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Increase in COVID-19 cases reported in ZIP codes serving Peters Township

With the effective reopening of Peters Township has come an increase in cases of COVID-19.

During Monday’s meeting of township council, fire Chief Michael McLaughlin reported the number of new cases since June 22 within the two main local ZIP codes: 88 in 15317, Canonsburg/McMurray, and 16 in 15367, Venetia.

The majority, he said, are among residents ages 21 to 49.

“We’re seeing a high success rate in recovery and a quick recovery in that age group,” he said.

Township manager Paul Lauer told council cases have emerged among municipal employees and their family members, along with some participants in a township recreation program. He also announced at the start of the meeting Councilman Jim Berquist was not present because of his illness.

“This is no longer something that we’re talking about in the abstract,” Lauer said. “It’s something that’s affecting people here.”

He mentioned some areas of concern with regard to safety measures, in particular citing gymnasium use at the community recreation center.

“All we are asking people who come through the door is to wear a mask while they’re in the common space, the space that’s occupied by our employees as well as the areas before you get into the gyms,” Lauer said.

“Unlike the situation at the library, where there’s almost complete compliance with that request, that is not the case at the rec center,” he continued. “You have teenagers coming through the door wanting to do pickup basketball and things like that, and as we can probably all appreciate, they perceive themselves as being pretty invincible.”

Lauer also discussed concerns about township employees traveling for their summer vacations.

“Some of those vacations are scheduled in areas that have been designated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as being ‘hot spots,’” he said, referring to the list of 15 states released July 2.

“While the department of health suggests that when you go to one of these places, it would be good to be separated for the next 14 days upon your return, that, as a practical matter, isn’t enforceable. And I don’t know of any municipality that’s doing that,” Lauer said. “What I want to do is provide employees guidance as to what they need to do to be safe, and also inform them as to which of these states have been determined to be areas of concern.”

Lauer said officials have looked at the safety of recreation programs as well.

“I don’t think that’s where we have a problem,” he said. “We have protocols, and people who sign up for those classes are willing to follow them.”

For now, the following of protocols for other activities will be monitored.

“If we can’t get it squared away, I don’t know that we should be opening up the gym for just drop-in play,” Lauer said. “We’re not asking people to do a whole lot. We’re asking them only to wear a mask between the time you come in the door and you get to the gym floor.”

Council member Frank Arcuri, citing the probability of increased attendance at the community recreation center during fall and winter, asked about the feasibility of installing additional equipment in the air-circulation systems of township buildings to help safeguard against germs.

Lauer said that staff members would look into it.

“That’s a newer building, and the amount of outside air that comes in, regardless of whether it’s the summer or the winter, is actually substantial,” he said.

He could not say the same about the municipal building.

On a financial note, McLaughlin, who also serves as the township’s emergency management coordinator, reported expenditures of $12,288.39 related to COVID-19 since mid-March. Lauer said additional expenses related to personnel add up to $7,400.

The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act provides for reimbursements to local governments navigating the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. In Pennsylvania, the funding is administered through county governments, and according to Lauer, Washington County has not begun distribution.

Mt. Lebanon Commission to vote on archery hunt

Mt. Lebanon Commission plans to vote July 28 on approving the municipality’s annual archery hunt.

Overseen for the past two years by Suburban Wildlife Management Solutions, the hunt is part of an overall program established by the commission in 2014 with the “measurable objective to reduce deer-vehicular collisions by 50%,” according to assistant municipal manager Ian McMeans.

The cost of the archery component would be about $8,000, he said, which matches the 2019 outlay.

During the commission’s July 14 discussion session, which was conducted virtually, McMeans provided comprehensive information about the deer management program, joined by Suburban Wildlife representative Jason Brunetti.

The bow-and-arrow hunt takes place during the period established by the Pennsylvania Game Commission for “Deer, Archery,” which begins statewide Oct. 3 this year.

In managing archery hunts in Mt. Lebanon and other communities, Brunetti’s organization screens volunteers before they can participate.

“They’re required to fill out an application,” he said. “They’re required to go through a criminal history background check. We check their history in similar programs.”

Applicants undergo bow-and-arrow shooting proficiency tests, and those who pass and are accepted are subject to oversight and monitoring by the management team. Arrows are marked to identify each archer.

“If an arrow is found in a place it’s not supposed to be found, we can very easily address who, at least from our program, shot it,” Brunetti said, noting hunting takes place from an elevated position in a tree stand. “We don’t take any shots over 20 yards at the deer.”

As per Game Commission regulations, hunting takes place only from dusk until dawn.

The Mt. Lebanon locations have been in the conservation area off Connor Road, the municipal golf course, three parks – Twin Hills Park, McNeilly Park and Robb Hollow Park – and on a few private properties.

“Safety is always the top priority of the program,” McMeans said. “They’re not going to be conducting removal activities if members of the public are around.”

He recommended the municipality continue to contract with Suburban Wildlife Management Solutions.

“They’re familiar with the community,” McMeans said. “They’re familiar with working with our police department to work through sites, work through any issues that arise.”

He explained the Game Commission requires an archery hunt in connection with granting Mt. Lebanon a deer control permit.

The other major component of the management plan is a winter sharpshooting cull. Information provided by McMeans shows “deer removal totals” at an overall 466 from 2015-19, with 271 attributed to sharpshooting and 195 to archery.

For the same time period, deer management program costs are listed as $269,578.60, with the majority going toward sharpshooting. Within the total outlay is $6,798.74, early in the program, for education, signage and other nonlethal methods of management.

Regarding deer-vehicular collisions in Mt. Lebanon, the annual total peaked at 122 in 2016 and dropped to 61 two years later, according to information presented at the discussion session.

While those numbers represent a decrease of exactly 50%, the totals listed for 2013 and 2014 are much lower, at 44 and 57, respectively. No totals were provided for 2019.

Deer management in Mt. Lebanon has been a topic of much discussion throughout the community for at least a decade and a half, and when their meetings are conducted publicly, commissioners often hear plenty of related commentary from residents.

“There have been from time to time people who have come to commission meetings to express thanks for having the program,” Craig Grella, commission president, said. “But by far, I think the majority of people who have expressed public comment have been to not have the program, or to do other methods.

Commissioners Steve Silverman, Mindy Ranney and Leeann Foster all said they generally receive positive feedback about the program.

“What I have heard from residents and what I believe on this issue is that it is a public health and safety issue, and that may cost us some dollars that don’t come back to us directly,” Foster said. “But I think that’s the sentiment of the residents.”

Commissioner Andrew Flynn expressed somewhat of a different perspective.

“I’ve lived in places where there’s a lot more wildlife than there is here, and you learn to slow down. And you learn to pay attention,” he said. “I think it’s a valid point, but there are different approaches if it’s simply just a safety issue.”

Bethel Park Council votes against communications tower

Bethel Park Council rejected a conditional-use application Monday for construction of a communications tower in the municipality’s industrial park.

The vote against the proposal by Capital Telecom Holdings LLC and Pittsburgh SMSA Limited Partnership nearly was unanimous. Council member Jim McLean abstained, citing primarily his not attending the second of two public hearings on the matter.

According to Timothy Moury, council president, plans call for a 140-foot-tall structure on which to place equipment. The stated purpose is to fill Verizon Wireless coverage gaps in the local area.

“If this tower were to go in, we’re still going to have ‘dead spots,’” Moury said prior to the vote. “This is not going to 100% resolve the problem that we have in that general vicinity. It’s going to help, I’m sure, but it’s not going to resolve.”

The proposed tower site at 5412 Enterprise Blvd. is zoned for manufacturing and light industrial, which allows such uses.

“That’s principally why this area was chosen,” said Joe Perotti of the Pittsburgh law firm Sittig & Cortese, representing the applicants, during the June 22 public hearing. “No variances absolutely were needed for this facility.”

As for the conditional use required by the municipality, the Bethel Park Planning and Zoning Commission voted in January to recommend council’s approval. The following month, council conducted the first public hearing, during which several residents expressed concern about the proposal.

In further action July 13, council voted to approve the findings of fact, conclusions of law and decisions denying the application.

“This is a summary – it’s, I believe, 42 pages – of the deficiencies we found,” Moury said. “Because we turned it down tonight, we are now going to adopt a findings of fact that will go along with the denial process if the applicant chooses to take this to court.”

The summary is based on information provided by a professional consultant hired by the municipality to review the application process.