Wyoming County Commissioners signed an intergovernmental agreement with Tunkhannock Township over the addition of a K-9 unit to the Township Police Department.
At a commissioners meeting on Tuesday morning, commissioners unanimously voted for the agreement, with Rick Wilbur calling the addition of the K-9 unit “a great thing for the county.”
“Tunkhannock Township Police serve a lot of areas in this county,” Commissioner Wilbur said. “I think this is going to serve the county in a very positive way and is going to help everyone, not just Tunkhannock Township residents.”
Tunkhannock Township supervisors approved the addition of the K-9 unit at their monthly meeting on Sept. 7. The program is funded by state grant money awarded by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office.
Commissioners approved the renewal of Geographic Information System licensing for 2022. County Mapping and Addressing Coordinator Chas Mead said the licensing agreement is with California based Environmental Systems Research Institute for a cost of $38,500.
Mead said the package the county used from ESRI is called the Small Municipal and County Government Enterprise License Agreement. The agreement allows the county to take advantage of any software and storage packages that ESRI offers.
“This package is very beneficial to us,” Mead said. “It means we don’t have to store all our maps on the county servers. If there was ever a crash and stuff was lost, all of these maps would still be available and not affected.”
Commissioners voted to once again accept Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement funds for 2022. Commissioner Ernie King said these funds have been very helpful in the past with housing rehabilitation throughout Wyoming County. The exact amount allocated for Wyoming County will be available during the month of October.
Sheriff Robert Roberts said the active shooter drill conducted at the Courthouse on Sept. 18 went very well, and was received very well by members of the community. He said there are still some security improvements that can be worked on that his team will work on to address.
“We learned a lot that day,” Roberts said. “We want to make our little county a shining star when it comes to safety. Everyone hopes we never have to put a drill like that into action, but being prepared is one of the most important things we can do.”
Commissioners also reminded the public that masks are required to be worn in county buildings for the time being. Residents are also encouraged to make appointments if they need to conduct business at the courthouse, although appointments are not required.
In other business, commissioners approved:
-Children and Youth service agreements for 2022.
-the appointment of Rick Wilbur as Wyoming County’s designated member on Keystone College’s Board of Directors pending approval by the board.
-the hires of: Kelly Heatherman, Children and Youth; and Elizabeth Mason, nurse family partnership.
Wyoming County Commissioners will hold their next meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12, at 10 a.m., at the Courthouse.
Four days before last Christmas, Gwen Buchanan of Mehoopany received the gift of a lifetime.
A second hip replacement.
At 51, the avid outdoorswoman recently recalled telling her surgeon, “You know, I’m going to hike the Appalachian Trail next year.”
She said he looked back at her with a straight face and said, “I guess we better get moving.”
And, moving they did.
On March 27 of this year, she arrived at Springer Mountain in Georgia, and became a NoBo (short for those traveling northbound) on a backpacking journey of some 2,185 miles which took her through 14 states, and ended recently in Maine.
Following the five months, five days experience of trusting her soul to the elements, she said, “I feel great. It was everything I imagined and better. It was beautiful.”
Did your new hips hurt at all? “Nope.”
“It’s not for the faint-hearted, for sure,” Buchanan, who has been a physical therapist for 27 years, said. “But it felt right for me.”
She smiles at her friends “who thought and think I was a little crazy to do this,” and admits, “I don’t want to be held back by what others think are obstacles.”
Buchanan said she got bit by the backpacking bug at age 13, when a member of the Backpacking Club in the Tunkhannock Area schools, and remembers as a Girl Scout and 4-H member going on the Loyalsock Trail “with all I really ever needed” and not wanting to come home.
She did go home, and eventually set two goals for her life.
“I wanted to do a marathon, and I wanted to hike the entire Appalachian Trail,” she said.
She completed her first marathon of 26.2 miles in 2004, and has done 10 of them.
That left the Appalachian Trail.
Buchanan said she was inspired to tackle the Trail, by her Backpacking Club adviser and former Mehoopany neighbor, Frank Ketchum who had attempted it but fell short.
“This journey was for him. He was passionate about backpacking,” but she sadly noted, he passed away at the age of 85 on April 17, less than a month into her hike.
Was she ever scared?
Buchanan recalled falling backward on Saddleback Mountain in Maine, and after picking herself up wondering, “How am I not hurt? I realized that everybody falls at some juncture, and I just had to keep moving.” She said there were a lot of places in New England that was pure rock climbing, and some where you had to jump trusting you would make it.
“I did not see a bear or moose, but I heard the latter at night, and depending on where I was also heard from crickets and owls and loons which often sang me to sleep,” she said, also noting in the distance on a few nights what she later realized were shrieking bobcats.
Her greatest fear, Buchanan said. “Thunderstorms were the worst. I just found a spot to throw my tent, but the truth is that there is no way to protect yourself from lightning.”
Another fear was of the unknown. She said she was on Pulpit Rock, a little northeast of Reading, here in Pennsylvania taking in some spectacular views of the landscape.
“At that point, another hiker heading southbound told me that I might want to move ahead a little. I asked him why and he told me there was a copperhead snake between my feet. Sure enough, I snapped a few pictures of it and moved on.”
Other impediments? “This was the rainiest July on record, and sometimes a hiker just needs to be cut a break. Vermont became known as Ver-mud,”
She also recalled an episode in Virginia where she was nearly overtaken by a swarm of Ciccadas — those insects that make an appearance every 17 years. She said one afternoon she felt something just above her right ear, and had to peel back one attached to her hair.
About her backpack, Buchanan said she carried 25-35 pounds every day including her tent, about five days of food and three liters of water.
“Yes, it was very heavy,” she admitted, and getting ready for the journey, she wore a 20 pound vest to work every day for a whole month. She added that for anyone thinking about taking the Appalachian Trail leap, “There are lots of books and internet tools out there.”
Did you stay in touch with people back home? “Oh, yes,” Buchanan said pointing to a cell phone she carried with her. She noted it had a pinging device that went off every four hours, so people pretty much had an idea of her progress along the way. She also recorded some observations when she was en route like on facebook using the digital moniker of HIPHIKER.
What will she miss the most now that the journey has ended?
“I really got used to the simple life — you know eating, drinking, really appreciating nature’s beauty, and hiking,” Buchanan said. “Now I have to worry about all of that other stupid stuff — cooking, laundry, housecleaning, and work.”
Lackawanna Trail High School was closed Tuesday after a scare earlier in the morning.
Superintendent Matthew Rakauskas posted a notice around 9:50 a.m. on the District’s Facebook page that said: “Earlier this morning the Jr.-Sr. High School was evacuated after a small incendiary device ignited in the second floor hallway. After all students were successfully evacuated to a safe location they were dismissed for the day.”
Rakauskas said that the evidence revealed a cell phone charger device duct-taped together which exploded. and police were trying to determine if the matter was accidental or intentional to do harm.
Just a few minutes shy of 11 a.m., five law enforcement vehicles were at the high school.
The superintendent said a sweep of the building was being done looking for other potentially suspicious devices.
Rakauskas noted, “School officials worked with local and state law enforcement to sweep the building and have determined that no additional security threat exists.”
He added, “We will resume classes tomorrow (Sep. 29) on a normal schedule.
Rakauskas had noted earlier that there were no security/safety concerns at the Elementary Center in Factoryville, where classes remained in session.
“Thank you to all of the students and parents for your patience this morning. Safety is our top priority,” he said
Thirteen female inmates currently being boarded at the Wayne County Jail are expected to be brought back to Wyoming County sometime in the next month.
At a Wyoming County Prison Board Meeting on Tuesday morning, Warden Ken Repsher announced the staffing issues that have plagued the prison for the past year have been resolved, so they plan on bringing the female inmates currently being boarded in Wayne County back to Wyoming County.
“The new corrections officers that we hired are all great, and they have all learned very quickly,” Repsher said. “This is going to be a great relief not having to board these females, and will be a lot safer for our staff as well.”
Currently, there are 41 inmates being held in-house at the jail, 40 males and one female, four males who are currently boarded for treatment programs, and the 13 females currently boarded to Wayne County.
Members of the Prison Board were thrilled to hear staffing levels are close to normal again.
“Hopefully we can put this period behind us,” Wyoming County Commissioner Tom Henry said. “The staff at the prison have worked hard over the past year and they deserve to be commended.”
Although visitations have resumed at the jail, Repsher said he is still not comfortable bringing back things such as religious and treatment groups back inside yet.
“We’ve just got our new staff members’ feet wet a little bit,” Repsher said. “These group visitations cause the need for a lot of supervision to make sure nothing gets out of hand. We will evaluate it again in the future.”
For the first time since July, the spread of COVID-19 in Wyoming County decreased from the previous week.
For the period of Sept. 21-27, the county saw 68 new positive cases of COVID-19, which is a decrease from 110 cases the previous week. The new cases bring the county total to 2,338 since the pandemic began.
Despite the decrease in cases, Wyoming County remained in the high spread category of transmission according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Masks are recommended indoors for everyone, even fully vaccinated individuals, in areas with high transmission rates.
County Emergency Management Director Gene Dziak called the drop in cases “a step in the right direction,” but not big enough for anyone to let their guard down just yet.
“Dropping numbers is always a good thing, that’s what we like to see,” Dziak said. “However, the numbers are still way higher than where we would prefer them to be, but we think mitigation efforts that have been put in place at the county buildings are working already.”
There were no reported COVID-19 deaths in the county over the seven-day period. The county has seen 55 since its first reported COVID-19 death in April 2020. Two county residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, according to Dziak they are currently being hospitalized out-of-county.
According to CDC data, the incidence rate of COVID for Wyoming County currently stands at 279.9 cases per 100,000 residents, which is a decrease from 414.3 cases for the previous seven day period. The positivity rate also dropped to 11 percent, which is down from 16.3 percent the previous week.
“It’s still way too early to tell if we’re starting to get out of the woods,” Dziak said. “There’s a lot of activities going on all over the area. We’re hoping though that this is the week where our weekly numbers start to trend down for good.”
Vaccination rates in the county continue to rise again. According to CDC data, 63.7 percent of county adults are now fully vaccinated, which is a 0.9 percent increase from the previous week. 72.9 percent of adults have received at least one dose of a vaccine.
In the past week, the CDC and Food and Drug Administration approved the authorization of COVID-19 booster shots, for people who were fully vaccinated by the Pfizer vaccine more than six months ago. People ages 65 and older, and ages 18-64 with underlying medical conditions are eligible for a booster shot.
Dziak said the county is still awaiting guidance from the Pa. Department of Health about booster shot clinics. The clinics run by the county through Rural Health Corporation gave the Moderna vaccine, which does not have an authorized booster yet.
‘If you received the Pfizer shot and are eligible for a booster, I encourage you to contact your healthcare provider,” Dziak said. “When we receive guidance for people who received the Moderna vaccine at our clinics, we will for sure let people know.”
For anyone who has still not been vaccinated yet, Dziak encourages them to contact their family doctor, or any local pharmacy to see if appointments are available.
The Tunkhannock Area School Board returned to having its school board meeting last Thursday in a virtual Zoom setting.
Four members were not present: Phillip Farr, Rob Parry, William Swilley, and Bill Weidner.
Board member vice president Holly Arnold opened the meeting, noting an executive session had taken place on Sept. 16 for legal reasons. (It had been done in-person, according to board secretary Carolyn Lawson.)
Arnold shared the ground rules for the evening which gave persons signed in to talk for two minutes on agenda items. Only two persons signed in.
George Yuhas raised a legal objection, and parent Jen Brody asked why the meeting was being held virtually.
Arnold said that based on legal advice they wanted to enforce the mask mandate, and given that other school districts’ boards were meeting virtually, there was no reason Tunkhannock couldn’t as well
From the superintendent’s report, the board approved:
Kathleen M. Ferreri as a district paraprofessional;
Megan Welch as a grant-funded paraprofessional to address student academic needs due to COVID 19;
extracurricular appointments for 2021-22 including Rich Appleby as equipment manager and Raymond Woods as boys head wrestling coach
Co-curricular appointment of Anne DeMarco as freshman class advisor; and
An updated volunteer list that included Jerry Blakeslee, Meghan Boone, Rebecca Clouse-Mickey, Michelle Gundling, Christina Harding, Scott Harding, Nicole Hawke, Lara Lunger, Estera Salters and Erin Vangasbeck.
Under unfinished business, the board
The board did discuss an item on the agenda regarding Rapid COVID testing administered by school with parent permission.
Superintendent Heather McPherson said she had reached out to the Luzerne Intermediate Unit, and some schools were doing pool testing of an identified classroom and other school programs had nurses turning to do rapid testing.
Board member William Prebola said he would like to see more evidence about either, and the matter was tabled.
Under new business, the board
There was no vote on the bus/van contracts as board member Lori Bennett planed to abstain leaving only four board members to vote on the matter. The issue was tabled until the next meeting.
The meeting adjourned at 8:10 p.m.