Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Today's News- Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Firefighters from Berks and surrounding counties battled a smoky fire in Hamburg Tuesday afternoon. The blaze destroyed several garages and damaged the Windsor Press building at the corner of Third and State Street. The alarm was called in before 1pm, and assistance provided quickly by crews from Schuylkill and Lehigh counties. Windsor Press owner George Mitten tells us what happened:


He credited firefighters for knocking down the blaze quickly:


Power was cut by Met Ed in parts of downtown Hamburg while crews fought the fire. An investigation into the cause continues.


In a continuing sign of the economic times, an area employer is shutting its doors. Craftex Mills in Auburn, a fabrics manufacturer, is closing, leaving about 80 people without jobs. The company was acquired by the Canadian company Victor Group. Craftex has been in business since 1903. According to reports, the company at one time employed more than 200 people.


A well trained, well informed workforce is key to economic success. That was the message at the first annual Schuylkill County Career Fair at Martz Hall Tuesday, sponsored by the Northeast Pennsylvania Manufacturers and Employers Association. All told, around 800 high school students from 10 area schools attended the 5 hour forum. Sara Hodon, MAEA Director of Workforce Development explains why they hosted the event, and what businesses participated.


Nearly 40 different vendors, from industry and education, took part in the Career Fair.


The first Democratic candidate for the 124th Legislative District seat has come forward. Bill Mackey, Andreas, a familiar foe of former seat holder Dave Argall is seeking a spot on the May special election ballot to replace Argall, who won the 29th District Senate seat held by Jim Rhoades of Mahanoy City. Rhoades died last year, but was posthumously re-elected in November. County Democrats will meet tonight to decide on their candidate. On the Republican side, two more candidates have announced interest in seeking the nomination. 35 year old Larry Padora Jr. of New Ringgold, and Matthew Haak of Lenhartsville have joined a widening field, which will be decided by a select group of Republican conferees from Berks and Schuylkill counties Thursday night.


A Lebanon woman, upset that she couldn't get a drink refill at a Pine Grove area fast food restaurant, took her frustrations out on the store manager. Schuylkill Haven state police report that 47 year old Mary Ann Gruber came through the McDonald's drive through last night, and wanted a drink refill. When she was told that no refills were allowed for drive thru customers, she refilled her cup anyway. When the restaurant manager told her it wasn't allowed, she threw the cup at the manager. She was charged with harrassment.


A wide variety of choices for education and career opportunities exist here in Schuylkill County. That fact was clearly evident Tuesday at Martz Hall in Pottsville, site of the first annual Career Fair for high school students. The event was sponsored by the Northeast Pennsylvania Manufacturers and Employers Council. As MAEA President Darlene Robbins said, there is much to offer to keep the future workforce here in Schuylkill County:


More than 700 students from 10 area schools visited with business, education and military vendors.

We're all looking for more efficient ways to get around. One way is to use the sun....That cutting edge technology, made by college and high school students, was on display at yesterday's Career Fair at Martz Hall. Gary McCready, Program Manager of the Energy Industry Partnership, explains:


Pa. Sen. Specter to oppose card check
WASHINGTON (AP) - In a setback for organized labor, Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter says he will oppose a bill that makes it easier for workers to form unions. Specter was the only Republican to support the Employee Free Choice Act two years ago. Unions were hoping he might be the crucial 60th vote needed to overcome an expected GOP filibuster of the measure when it's taken up this summer. Specter said his vote to end debate on the bill two years ago was not support for the merits, but instead for Congress to take up the issue of labor law reform.

Pa. House GOP wants new gas drilling on state land

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Republicans in Pennsylvania's House of Representatives are proposing a plan to expand natural gas drilling on 390,000 additional acres of state forest land. The Republicans proposed the plan Tuesday as an alternative to Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's plan to impose a severance tax on natural gas production. Drilling is a major issue in Pennsylvania since exploration companies are eager to tap the natural gas trapped in the Marcellus Shale rock formation. Republicans say the leasing under their plan would take place over the next three years and provide $260 million per year. Rendell expects his 5 percent tax on gas production to provide $236 million to the state budget in its first full year. The state raised $190 million last year by leasing 74,000 acres of state forest to drilling companies.

Gas well company says Pa. township targeting it
AVELLA, Pa. (AP) - A natural gas drilling company says in a federal lawsuit that a southwestern Pennsylvania township is unfairly targeting it with ordinances and permit fees. Range Resources-Appalachia LLC, of Canonsburg, says three ordinances passed last year illegally limit its rights to develop gas leases in Blaine Township, about 25 miles southwest of Pittsburgh. The company wants an injunction and damages. The township hasn't responded to the federal lawsuit filed Tuesday. The gas company says a $300 fee on temporary structures, and another ordinance requiring extensive background information on subcontractors who may spend just hours working on a well are excessive. The company also says an ordinance that declares corporations don't have individual rights under the law is illegal.

W.Pa. boy held for trial in death of dad's fiancee
NEW CASTLE, Pa. (AP) - Lawyers for an 11-year-old western Pennsylvania boy accused of killing his father's pregnant fiancee say they plan to file a motion to have him tried in juvenile court. Jordan Brown is charged as an adult in Lawrence County. A district judge ruled Tuesday that he stand trial. His lawyers say they need to get more forensic evidence before they can file their motion to have his case transfered to juvenile court. District Attorney John Bongivengo says the case belongs in adult court.

Police probe latest Coatesville arson suspect
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Investigators are trying to determine if a firefighter charged with two arsons in a fire-plagued eastern Pennsylvania town could be responsible for other blazes. Thirty-seven-year-old Robert Tracey Jr. was charged Monday with lighting two small trash fires in Coatesville last week. Authorities say he was a firefighter in the town of 11,000, which has had nearly two dozen arsons so far this year. Investigators with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives say they are still searching for a possible motive. Special agent Tom Stankiewicz says the agency is looking for any possible links between Tracy and other unsolved fires. Tracey's wife says her husband told her he didn't set the fires in Coatesville. Police have made about a half dozen arrests in connection with the fires.

Pa. factory mentioned in Obama news conference
PITTSBURGH (AP) - The president of a company that reopened a western Pennsylvania window factory last week to make energy-efficient windows says he's "surprised, shocked and honored." That's the reaction that Serious Materials CEO Kevin Surace had after President Barack Obama mentioned his Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company in his news conference Tuesday night. The company is the new operator of the former Kensington Windows plant in Vandergrift, about 24 miles east-northeast of Pittsburgh. Surace met Obama on Monday but says he didn't expect the president to mention the meeting in his prime-time news conference. Obama's stimulus package includes money to improve the nation's energy efficiency.

Developer to buy state building in Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH (AP) - A developer will buy the 16-story State Office Building in Pittsburgh and convert it into a hotel or apartments. River Vue Associates LP, of Canonsburg, was the only bidder to meet the state's $4.5 million minimum for the building. River Vue, which is affiliated with Millcraft Industries, bid $4.6 million. General Services officials say the state will save $14 million by selling the building and moving about 800 employees to leased office space. Some of those workers might move to Piatt Place, the office and condominium complex that Millcraft is redeveloping at the former Lazarus department store site downtown. Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner has argued the state should wait to sell the building until the economy and real estate market improve.

Pa. ex-policeman jailed for using job to get sex
DOYLESTOWN, Pa. (AP) - A former police officer in suburban Philadelphia has been sentenced to three to 23 months in the Bucks County Prison for intimidating a woman into sex acts. Bristol Borough Officer Samuel Anderson responded to a 911 call on Aug. 29 from a woman involved in a domestic dispute. A prosecutor says Anderson defused the situation, but then coerced the woman into engaging in a sex act. The prosecutor says the woman felt too intimidated to say no to Anderson, who was in full uniform and had his service weapon with him.
Anderson pleaded guilty to official oppression and was sentenced Monday. Defense lawyer Richard Fink says the judge said he would have issued a harsher sentence if not for letters and testimony about Anderson's positive work.

Pew study assesses failed Pa. turnpike lease plan
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - An independent study of the unsuccessful plan to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike to a private company says officials could have done a better job selling it to lawmakers. The Pew Center on the States sought to draw lessons from the Pennsylvania project for other states considering similar public-private transportation projects. Authors of the study say financial assumptions about the project were overly optimistic and that the Rendell administration lacked a clear plan for spending the new revenue. They also said the debate focused too much on short-term issues and not enough on the long term. A partnership between a Spanish company and a unit of Citigroup made the highest bid - $12.8 billion for a 75-year lease, but the plan died last year for lack of legislative support.

TSA: Mule drivers need security clearances
EASTON, Pa. (AP) - Score one for the bureaucracy: Mule drivers at an eastern Pennsylvania historical park need the same federal security clearance as port workers. The Homeland Security Department has refused to grant an exemption to workers who operate a mule-pulled boat at the National Canal Museum in Easton. The decision means the small museum will have to pay $420 for four Transportation Worker Identification Credentials. A federal anti-terror law typically requires the clearance for workers who need unescorted access to secure areas of ports and ships. Republican Congressman Charles Dent says he's disappointed. He sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Tuesday asking her to reconsider. He calls it a case of "a bureaucracy not paying attention to common sense." The museum says it might increase the ticket price for a canal ride.

Philadelphia police officer injured in crash
PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A police officer is recovering from injuries she got in a car crash in downtown Philadelphia. The 48-year-old officer was trapped in her police car for about 10 minutes following Tuesday night's two-vehicle crash and had to be cut out of the car. She was taken to a hospital with a leg injury and listed in stable condition later Tuesday night. Police Chief Charles Ramsey says it's possible she has a broken pelvis. No other injuries were immediately reported.

Pa. county to appeal ruling on sex offenders
PITTSBURGH (AP) - A federal court ruling that struck down restrictions on where registered sex offenders may live in the Pittsburgh area is being appealed. Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato said Tuesday that the county will appeal U.S. District Judge Gary Lancaster's ruling, which was issued Friday. The judge says the ordinance conflicts with state laws meant to help rehabilitate sex offenders. The ordinance aims to ban sex offenders from living within 2,500 feet of schools, licensed child care facilities, community centers and public parks. The American Civil Liberties Union says that would mean offenders would have virtually no place to live in the county. The county councilman who introduced the bill says it's on solid legal ground.

$5,000 reward offered for Pa. murder fugitive
CLAIRTON, Pa. (AP) - A $5,000 reward is being offered for a suburban Pittsburgh man who disappeared after he was charged with fatally shooting a woman and wounding her husband during a drug-fueled robbery attempt a year ago. Allegheny County authorities say 43-year-old James Garland Watts, of Clairton, hasn't been seen since he fatally shot 40-year-old Shawnta Lee, and wounded her husband, 53-year-old David Lee on March 24, 2008. The county says David Lee is offering $4,000 for information leading to Watts' arrest on top of a $1,000 reward by Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers. The case was featured on Fox TV's "America's Most Wanted" last year. Police say Watts shot the couple while trying to rob them of money to fuel a cocaine binge. Watts was a longtime acquaintance of the couple.

Harrisburg, Easton newspapers to furlough workers
HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Full-time employees of The Patriot-News in Harrisburg will be required to take 10 unpaid days off over the next five months to help cut costs. Editor and Publisher John Kirkpatrick said Tuesday the Harrisburg paper is also changing its retirement benefits. In Easton, full-time employees at The Express-Times also were directed take 10 days off without pay in 2009. Both papers are owned by the Newhouse family's Advance Publications, which publishes daily newspapers in nearly two dozen cities. Advance announced Monday it was ordering 10-day furloughs and a pension freeze at nearly all its dailies.

Sold! Bargain-hunters buying groceries at auction
DALLAS, Pa. (AP) - When Kirk Williams held his first grocery auction in rural Pennsylvania last month, nearly 300 people showed up. Astonished by the turnout, he's scheduling auctions at locations throughout northeastern Pennsylvania. Williams operates Col. Kirk's Auction Gallery near Bloomsburg. He says in this economy, sales of baseball cards, estate jewelry and other auction staples have "fallen off a cliff." As consumers seek relief from the recession and spiraling food prices, grocery auctions are gaining in popularity as an easy way to cut costs. The sales operate like regular auctions, but with bidders vying for dry goods and frozen foods instead of antiques and collectibles. Some auctioneers even accept food stamps.

Cape Air begins service between Lancaster, BWI
LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) - Cape Air has begun service from Lancaster to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The inaugural flight departed Lancaster Airport just after 6 a.m. Tuesday. The takeoff marked the return of commercial flights from Lancaster after an 18-month hiatus. Cape Air is operating nine-passenger Cessna 402 twin-engine planes and offering five round trips daily, seven days a week. Roundtrip tickets are $100. Lancaster Airport Authority' finance and marketing director Joyce Opp says Cape Air has sold more than 360 tickets so far for flights from Lancaster during the next 60 days. One first-day flyer, Gabrielle Rogers, of LItitz, was making a connection to Florida. She said it saved her from having to drive so far.


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