Press and Journal

Switch to desktop Register Login

Experts: Gas prices about to start climbing higher

Gas prices are about to climb to the year’s highest levels as refineries across the nation are preparing for maintenance season and the seasonal switch to cleaner burning gasoline, a tradition despised by many, according to the website.

Hikes are due to summer’s more expensive blend of gasoline, required by the Environmental Production Agency and the Clean Air Act, as well as refinery maintenance work lasting several months that causes production to drop, creating a pinch at the pump. 

Last year, the national average jumped 69 cents during this season, from a low of $1.69 to a high of $2.39; in 2015 there was an even larger increase of 78 cents, from a low of $2.03 to a high of $2.81 per gallon. 

Here are some highlights of what’s to come at the pump across the nation: 

• Average gasoline prices will rise 35 to 75 cents between recent lows and peak prices, just in time for spring break travel plans. Gas prices will likely plateau in May. 

• America’s daily gasoline bill will swell from today’s $788 million to as much as $1.1 billion daily by Memorial Day. This is $312 million more spent every 24 hours. 

• Some of the nation’s largest cities will be $3 a gallon gasoline very soon, including Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Seattle, with other large cities possibly joining due to various stringent summer gasoline requirements. 

• Watch out for more gas price volatility in the Great Lakes and West Coast vs. other areas, based on prior year outages at refineries in these areas. As a result, there may be temporary gas price spikes. 

“While I remain optimistic this year will not bring a ‘running of the bulls’, we’re likely to see some major increases at the gas pump as the seasonal transition and refinery maintenance get underway,” said Dan McTeague, senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy. “Overall, most areas will see peak prices under $3 per gallon, and while that’s far under prices a few years ago, watching prices surge every spring certainly brings heart burn with it.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 February 2017 11:48

Hits: 52

Paul, DeHart running for Lower Swatara commissioner at team


Screen Shot 2017 02 15 at 10.39.35 AMRon Paul and Christopher DeHart have announced their candidacy for Lower Swatara Township commissioner seats.

Both are running as Republicans for the positions held by Benjamin Hall and Laddie Springer. Primaries are in May and the general election is in November.

“We thought we’d give the public the opportunity for some choices,” Paul said. “We’re going to pursue it and see how it goes.”

Paul was passed over for a vacant board seat late last year for Hall. The commissioners appointed Hall, a 22-year township resident, to fill the seat Dec. 21. Board President Tom Mehaffie resigned from the post on Nov. 30 after he was elected to represent the 106th District in the state House. 

As a team, Paul and DeHart’s goals are to keep taxes low via smart growth, have transparency in local government, support a fully staffed police force and the Lower Swatara Fire Department and EMS, upgrade critical infrastructure, make effective use of Lower Swatara Township recreation areas, develop solid relationships with neighboring municipalities, and create policies and actions that provide a safe and attractive community for residents and businesses.

Both are familiar with the challenges of public service. Paul spent 35 years in township roles, as planning and zoning director, Municipal Authority manager, manager and secretary. He retired in January 2012.

“Quite honestly, I feel like I can help,” Paul said.

DeHart served as a member of the Lower Swatara Volunteer Fire Department for 30 years, walking away in 2015 after completing his four-year term as fire chief. Other roles he served while with the fire department include vice president, trustee, lieutenant and captain. He also was the project manager for the designing and constructing of the new firehouse.

DeHart is a former member of the Lower Swatara Planning Commission and was a member of the township’s Comprehensive Planning Commission in 2016.

“We want to continue to make things better for the residents,” DeHart said. “We want to make the township better as a whole.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:43

Hits: 287

You’ve been warned about borough parking changes: fliers appear on windshields

IMG 9144These notices are only a warning regarding downtown parking.


People who park in downtown Middletown are being served notice by the borough that the times, they are a changin’.

A number of motorists may have found a sheet of paper tucked under their windshield wiper, telling them that the borough will soon begin enforcing a new two-hour limit impacting many spaces in the downtown.

The enforcement could begin as early as the middle of the week of Feb. 13-17 — in other words, by the time you are reading this article. All the borough is waiting for is the new parking signs and the brackets to install them, said Greg Wilsbach, borough public works director.

His workers began putting the sheets under peoples’ windshields recently, as a way to give motorists a heads up as to what is coming. The paper isn’t a ticket or even a warning, just a “courtesy.”

“I don’t want to see people get blindsided” by not knowing about the new parking rules, Wilsbach said.

Borough council in January gave final approval to a new ordinance, ordinance 1335, that includes the new two-hour limits and other restrictions. The ordinance mostly is in response to concerns that several downtown businesses had been expressing to council for months, about many on-street parking spaces being tied up for hours and days at a time by commuters using the nearby Amtrak train station along Mill Street.

That issue will likely go away when the new train station opens up along West Main Street, but that is not expected until sometime in 2020 or even 2021, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Once the signs are in place the new restrictions can be enforced by borough police.

People who live on the streets impacted by the changes can apply to the borough for a parking permit. There is no charge to request or obtain a permit, however the number of permits that will be available is “limited,” borough officials have said.

As the paper under the windshield also reminds motorists, here’s something else to keep in mind: If you do get a ticket, it’s also going to cost more than before. 

Council in passing the ordinance doubled the price of a parking ticket. Instead of $15, now a ticket will be $30, and that’s if you pay it within two days of getting it. If after 48 hours but before you get a summons from the district judge, the fine has increased from $30 to $60. The maximum parking fine was increased from $75 to $150.

Finally, the borough is also reminding motorists of parking restrictions from 7 to 9 a.m. Fridays for street sweeping. During this period no parking is allowed on Emaus Street from Wood to Pine streets, and on Union Street from Spring to Ann streets.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:38

Hits: 490

Crash victims Keating, Shaffer have a long way to go

Screen Shot 2017 02 15 at 10.23.21 AM

On a night in late November 2016 that went down as one of the greatest in the history of Middletown Area High School sports, the strength that is what the area is all about came through.

On that fateful Friday night, within minutes after a car crashed on Stoner Drive in Lower Swatara Township just after 11 p.m., four heroes rose to the occasion to save the lives of Scott Shaffer and Joey Keating.

The two events — the Blue Raiders’ football triumph in the state quarterfinals, and the horrific accident — are forever intertwined, as the crash occurred as the two young men were coming home from the game.

Today, less than three months since Shaffer and Keating were pulled by the rescuers from a burning car, the two young men have recovered to where they are much closer to home.

Both young men sustained severe burns to the lower extremities, according to a Lower Swatara Township police report.

Keating, a 2016 MAHS graduate, was able to return home just before Christmas from Lehigh Valley Hospital Burn Center, where both Keating and Shaffer had been hospitalized for their severe burn injuries sustained in the crash.

Shaffer, a 2015 MAHS graduate, on Friday, Feb. 10, was transferred to a rehabilitation center at the Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center. Shaffer had gone through 11 surgeries over the past 76 days while in Lehigh.

While both young men have made great strides in their recovery, they both have a long, long way to go.

The moving story of their recovery can be followed on an almost daily basis through journal entries that the parents of both Joey and Scott are posting on, their primary way of communicating to the rest of the world updates of the progress that their sons are making.

The entries read like a diary. For example, the struggle of what Joey is going through is evident in this entry posted on Jan. 4 by Joey’s mother Rachelle Keating, while Joey was still at Lehigh:

“We were told today by the Burn doctors and the orthopedic doctors that Joey will require extensive therapy to regain complete use of his foot again. They also told us that he will probably have lifelong swelling and vascular issues with this leg/foot from the burns and fractures. He will also continue to go to Burn Recovery for the next five years for wound care and scar management. Hearing those words isn’t easy, but we are choosing to believe that Joey’s strength, determination and faith will return Joey to the active life he once had and so desires.”

The parents of both Scott and Joey also use the site to share joys, such as the entry posted by Scott’s dad Tom Shaffer on Feb. 4, about what had to have been a special visit from Joey and his parents.

“Joey and his parents were in on Wednesday with us and it was an AWESOME visit!” Tom Shaffer posted. “The boys were able to talk with each other for a few minutes. WOW!”

On Wednesday, Feb. 8, Joey was taken to the Hershey Med emergency room for pain in his abdomen around the area of his spleen. While there, Joey was able to meet with the Hershey Med trauma surgeon who had saved his leg on the night of the accident, before Joey was transferred to Lehigh Valley.

“She heard we were in the ER and was kind enough to sit and talk with us and she was very happy to see Joey and Joey was thrilled to meet her. It was a special moment for sure,” Rachelle Keating posted on on Feb. 9.

CaringBridge has become the Keatings’ “preferred method to keep everyone informed about (Joey’s) current status and upcoming events,” Joey’s father Brian said in an email to the Press And Journal. “We genuinely appreciate everyone’s concern, prayers and well wishes. Therefore, we feel compelled to some degree to let those people know about his progression.”

“As you can imagine, though, it can be difficult to walk that line,” Brian continued. “First, it is still very early in his recovery so there is a lot we do not know yet as well as the possibility of that which we think we now know changing. Second, we appreciate a modicum of privacy. We do not always feel like talking about the events of the past couple months. Further, there are things we experience as parents and a family which are private and between us.”

Tom Shaffer in a recent interview with the Press And Journal expressed similar thoughts regarding the way that he and his wife, Chrissy, have been able to use CaringBridge to share news of Scott’s long journey back.

“People don’t know what to ask, or how to ask” when it comes to what they can do to help, Shaffer said. “It’s like I’m the elephant in the room. So we have it out there. We’re keeping it kind of general because it’s personal to Scott. Someday he’ll have a story to tell about it, and we’ll let him tell his story. We’re just kind of keeping people updated who have been so supportive of us.”

Both on CaringBridge and in comments to the Press And Journal, the parents of both Scott and Joey have talked about how overwhelmed they have been — and continue to be — by the outpouring of support for the two young men and their families.

The first public sign of the extent of that community support was obvious just two days after the accident, on Sunday evening, Nov. 27, when hundreds of people descended upon Smith’s Tree Farm in Swatara Township for a prayer vigil for Joey and Scott and their families. Scott had worked at the tree farm. Supporters used social media, mostly Facebook, to spread the word about the impromptu vigil.

Tom Shaffer, who is the principal of Fink Elementary School in Middletown Area School District, acknowledged that until something like this happens, you never really know what kind of support you have from the community.

“We’re just amazed at the outpouring of support from the communities of Middletown and Lower Swatara,” he said. “From close friends to family to people we don’t even know signing up to bring meals every two nights for us, gift cards for gas, gift cards for anything … it’s a lot larger than I ever would have expected.”

Shaffer also noted the ongoing support that Scott and the family has received from Kutztown University, where Scott is a sophomore studying sports management, and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. Scott joined the National Guard as an infantry soldier in spring 2016. His unit is based in Danville.

Almost weekly the National Guard has provided chaplains who volunteer to pray with Scott and the family over the phone, Tom said. The chaplains have also been in to visit Scott and his family in the hospital, as have been supporters from Kutztown University. 

Employees of the school district held a fundraiser to raise money to help the family with expenses. The school district has also been supportive in allowing Tom to be able to visit Scott in the hospital whenever he needs to, Tom added.

The support from everyone involved is something that Shaffer says he and his family can simply not put into words. Perhaps the closest is a phrase that Tom has been using in his journal entries of late to describe Middletown and the surrounding community — “small town BIG HEART.”

Brian Keating was appointed to Middletown Area School Board on Nov. 21 — four days before the accident — to replace a board member who had resigned in October.

Joey is enrolled at Penn State main campus at University Park, in the Eberly School of Science. He has not declared a major but is leaning toward some area of biology, Brian Keating said.

The Keatings are hoping to get Joey back to Penn State this fall, but that is still “uncertain” at this point, Brian told the Press And Journal.

“We have immense pride for our Middletown community and it’s been overwhelming to see how they have rallied around everyone involved in this tragic event,” Brian said.

“Support has not been limited to just our community,” he added. “It has reached into many communities in the area and other parts of the country where we have extended family and friends. The support has come in all forms: donations, gift cards, prayers, well wishes, meals, offers of help, etc. For us, one act of kindness is not greater than any other. They have all meant the world to us.”

The four individuals credited with pulling Scott and Joey from the car as it was engulfed in flames that night are Mavis Dixon and her daughter Jennifer Dixon, of Middletown; and Aaron Young and Rick Cruz of Lower Swatara Township.

The Keatings have met with some of the rescuers, Brian told the Press And Journal.

“It is impossible to put into words the depth of our gratitude toward those individuals,” he said. “If not for them, it is likely our son would not be with us. They risked their own lives to save the lives of strangers. Their actions were truly heroic. We also cannot forget the emergency personnel on scene, the flight crew, and the doctors and nurses who took care of Joey and continue to care for him.”

The Shaffer family has been in email contact with Young, who pulled Scott out of the car, Tom said.

“We have discussed getting together when Scott is out of Lehigh Valley. What I shared with him was, as parents, we were so thankful and grateful that we were able to continue our celebrations together as a family!”

The Shaffers had previously met up with Jennifer Dixon at Lehigh, and she still keeps in touch with the family, Tom said, adding “We are grateful to these angels!”

As for the crash itself, the investigation into what caused it and why it happened is still underway, said Frank Williamson Jr., director of public safety and assistant township manager for Lower Swatara Township. Findings will probably wait until sometime after the two boys are released from the hospital, Williamson said in an emailed statement.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:25

Hits: 2176

Middletown approves ordinance for marijuana dispensaries

Middletown has now joined the ranks of midstate municipalities that are ready for a medical marijuana dispensary or a grower/processing facility.

Following a public hearing on Feb. 7 borough council voted 4-0 to approve a new ordinance identifying where a medical marijuana dispensary and a medical marijuana grower/processing facility can be located.

A medical marijuana dispensary will be allowed in commercial and manufacturing zoning districts in the borough, according to the ordinance. A grower/processing facility can only be in a manufacturing district.

Anyone seeking to locate a medical marijuana dispensary would still have to comply with a state law requirement that says a dispensary cannot be located within 1,000 feet of a school or day care center, Solicitor Adam Santucci told the council.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 February 2017 10:05

Hits: 35