Tennis balls

As restrictions caused by COVID-19 persist deep into the spring, plenty of people are wondering when public recreational areas will open again.

In a written comment submitted to Peters Township Council, resident John Muza questioned pandemic-related restrictions implemented statewide – “The costs associated with these lockdowns has not been properly considered” – and specifically mentioned the closing of the municipal tennis center.

During council’s meeting Monday, member Gary Stiegel Jr. said he tends to agree with regard to America’s favorite racquet sport.

“I look at that as similar to the way golf is,” he said. “You’re not getting up and personal with anybody. I would think that would be something we could open.”

Even with Washington County moving May 15 out of the “red” and into the “yellow” phase of reopening, as designated by Gov. Tom Wolf, tennis is not designated as a permitted activity.

“Particularly, the courts inside the tennis bubble are considered indoor recreation,” township manager Paul Lauer said, referencing the seasonal court coverings.

“I get it in terms of the outdoor, particularly if you are playing singles. But if we follow state guidelines, I believe that those facilities are not to be opened.”

He cautioned against deviating from state guidelines.

“I don’t know what liability we take upon ourselves, and I don’t know how our insurance carrier would react to that decision. I don’t know how much you’d be waiving your protections under the Tort Claims Act, which very much limits what you can sue a municipality for,” he said.

As of May 1, Wolf permitted the opening of golf courses – along with marinas, guided fishing trips and privately owned campgrounds – all subject to appropriate social distancing and other safety precautions.

“I can see the rationale that in tennis, both players are touching the same ball, whereas opposed to golf, they’re not,” council member Frank Kosir Jr. said.

Whatever the status of various recreational activities, more township businesses are going back into operation.

“Within the governor’s plan to reopen to the ‘yellow’ phase, those that are allowed to have occupants will only be allowed to have 50% of their maximum occupancy,” said Peters Township Fire Department Chief Michael McLaughlin, who serves as the municipal emergency operations manager. “Does that mean it’s safe? Not necessarily. But they’ve been given that guidance to reach out to fire departments in municipalities to get that information.”

Guidelines also call for scheduling one-on-one appointments when possible and, of course, maintaining social distancing.

“That’s the message that we’re trying to convey to those businesses, as well, with success,” McLaughlin said.

Regarding the operation of township business, Lauer announced municipal hauler Waste Management has restarted complete trash collection, including yard waste and one bulk item per week. Starting next week, the township public works department will pick up branches for chipping.

Another popular service in the township is getting back to normal as well.

“The library has devised a method to do curbside checkout of books and return of books,” Lauer said. “We’re waiting for direction from the state library as to whether or not that’s going to be permitted, because library operations are prohibited under ‘yellow.’”

The Peters Township Municipal Building remains closed.

“That doesn’t mean we haven’t been meeting with people. We do schedule meetings, and a lot of those meetings occur, actually, in this space,” Lauer said, referring to council chambers. “We’re continuing to get the job done in terms of the planning department and the public works department, police and fire. We’re going to continue to the extent that people can work from home, as is suggested under ‘yellow.’”

As for township activities such as summer camp, he did not express optimism.

“I honestly do not believe that the programs are going to occur, but I don’t want to cancel those yet,” he said.

Multimedia Reporter

Staff writer Harry Funk, a professional journalist for three-plus decades, has been on the staff of The Almanac since 2015. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and master of business administration, both from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

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