death of her baby daughter in Newport Twp. in 2022.
Valentina Varela Luis, 26, now of Scranton, pleaded no contest in Luzerne County Court to two misdemeanor charges of recklessly endangering another person in connection with the death of her 19-month-old daughter, Phoenix.
Luis, who has been free on bail, will be sentenced on July 11, Luzerne County President Judge Michael Vough ruled.
At the plea hearing, Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said Luis is not a United States citizen and faces possible deportation as a result of her plea.
Luis and the toddler’s father James R. Kasisky, 27, both were originally charged with felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children and a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment in the case.
On Friday, the prosecution dropped the felony charges against Luis, added a reckless endangerment charge and allowed Luis to plead no contest to the misdemeanors.
Kasisky pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in March and will be sentenced on May 30.
Prosecutors alleged the child was left unchecked in a hot room of their home for up to 26 hours and “dried to death” after both parents assumed the other had tended to the child.
Sanguedolce said Luis “knew or should have known” the child wasn’t cared for.
Prosecutors said the child died Dec. 23, 2022, after being found unresponsive in a bedroom of 20 3rd St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. The child’s death was caused by dehydration and “metabolic imbalance due to neglect,” according to the charges. The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

 

4/25/2024

Death investigation underway in Newport Township
elewis@timesleader.com


NEWPORT TWP. — The death of a 36-year-old man in Newport Township earlier this month is being investigated as suspicious and may expand to other jurisdictions, according to several law enforcement sources.

Mark J. Harrison was found deceased inside his Central Street residence on April 14.

Luzerne County Coroner Jill Matthews on Wednesday would only say Harrison’s death is “pending investigation” when asked directly if an autopsy was conducted and if the manner and cause of death was known.

Law enforcement sources said Wednesday Harrison is believed to have died from a drug overdose under suspicious circumstances.

Sources independently confirmed a woman, possibly two females, were inside Harrison’s residence prior to his death. When Harrison became unconscious and eventually passed away, firearms and other items were stolen from Harrison’s residence, sources said.

The investigation, sources noted, involves if the woman or women advertised on social media sites as prostitutes with intent to cause a drug overdose in order to steal items. Similar overdoses have occurred with items stolen from houses in other jurisdictions, the sources said, confirming the Pennsylvania State Police are involved in the investigation.

Trooper William Evans, public information officer at Troop P, Wilkes-Barre headquarters, did not return a message seeking comment.

A check with magisterial district courts did not produce any search warrants for Harrison’s residence, cellular phone or computer usage. Since Harrison’s death, one search warrant was filed and sealed by Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough on Tuesday.

District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce and Newport Township Police Chief Jeremy Blank could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

 

4/23/2024
Woman charged with taunting police K-9

Times Leader

NEWPORT TWP. — A woman detained following a domestic disturbance was charged with taunting a police K-9 late Friday night.
Ivy Lynn Meres, 48, of Old Newport Street, Newport Township, was placed inside a Newport Township police cruiser where she rocked back and forth taunting the police department’s K-9, according to court records.
Meres ignored police commands to stop teasing the dog but she continued to rock the cruiser back and forth, court records say.
Newport Township police say the dog pushed through a safety divider as Meres allegedly continued to taunt the dog.
Meres was detained when police responded to a domestic disturbance involving Chad Steele at her residence just before 10 p.m. Friday.
Steele told police Meres was refusing to turn over his belongings unless he gave her a marijuana vape pen, court records say.
Meres threw clothes at Steele, grabbed Steele by his arm and pushed him against a wall, according to court records.
As an officer attempted to detained Meres, she allegedly resisted arrest and dropped to the floor.
After Meres was taken to the cruiser, police in court records say she taunted the police K-9.
Meres was arraigned by District Judge David Barilla of Forty For on two counts each of simple assault and harassment and one count each of taunting police animal, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. She was released on $1,000 bail.

 

4/21/2024
Predecessor to proposed Newport Twp. fuel plant delayed 6-10 more years
By Steve Mocarsky Staff Writer

 
Nacero, a tech company that trumpeted plans in 2021 to build a $6 billion low-carbon fuel manufacturing plant in Newport Twp. after constructing a similar plant in Texas, has revealed another six- to 10-year delay in the Texas project.
Nacero officials announced its first U.S. manufacturing facility to produce gasoline from natural gas in the unincorporated community of Penwell, Texas, about 15 miles west of the City of Odessa, in April 2021, with groundbreaking expected that fall.
Six months later, company officials joined local, state and federal legislators in a Zoom call to announce that the company’s second plant would be built on mine-scarred land in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp. and would bring an economic windfall to Luzerne County.
The Odessa Development Corporation entered an agreement with Nacero to award $2 million in funding each year for 10 years for construction of the Texas plant if the company met agreed-upon criteria every year.
One of those criteria was investing $100 million in capital development for the project that first year and hiring an agreed-upon number of employees.
But the ODC board voted to allow Nacero to include investments made from 2018 through 2022 to count toward the $100 million plant investment and count the hire of employees not strictly dedicated to the Pennwell project and awarded the company close to $2 million.
Then, in January 2023, Nacero announced that the end product for the flagship plant had changed — from automobile fuel to a new grade of jet fuel called sustainable aviation fuel, or SAF.
Tom Manskey, director of economic development for the ODC, said in a phone interview Friday that Nacero “requested not to be paid in year two” of the contract because it could not meet the ODC’s criteria, given that the company had not secured funding to move forward.
The ODC board requested an update from Nacero as the third year of the agreement would begin in June, and Hal Bouknight, chief operations officer for Nacero, attended the board’s April 11 meeting, Manskey said.
“His best estimate, probably in a six- to 10-year range before they even start building it,” Manskey said of Bouknight’s comments on the Penwell plant.
Manskey said Bouknight told the board the private sector was not showing interest in investing in the project despite incentives in the federal Inflation Reduction Act to support large fuel- and power-related manufacturing projects.
No Nacero official responded to a request for comment and information on the status of the Newport Twp. plant emailed to the company’s general email address Friday.
State Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-120, Kingston, who sponsored legislation creating manufacturing tax credits that were key to drawing Nacero to Pennsylvania, did not return a message left on his cellphone voicemail.
Paul Czapracki, president of the Newport. Twp. Board of Commissioners, did not return a message left for him with the township secretary.
U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright, who also took part in the Zoom call with Nacero officials in 2021, has been keeping tabs on the project.
“We’ve been aware of the delays in Nacero’s operations, and that’s been a disappointment. Caution dictated that we not commit federal tax credits until we saw how this project fared in Texas,” said Cartwright, D-8, Moosic, in a statement.
“I continue to support Marcellus shale gas jobs and efforts to produce cheaper energy right here in northeastern Pennsylvania,” Cartwright said. “Luzerne County in particular remains an excellent location for development and progress on energy and delivery, and we do have some encouraging irons in that fire right now.”

 

3/21/2024
Man charged with child sex abuse offenses in Newport Twp.
James Halpin – Citizens Voice


A Wilkes-Barre man is facing child sex charges after being accused of molesting a minor in Newport Twp. over five years ago.
David Jay Murphy, 27, is accused of abusing the minor on Nov. 18, 2018.
State police at Shickshinny charged Murphy with aggravated indecent assault, statutory sexual assault and indecent assault.
Magisterial District Judge James M. Dixon arraigned Murphy on the charges Thursday morning and set bail at $100,000.
Murphy was being held at the Luzerne County Correctional Facility with a preliminary hearing scheduled for April 3.

 

3/17/2024
Newport Township tops Luzerne County municipalities for construction growth in past year
jandes@timesleader.com


Out of all Luzerne County municipalities, Newport Township had the most property assessment growth over the past year, analysis of the latest tax base certification shows.
Far surpassing municipalities typically at the head of the pack, Newport Township picked up $52 million in assessed value between January 2023 and January this year — a 33% increase.
The township’s total tax base rose from $158 million to $210.1 million.
Township Manager Joseph Hillan welcomed the municipality’s top growth position, saying it is evidence continuing efforts to attract both residential and commercial business are paying off.
The lion’s share of the growth is from one structure — a Lowe’s coastal holding facility constructed by NorthPoint Development assessed at $51.48 million. Previously, the vacant parcel was assessed at $90,400.
In prior announcements about this project, Hillan said that project was “like a rebirth for the township.”
Like much of the major commercial development on former coal mining land in the county, the project has received a partial tax break under the Local Economic Revitalization Tax Assistance (LERTA) program for blighted properties, which means the property owner pays real estate taxes on the land throughout the break and receives a discount on taxes for the new development.
Hillan said the township’s real estate tax receipts on the property will gradually increase in coming years, with the full amount paid after the decade-long LERTA is completed.
While celebrating this project, Hillan emphasized hundreds of thousands of dollars in growth during the period stems from residential construction — a trend he expects to continue based on additional lots slated for development.
Last week, he stopped at three spots in the township with new houses and more rising up.
The first was near Sedor Hill in the Alden section.
His next visit was to townhouses under construction along Robert Street in the Sheatown neighborhood near the former Kirtland M. Smith Public School — a 1930 structure now housing apartments.
The new townhomes sit on a former softball field that was once a pond where Hillan enjoyed ice skating in his youth.
In the township’s Ridgeview section, Hillan checked out several houses under construction on Sunset View Drive in the Whitney Pointe development.
Walter and Geri Samselski decided to build a home there to be closer to family, relocating from Poughkeepsie, New York.
Geri said her requirements to move here included a back porch to enjoy the panoramic view. They bought two lots for added space.
“It is beautiful up here,” Geri said.
Walter said he looked at many lots before settling on the one in Newport Township.
He had been there before in a different context because it was once a coal strip mining site that had been a hangout when he was young.
Walter enjoys watching wildlife from his residential perch, including deer and bears.
“The view is nice. It’s quiet up here,” he said.
Unlike some municipalities that are more landlocked, the township has plenty of acreage available for commercial and residential development if investors are willing to tackle the infrastructure, Hillan said.
“The challenge is access,” he said.
Other growth
Most county municipalities — 52 of 76 — had new construction that boosted their real estate tax base over the past year, analysis shows.
Those with double digit-growth like Newport:
• Pittston Township, $38.36 million
• Hazle Township, $24.88 million
• Wright Township, $13.9 million
Three municipalities have billion-dollar tax bases: Hazle Township, $1.7 billion; Wilkes-Barre, $1.38 billion; and Hazleton, $1.01 billion.
Hazle Township surpassed Wilkes-Barre in 2016 due to continued expansion at the Humboldt Industrial Park off Interstate 81.
In this latest snapshot certification reading, Wilkes-Barre topped the 24 municipalities that experienced assessment reduction over the past year.
Wilkes-Barre’s total taxable property decreased $18.4 million.
As the county seat, the city is home to more tax-exempt government offices, colleges and universities.
Mirroring the loss of taxable property, the assessed value of tax-exempt property in the city increased $18.2 million in the past year, for a new total of $524.6 million in tax-exempt property, the certification shows.
Properties converted to tax-exempt status over the last year include nonprofit facilities that provide affordable medical care, counseling and housing, according to the city.
Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown said the net loss is approximately $22,000 in city taxes year-over-year.
But Brown said he is confident the city will more than make up for the decline and build the tax base through several planned projects returning property to the tax rolls.
One example he cited is Carey Holdings LLC’s plan to renovate the former Meyers High School building into a multi-use space housing apartments, public exercise facilities, retail space and more.
Another is Bloxton Investment Group’s purchase of the former First National Bank structure from the city so the structure can be incorporated into the developer’s conversion of the neighboring Luzerne Bank Building on Public Square into a 105-room “Tribute by Marriott brand” boutique hotel, Brown said.
The city also is transferring ownership of property on Carey Avenue to Habitat for Humanity to construct several residential structures that will go on the tax rolls, he said.
Brown also cited the city’s sale of property in the South Franklin Street area for the construction of a restaurant.
Big picture
The net effect of all the ups and downs countywide was a tax base increase of $169.2 million over the past year.
That increase equates to $1.07 million in additional property tax revenue for the county based on the current tax rate. Because the certification measures assessments only, it does not log the amount of taxes temporarily forgiven due to breaks.
In January this year, taxable property countywide totaled $21.44 billion, compared to $21.27 billion in January 2023.
County Manager Romilda Crocamo said the substantial increase “reflects a positive trend in economic development and property values.”
This tax base growth is a direct result of several factors, including increased investment in commercial and residential properties, expanding businesses and improving local economies, Crocamo said.
She also believes the county has created a “business-friendly environment,” which has attracted new businesses and encouraged existing ones to expand.
“As we move forward, Luzerne County remains committed to fostering an environment that attracts investment, promotes economic growth and improves the quality of life for all residents,” Crocamo said. “We will continue to work diligently to support businesses, strengthen the tax base and ensure the long-term sustainability of our county.”

 

2/15/2024
Grants awarded to 60 fire and EMS companies in Luzerne County 
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice


Sixty fire and emergency medical service organizations in Luzerne County will share in more than $875,000 in grant funding announced Wednesday.
The grants were announced by state Rep. Alec Ryncavage, R-119, of Plymouth, and state Rep. Mike Cabell, R-117, of Butler Twp.
The grants in the 119th District include:
•    Ashley: Rescue Hose Co. No. 1 — $13,839.63.
•    Edwardsville: Franklin Hose Company No. 2 — $13,64
5 and Woodward Hill Hose Co. No. 4 — $14,034.
•    Hanover Twp.: Breslau Hose Co. No. 5 — $14,034; Franklin Hose Co. No. 4 — $13,645; Goodwill Hose Co. No. 1 — $13,256. Hanover Twp. Community Ambulance Association — $15,000; Hanover Twp. Fire Department — $16,173; and Newtown Fire Co. No. 2 — $13,450.
•    Larksville: Larksville Community Ambulance — $13,061 and Larksville Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 — $13,061.
•    Mountain Top: Mountain Top Community Ambulance — $10,000; Mountain Top Hose Co. No. 1 — $15,006; and Wright Twp. Volunteer Firemen’s Association — $15,979.
•    Nanticoke: A.K. Mowery Hose Co. No. 3 — $13.061; Hanover Fire Co. No. 4 — $14,228; Lape Hose Co. No. 2 — $14,228; Nanticoke City Fire Department — $14,812; Nanticoke Community Ambulance — $12,460; Pioneer Hook & Ladder — $14,617; Stickney Fire Co. No.. 1 — $13,061 and Washington Fire Co. No. 5 — $13,061.
•    Newport Twp.: Newport Township Consolidated Fire Co. — $13,256 and Glen Lyon/Alden Volunteer Hose Co. — $26,645.
•    Plymouth: Goodwill Hose Co. No. 2 — $14,228; Plymouth Borough Ambulance Association — $15,000; Plymouth Borough Fire Co. — $13,450; and Plymouth Fire Company No. 1 — $13,645.
•    Warrior Run: Askam Fire Co. No. 6 — $13,645 and Warrior Run Volunteer Fire Co. — $13,061.
“I’m thankful so many local fire and EMS companies were awarded these highly competitive funds,” Ryncavage said. “Our dedicated first responders do an amazing job protecting lives and property in our communities, and these grants will help our brave first responders with their critically important and dangerous jobs.”
Grants awarded in the 117th district include:
•    Back Mountain Regional Fire and EMS — $28,201 (fire) and (EMS) $20,000.
•    Dennison Twp. Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 — $13,256.
•    Freeland Fire Department — $16,368.
•    Freeland Northside Community Ambulance Association — $15,000.
•    Harveys Lake Fire & Ambulance Association — $13,062 (fire) and (EMS) $15,000.
•    Hobbie Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 — $13,645 (fire) and $15,000 (EMS)
•    Hunlock Creek Volunteer Fire Co. — $14,423.
•    Huntingdon Valley Volunteer Fire Co. — $13,062.
•    Jonathan R. Davis Volunteer Fire Department — $13,256.
•    Lake Silkworth Volunteer Fire Co. — $13,645.
•    Mocanaqua Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 Inc. — $13,451.
•    Nescopeck Township Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 — $13,645.
•    Nescopeck Volunteer Fire Co. 1 — $13,062.
•    Nuangola Volunteer Fire Co. — $13,062.
•    Nuremberg Weston Volunteer Fire Co. — $14,423.
•    Pond Hill-Lily Lake Ambulance Association — $15,000.
•    Pond Hill-Lily Lake Volunteer Fire Co. — $13,062.
•    Salem Township Volunteer Fire Co. — $27,423.
•    Shickshinny Volunteer Ambulance Association Inc. — $15,000.
•    Slocum Township Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1 — $13,256.
•    Sugarloaf Fire Company — $13,840 (fire) and $10,000 (EMS)
•    Sweet Valley Ambulance Association — $15,000.
•    Sweet Valley Volunteer Fire Co. — $15,201.
•    Valley Regional Fire and Rescue Inc. (fire) — $14,423.
•    White Haven Fire Company No. 1 — $14,229.
•    White Haven Rescue Unit — $15,000.
“We are grateful for our dedicated and hard-working first responders who do such a tremendous job serving our local communities,” said Cabell. “I am pleased so many of them continue to apply for this annual financial support.”
All grants are generated from slot machine casino gaming proceeds, and not General Fund tax revenue.
The grant program is administered by the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency with the application process handled through the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.

 

2/13/2024
Many options on the table for Nanticoke-West Nanticoke bridge, officials still seek funding sources
Eric Mark – Citizens Voice


County, state and federal officials discussed options for the repair or replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke bridge during an informational session on Monday.
Much of the discussion centered on potential funding sources that might pay for a full bridge replacement — the option favored by emergency responders and municipal officials, though Luzerne County does not have enough money lined up to finance that project, estimated to cost $64 million.
Though several members of Luzerne County Council participated and the in-person component of the meeting was held at the county courthouse in Wilkes-Barre, the session was not a council meeting and no decisions were made.
Council is considering options about what to with the county-owned bridge that connects Nanticoke and the West Nanticoke section of Plymouth Twp. across the Susquehanna River.
The bridge is more than 100 years old and has been operating under a reduced vehicular weight limit of 15 tons since 2020.
Council hired the engineering firm Alfred Benesch & Associates to review options for repair or replacement.
The firm recommended the repair and partial replacement of the bridge, at an estimated cost of $39.6 million, rather than the construction of a completely new bridge — which would cost about $25 million more and take longer to complete.
Nanticoke fire Chief Mark Boncal and Newport Twp. Manager Joe Hillan told council the full replacement option is vital in the interest of public safety and to further economic development in the South Valley region.
Boncal said so again at Monday’s session, though some of his remarks were not audible to those who participated via the Zoom teleconferencing platform, due to technical difficulties that plagued the early minutes of the meeting.
Crocamo said “safety is paramount” to all decisions county officials make about infrastructure. However, as of now the county does not have the money to pay for a full bridge replacement, she said.
Council approved a $55 million infrastructure loan in 2022 that will be dedicated to projects such as the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke bridge.
Officials will need to find at least $9 million in additional funding to pay for a new bridge, Crocamo said.
That number will likely increase because of inflation, several speakers said.
Council Chairman John Lombardo said it would be good for council to be able to use a portion of the infrastructure loan for road projects in the county. Both bridge options presented by Benesch would address safety concerns, he said.
Richard Roman, district executive for the state Transportation Department, said there will be opportunities to apply for grants and compete for federal funding for the bridge project.
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, Lehman Twp., said state legislators are committed to working with county officials and federal lawmakers to find funding for the bridge.
“It has to be a priority,” Baker said. “That’s why we are here.”
State Rep. Alec Ryncavage, R-119, Plymouth, also attended the session, as did a representative of U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, as well as members of the Lower South Valley Council of Governments.
The discussion will continue at a town hall public meeting at Nanticoke City Hall on March 7, Crocamo said.
“That’s how things get done, when we all sit down and talk to each other,” she said.

 

2/11/2024
Glen Lyon native, a former 49ers security guard, describes being eyewitness to dynasty and free Super Bowl trips
Bob Kalinowski – Citizens Voice


Nanticoke area native Rick Pucci is set to attend his fifth Super Bowl featuring his favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers, but this is the first one in which he has to pay.
Pucci had a front row seat to the 49ers’ dynasty in the 1980s working as a part-time security guard. A perk of the $7-an-hour job was he got to attend playoff games and Super Bowls for free as a team employee.
During his time with the 49ers, Pucci attended four Super Bowl victories led by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and other stars.
“I’m going to this Super Bowl, too, so hopefully it will be 5-0,” Pucci said recently.
The Glen Lyon native, who is taking his son, Rick Jr., to the big game, declined to say how much he paid for his tickets in Las Vegas, saying it was part of a fan experience package.
Pucci, a 1972 graduate of Greater Nanticoke Area High School, wrote a book about his NFL job experience called “The Forty Effin’ Niners.” He said that was a nickname many disgruntled fans in the San Francisco Bay area called the team around the time he took the job “at perhaps the worst franchise in all of sports at that time.”
He never expected the team would become the team of the 1980s and early 1990s. A New York Giants fan growing up, he switched his allegiances while working for the 49ers.
Pucci moved to California to pursue graduate studies with a woman he fell in love with at Penn State, but they later broke up. He started a successful career in finance, but needed to find something to replace the void left by the break up.
“I had to find something to do on Sundays. I was down in the dumps,” Pucci said.
So he applied to work for the 49ers.
While he held the title of security guard, Pucci said he really was just a bystander to one of the greatest sports dynasties.
“I never really worked. All we were paid to do was wear these big bright blue jackets so people thought we were security. Nothing really was going on, so there was nothing to do. People weren’t acting up back then. It was completely different,” Pucci said. “Today, they are facing the crowd. I was facing the field. I’d be there listening to plays being drawn up. I was sitting right there on the bench listening to Bill Walsh’s pep talks.”
One of the few times he was thrust into actual security work, he said, was after “The Catch” during the the Jan. 10, 1982 NFC Championship game when the 49ers overtook the Dallas Cowboys in the final seconds to advance to the Super Bowl, which they won.
Excited fans proceeded to stormed the field, he recalled.
“Fans were ripping up chunks of turf and shoving it into their pockets. It was the first championship of any kind in any sport in San Francisco,” Pucci said. “The cops came down after we did all the work getting all the fans off the field.”
Pucci said he observed a lot, took many photos and jotted down notes in a journal that proved useful in writing his book that was released in 2018 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the 49ers winning Super Bowl XXIII behind a fourth -quarter scoring drive led by Montana.
“The book wrote itself,” Pucci said. “Being on the inside of the organization you really got to appreciate the team and how intelligent Coach Walsh was. Me and Montana were native Pennsylvanians. Both of us were Italian Americans, so we had a lot in common,” Pucci said.
After his time with the team, Pucci remained in California for many years working in finance. These days, he lives near Chicago running a financial planning firm, but visits California frequently for work.
Pucci said he returns home to Nanticoke as often as he can to visit family and eat foods he misses from places like Sanitary Bakery, Stookey’s BBQ, Maureen’s Ice Cream, Larry’s Pizza, Ruby’s Pizza and Happy Pizza.
“When I bring Californians in with me, I say the worst pizza in Nanticoke is better than the best pizza in California,” Pucci said.

2/7/2024
Virtual public meeting scheduled on Nanticoke/West Nanticoke bridge options
ERIC MARK – Citizens Voice 


The public is invited to attend a virtual meeting on Monday regarding options for the repair or replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge.
The informational session was requested by the South Valley Council of Governments, Luzerne County Manager Romilda Crocamo said Wednesday.
County council is considering options on what to do about the county-owned bridge, which is more than 100 years old and has been operating under a reduced vehicular weight limit of 15 tons since 2020.
The bridge connects Nanticoke and the West Nanticoke section of Plymouth Twp. across the Susquehanna River. It is imperative in the interest of public safety that the bridge be repaired or replaced, municipal officials and emergency responders have said — most recently at a council work session last month.
Council and the county redevelopment authority approved a $55 million loan funded by state gaming revenue that will be dedicated to improving the county's infrastructure.
The county hired the engineering firm Alfred Benesch & Associates to conduct a study of options to rehabilitate the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge.
The firm recommended the repair and partial replacement of the bridge, at an estimated cost of $39.6 million, rather than the construction of a completely new bridge — which would cost significantly more and take longer to complete.
Last month, Nanticoke fire Chief Mark Boncal and Newport Twp. Manager Joseph Hillan told council the best option would be the complete replacement of the bridge.
They cited public safety as the main reason. Hillan also said a new modern bridge would facilitate the economic development of the South Valley region.
Hillan said Wednesday that state and federal lawmakers will take part in Monday's meeting and will discuss potential sources of funding to pay for a full bridge replacement — which Benesch estimated would cost $64 million, or $9 million more than is available from the county infrastructure loan.
State Rep. Alec Ryncavage, R-119, Plymouth, confirmed he will participate.
"The bridge serves as a vital link, not only for transportation but also for the overall well-being of our community," Ryncavage said in an email.
Project engineer Dominic Yannuzzi said he will attend the meeting and provide information about options for the bridge, which Benesch outlined in a report late last year.
Council Vice Chairman Brian Thornton said he plans to log onto the meeting, even though it is an informational session and not a council meeting.
Thornton pointed out last month that council would need to find at least $9 million in additional funding to pay for a full bridge replacement.
On Wednesday, he said he looks forward to hearing what state and federal legislators have to say about potential funding options.
The virtual meeting starts at 1 p.m. Monday on the Zoom teleconferencing platform. A link to log-in to the meeting is posted to the county website: www.luzernecounty.org.

2/7/2024
Glen Lyon man facing charges related to pursuit through several municipalities
Times Leader

WILKES-BARRE — Jeremy Michael Shea is two-for-two…as in two separate pursuits that ended in two crashes while operating a motorcycle, according to court records.
The latest pursuit allegedly involving Shea, 32, of Railroad Street, Glen Lyon, Newport Township, took place Tuesday night when Nanticoke police attempted to stop him for operating a motorcycle without a license plate, court records say.
Shea initiated a pursuit that crossed into Plymouth, Larksville, Edwardsville where he struck a cruiser, and Kingston and crossed the North Central Expressway where he exited onto North Washington Street in Wilkes-Barre, according to court records.
A Kingston police officer cornered Shea who allegedly managed to escape, drove through yards on East Maple Street and crashed into a police cruiser at East Maple and North Washington streets.
Shea was allegedly in possession of methamphetamine and marijuana and was observed discarding items from his pockets during the pursuit.
Shea was treated at an area hospital.
Police in Nanticoke charged Shea with fleeing or attempting to elude police, accidents involving damage to attended vehicle, resisting arrest, criminal mischief, possession of a controlled substance, possession of marijuana and several traffic violations.
Court records say Shea was free on $5,000 unsecured bail related to a pursuit with Newport Township police in August.
Police in Newport Township initiated a traffic stop for a traffic violation whe
n Shea was operating a Kawasaki motorcycle on West Railroad Street on Aug. 22, court records say.
Shea failed to stop and initiated a pursuit until he crashed on Alden Mountain Road.

Newport Township police in court records say Shea was in possession of methamphetamine after the crash.

Shea is facing charges of fleeing or eluding police, possession of a controlled substance and several traffic violations in county court.

2/6/2024
Newport Twp. couple enters ple
a talks over toddler's death 
James Halpin – Citizens Voice


The Newport Twp. couple accused of causing the death of their baby daughter by severe neglect has entered into plea negotiations with prosecutors and will appear for a change of plea hearing next month.
James R. Kasisky, 26, and Valentina Varela-Luis, 25, previously pleaded not guilty to felony counts of involuntary manslaughter and endangering the welfare of children as well as a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment in connection with the death of their 19-month-old daughter, Phoenix.
During a brief appearance Monday morning, the parties informed Luzerne County President Judge Michael T. Vough that they are engaged in plea negotiations and requested another hearing date. Vough set a plea hearing for 1:30 p.m. March 25.
Assistant District Attorney Jarrett Ferentino said the parties have not yet reached a plea agreement but that they are having discussions to that end.
Prosecutors said Phoenix died Dec. 23, 2022, after being found unresponsive in a bedroom of 20 3rd St. in the Glen Lyon section of Newport Twp.
The child’s death was caused by dehydration and “metabolic imbalance due to neglect,” according to the charges. The manner of death was ruled a homicide because prosecutors say the child was placed in a hot room and left unattended for 26 hours.
Prosecutors allege Phoenix’s stomach was found nearly empty, with the last known contact either parent had with the child taking place around 7 p.m. the previous evening.
Kasisky told investigators he hadn’t checked on his daughter or fed her when he returned home from work the morning Phoenix died because he thought she was sleeping, while Valera-Luis did not check on the child prior to leaving for work the same morning because she thought Kasisky had, prosecutors said.
Both parents remain free on $50,000 bond pending resolution of their cases.

 

2/5/2024
Fourteen Luzerne County municipalities raising 2024 real estate taxes
jandes@timesleader.com


Fourteen of Luzerne County’s 76 municipalities have increased real estate taxes for 2024, according to an annual report from the county Treasurer’s Office.
The highest increase — 1.369 mills — is in Hazleton, where taxes are rising 20%, from 6.78 to 8.149 mills.
With mills, math is required to figure out the actual tax payment. Divide the property’s assessed value by 1,000 and multiply it by the millage rate.
For example, the owner of a $100,000 property in Hazleton will now pay $814.90 in city real estate taxes, or $136.90 more.
A full chart detailing the other millage increases accompanies this story.
Using a property assessed at $100,000 as an example, taxes will increase $50 in these municipalities:
• Courtdale, $200 to $250
• Dallas Township, $230 to $280
• Duryea, $220 to $270
• Jenkins Township, $157.50 to $207.50
• Sugar Notch, $550 to $600
Here’s how tax bills will change in the other municipalities, also based on a $100,000 property:
• Jackson Township, $372 to $384 ($12 more)
• Larksville, $380 to $400 ($20 more)
• Lehman Township, $360 to $370 ($10 more)
• Luzerne, $376.92 to $393.62 ($16.70 more)
Newport Township, $415 to $450 ($35 more)
• Ross Township, $23 to $44 ($21 more)
• West Hazleton, $538 to $563 ($25 more)
• Wilkes-Barre Township, $220 to $275 ($55 more)
Municipal feedback
Hazleton Mayor Jeff Cusat said four major factors prompted the need for a tax increase:
• GIS plotting that must be completed as part of a federal pollution reduction mandate, which is the same directive that led to a regional plan and stormwater fees in the Wyoming Valley. This mapping will cost the city $98,000, the mayor said.
• A $625,000 increase in the city’s employee pension fund contribution, which is necessary to keep the fund stable.
• An additional $433,000 balloon payment on the city’s last remaining debt. The loan is scheduled to be paid off in two years.
• A $200,000 earmark for street paving.
Cusat said the city previously used earned income tax receipts for the pension contribution but learned these payments should be covered by the general fund instead. As a result, the city’s earned income tax will be cut in half, he said. This savings will help offset the real estate tax increase for employed property owners, he said.
“There is a good chance they will actually save money this year,” he said.
To alleviate some of the pressure of the city tax increase, property owners will have the option to make smaller installment payments and receive more time to pay before a penalty is added, Cusat said.
Newport Township Manager Joseph Hillan said the increase in his municipality was necessary to cover fire protection expenses and compensation increases for police, fire and public works department employees.
Hillan said this is the first increase in his four years as township manager.

In Wilkes-Barre Township, Mayor Carl Kuren said the increase was largely needed for rising utility and garbage collection expenses. Township residents don’t pay garbage collection fees, and officials want to continue providing that service through real estate tax collection, he said.
“So far we have not had to charge citizens, and we’re trying to keep it that way,” Kuren said.
While Wilkes-Barre Township has experienced tax base growth through commercial and retail development, it has lost revenue from some larger assessment reductions, Kuren said.
Jenkins Township Board of Supervisors Chairman Stanley Rovinski said a tax hike was the only feasible option to pay the additional $180,000 expense for two firefighters to provide round-the-clock protection.
“Volunteers are drying up, and having only one staff firefighter would be dangerous,” Rovinski said. “Our only other option was to disband the department.”
Rising garbage collection costs are another concern, he said, emphasizing many municipalities across the county are struggling with both issues.
Rovinski said township officials had hoped voters would voluntarily agree to a Nov. 7 general election referendum to raise taxes 0.5 mill solely to provide dedicated funding for emergency services.
The referendum failed, with 525 voting yes and 590 rejecting the proposal, election results show.
Rovinski said the results were close, and the township still has authority to act on funding the expense of fire protection.
County taxes
The county millage rate will remain at 6.3541 in 2024, for a payment of $635.41 in county taxes on a $100,000 property.
Combined 2024 county/municipal tax bills are targeted for issuance on Feb. 16, according to the county treasurer’s office.
Property owners will have two months to pay at a 2% discount and another two months to pay at the full, or face, amount. A 10% penalty is then added.

 

1/23/2024
Newport Twp. man sues over malfunctioning fire hydrants 
James Halpin – Citizens Voice


A Newport Twp. man has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit alleging Pennsylvania American Water and the township failed to maintain fire hydrants that malfunctioned when his home caught fire last winter, resulting in its destruction to the tune of $90,000.
Horia Cretan also alleges the township and Luzerne County demolished his property within days without properly condemning the structure or even informing him that his home would be razed.
The suit, filed by attorney Joel S. Sansone of the Pittsburgh firm Law Offices of Joel Sansone, names as defendants the township, Pennsylvania American Water and Luzerne County.
The suit contends that the water company has a contract with the township under which it is required "to supply water and maintain the fire hydrants surrounding residents' properties." As a result, the suit alleges, the company had a duty to winterize the hydrants, including those around Cretan's properties at 1010 W. Main St., 1010½ W. Main St. and 1012 W. Main St., to prevent malfunctions during cold weather.
But when Cretan's house caught fire on Jan. 21, 2023, the nearby fire hydrants "were frozen, malfunctioned, and/or had low water pressure and failed to distribute any water," according to the suit.
"As a result of the aforementioned inoperative fire hydrants, firefighters were unable to quickly distribute water to contain the fire," Sansone wrote. "By the time the firefighters were able to distribute any water onto the fire at the plaintiff's property, the fire had significantly spread, resulting in the roof of the building collapsing."
The fire therefore destroyed part of Cretan's property, resulting in a loss estimated at $90,000, according to the suit.
The complaint goes on to allege that two days after the fire — at 5 a.m. Jan. 23, 2023 — the "township and/or county" demolished the property, including a commercial section that sustained only "minimal damage." Officials also failed to properly condemn the property or to notify Cretan of the demolition, leaving him unable to salvage any personal belongings that might have survived the fire, Sansone wrote.
The lawsuit alleges violations of Cretan's due process and equal protection rights, as well as his rights under Pennsylvania common law.
"Other similarly situated properties within (Newport Twp.) and the fire hydrants surrounding those properties within (Newport Twp.) were winterized and properly maintained," Sansone wrote. "No rational basis exists for this difference in treatment. The defendants' failure to take preventive action constitutes a willful disregard and a deliberate indifference to the rights of (Cretan)."
Cretan is seeking unspecified compensatory damages to reimburse him for the property as well as for "extreme emotional distress and emotional suffering," plus court and attorney fees.
Susan Turcmanovich, a spokeswoman for the water company, said she could not comment on pending litigation.
Newport Township Manager Joseph Hillan said he had not yet seen the lawsuit and also could not comment.

 

1/7/2024
R Bar and Grill set to reopen after extensive remodeling
boboyle@timesleader.com


NEWPORT TWP. — The remodeling project at the R Bar and Grill has been a team effort.
To know that is to talk to the owners, Lauren Maga and her sister, Lindsey Temerantz.
“We can’t say enough about our employees and how hard they have been working to get this project done,” Lauren said. “They are here every day, working long hours. We hope to re-open this week.”
Maga, 40, and Temerantz, 37, along with their father, Rick Temerantz, opened R Bar and Grill on Feb. 3, 2011, on West Union Street in Nanticoke. Maga said the business started with eight tables and a small bar, a very small menu, and only five wing sauces.
“Needless to say, things have gotten bigger and better and we outgrew our location,” Maga said.
Three years later, on Nov. 7, 2014, R Bar moved to the old Alden Manor Complex on Kirmar Avenue in Newport Township.
The current location has 29 tables, lots of bar seating, a huge parking lot, and a 150-person capacity banquet hall on the second floor.
“And we now have 85 wing sauces and dry rubs,” Maga said. “We have been voted Best Wings in NEPA for four years in a row by the Times Leader and the Weekender.”
Maga said their customers range from kids to all ages.
“We would like to thank all our of our wonderful customers who have gotten us where we are today,” Maga said.
The R Bar family embarked on an extensive remodeling project. Maga said Floors are being replaced, as are the ceilings and walls. There will be all-new lighting, new counters and new equipment.
“Basically, the entire bar area has been gutted,” Maga said.
Maga and Temerantz said they didn’t want their employees to be without a paycheck while the remodeling project was going on, so they all were put to work during the transformation.
“We really didn’t want anyone to lose out on their pay,” Maga said. “We’ve been closed for two weeks. Several of our employees have worked in the construction business, so it’s going well.”
Maga said the goal was to reopen Tuesday, Jan. 9, but that might be delayed a day or two. On Saturday, she said the project is nearing completion and could make the Tuesday opening.
Maga said the R Bar and Grill has 30 full-time and part-time employees — servers, bartenders, cooks, dishwashers, banquet servers and more. She said the Alden Room can be used for banquets, showers, retirement parties, graduation parties — although they don’t do weddings.
“My sister and I always wanted to open a bar/restaurant,” Maga said. “We work great together and we have an outstanding team of employees.”
Lauren’s husband, Chris Maga, is a certified electrician. They live in Wapwallopen and have two children. Lindsay and her partner, Justin Koch, reside in Nanticoke. Also helping out on the project are Lauren and Lindsey’s mother, Jaynan Temerantz, and her partner, Terry Womelsdorf.
The menu at the R Bar and Grill is extensive. You can check it out at —
www.rbarandgrill.com.
In a Times Leader story a few years ago, it stated that walking into the bar and restaurant takes individuals back to their nearest local service station as old street signs, hubcaps and license plates adorn the walls. Temerantz considers it a “garage-y” feeling.
“People will come in and say, ‘Oh I found this and brought it for you,’” Maga said about some of the decor. “We have many groups that want to reserve the license plate booth.”
That booth has license plates from all over the U.S. on the wall.
There’s also a spot dedicated to firefighters and police officers with department patches and other memorabilia under glass at the bar.
The idea to open the bar was “something for us, a legacy,” the sisters noted.
“Our dad (who owns One Stop Service Shop on Alden Road in Nanticoke) wanted us to do something for us,” Maga said.
The bar business made sense, since Maga has been in the business since she was 18 years old.
Family run, employees considered like family, and family fun — the R Bar and Grill truly is a family affair.

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