Written by Eric Wise
Texan Joe Boswell may have gotten more excitement than he bargained for when he and wife Cathi Cross visited Middletown – and landed in the path of Winter Storm Jonas.
The couple, who live near Houston, came to Middletown to help a relative recovering from a health problem, and stayed at Cross’ former home on Nissley Street, hunkering down to weather a dose of Pennsylvania winter.
Ironically, the winter storm formed over Boswell’s home state of Texas before walloping much of the East Coast, areas that are home to about 85 million people, or one in four Americans. A rare Texas snow typically might drop an inch and shut down the region, Boswell said. In Middletown, Jonas was a blizzard of historic proportions, dumping 30.2 inches on the area and breaking the previous record of 25 inches in 1983.
When Boswell went outside to dig out of Jonas, he had to learn a new skill: shoveling. Cross had to teach him the best shoveling technique, and snapped photos of Boswell’s maiden snow-shoveling effort on her cell phone – and, of course, posted them online.
“We had snow from time to time, but nothing like this,” Boswell said. Both Boswell and Cross are avid fitness buffs, so they relished the opportunity for the outdoor exercise. “I enjoyed it because I was going stir crazy in the house,” Boswell said.
When Boswell returns to Houston later this week, temperatures are expected to be in the 70s.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 January 2016 12:55
Written by Dan Miller
You could count on it. Every Friday morning last spring and summer, free coffee was offered to anyone who showed up at the Fager-Finkenbinder Funeral Home at 208 N. Union St. in Middletown.
It was an opportunity for neighbors and anyone else to shoot the bull over a cup of Joe and donuts, and a chance for the new owners of the funeral home to showcase the tasteful renovations they were doing to the place.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 January 2016 18:21
Written by Eric Wise
A golf course architect revealed his plan for a new-look Sunset Golf Course to the Londonderry Twp. supervisors on Wednesday, Jan. 20, as he and officials from Harrisburg International Airport sought a consensus to move forward with eliminating 600 trees from the township-owned course that federal regulators say are in the airport's flight path.
Supervisors had plenty of questions about the plan, which was developed to mitigate the damage to the course from cutting down trees that the Federal Aviation Administration determined to be in the flight path of the airport's runway.
The trees in the flight path effectively decrease the length of the usable runway at the airport, which would limit the types of planes that FAA would permit to use it, limiting the airport's ability to attract business.
The Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority, which operates the airport, would like seek bids for the work by April so cutting could begin in earnest by October. "We are going to try to avoid the work during your peak golf season," said Dave Spaulding, SARAA's deputy director for engineering and planning, told the supervisors.
The architect, Kelly Blake Moran, presented his design for the course, called "Option 4," that envisions a open design for Sunset following the timbering operation. Moran said the most obvious result of removing the trees is, "You are going to lose definition." As a course architect, his first priority was to provide visual guides so players could reach a tee box and easily see how to aim their shots and play the holes. To provide the visual guides without trees, Moran said there are three options.
Moran developed a plan in conjunction with Londonderry Twp. that uses changes in landscaping and the addition of bunkers or sand traps to the course that will restore the definition once provided by the trees.
The result is a course that will be quite a contrast – an open course for the first nine holes featuring barriers of natural vegetation that will contrast the neatly-manicured tee boxes, fairways and greens, and a back nine that will remain largely unchanged as a mature, wooded course.
New barriers of natural vegetation would feature sparsely-planted grasses and shrubbery chosen because they would not grow to any height that would cause problems for the airport. "These native areas are going to take three to five years to look good," Moran said, but "once they are established, there's not a lot of maintenance to them."
The longer, leafy grasses would be planted with about one-third the seed needed for fairways, allowing golfers to easily find balls from errant shots. In the first years after planting, the landscaping crews would need to keep nuisance plants like weeds and poison ivy from taking over these areas, Moran said.
Before the new areas are planted, the course would undergo some significant work. First, pipes would run throughout the first nine holes and barrier areas for irrigation. After the native areas are established in five years, they would no longer need the irrigation, but the new systems will continue to serve the course's delicately-manicured greenery.
The course would also be outfitted with bio-retention areas to prevent any additional water draining off the course and avoiding erosion damage, particularly during heavy storms.
One of the highlights of the new front nine would be on hole No. 2. Players would shoot for a horizon green, a green that would stand out because it will no longer have thick trees behind it. "This will likely expose the golfer to some nice views beyond the course," Moran said in his written proposal of the concept. "This will make a magnificent backdrop to the green." The areas bordering the left and rear of the hole, including a steep incline, would be nearly completely denuded of trees.
Another big change to the course would come on hole No. 5, which is a par 3. The tee box would be moved to push it farther from hole No. 6 to improve safety. The new tee box would be larger and better graded in a way that may serve as a model for future improvements to the course, Moran said.
Another area that would drastically change: Trees would be removed on the slope behind hole No. 9. "I think this is going to open beautiful views of the valley," Moran said.
Pondering the consequences
Ron Kopp, vice chairman of the Londonderry supervisors, was skeptical of the clear-cutting of this area. "What's going to stabilize the hillsides without the root structure?" he asked HIA officials.
The trees would be cut down, but the stumps and other vegetation would be left behind to regrow, which will prevent erosion, Spaulding said. To keep the future growth in this and other areas of the course under control, SARAA will be responsible for ongoing maintenance.
Supervisor Mel Hershey said he was still skeptical. "I am kind of worried about the cliff washing out (without trees)," he said.
Kopp also said he was skeptical about the safety of the course when it comes to errant shots. "These grasses aren't going to stop what the trees stopped," he said.
Moran said that while trees blocked some balls from crossing from one hole to another, the open design will give better sight lines so golfers will be better able to see other players and warn them when needed.
Cost of the plan
When the project began last year, officials had guessed that the course restoration may cost $800,000. Until a more defined plan is drawn up and approved, it's impossible to know the cost of all the work, according to Scott Miller, airport spokesman.
To date, SARAA has spent about $265,000 on consultants to plan for the changes to the course. Costs to the township have mainly involved the staff time for Steve Letavic, township manager, and the golf course staff who regularly met with consultants throughout the process.
Letavic previously said he intends to acquire a timber contract for tree removal, allowing the township to recoup some of its losses from lost rounds at the course. Miller said it's to know if that will be the way they will proceed.
Hershey stressed that he has great concerns about the township getting stuck with costs for some parts of the project.
Although golfers and township officials worried about the effects of such major changes on the course, Moran stressed the quality of the improvements. "There's a lot of doomsday about the change, but it goes away in about three years," he said.
Said Michael Johnson, the course's manager, "If we can sell this that we are making improvements, we can make this a win-win."
Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 January 2016 17:33
Above is a gallery of photos submitted by readers Alexandra Curry, Anne Einhorn, Audra Henderson, Cathy Runkle, Christine Goldbeck, Desiree Suglia, Elizabeth Strite, Holly Warfel, Logan Hulstine, Molly Cruz, Jenifer McClain, Jessica Lidle, Kathy Laverty, Kay Wealand, Mark Henderson, Mary Cooney, Mike Dalton, Rachel Kupp, Stephanie Wallace, Steve Martin, Travis K, Virginia Lauzon.
Boy did it snow. And snow. And snow. And snow. And snow. In historic proportions. Winter Storm Jonas dumped a record-setting 30.2 inches in Middletown from Friday Jan. 22 through Sunday, Jan. 24, besting the previous record of 25 inches set in 1983, according to the National Weather Service.
The storm shut down schools, businesses, streets and highways, cancelled flights at Harrisburg International Airport, and stopped Amtrak trains and public transit buses.
And it left us with a dilemma: What do we do with this snow?
We're shoveling, plowing, tossing, propelling and hauling it away - and after days of digging out, we've only dented the surface.
"We're still digging out," said John McHale, Highspire's borough manager and police chief, on Monday, Jan. 25 – after borough crews worked in 16-hour shifts to clear streets. Most did not go home to sleep.
In Middletown, Borough Council met in a rare special session at noon on Monday, Jan. 25 to declare a disaster emergency, allowing the borough to hire an outside contractor to remove snow.
The declaration – approved by council and issued as a proclamation from Mayor James H. Curry III -– means that the borough can bypass competitive bidding procedures that can take weeks and immediately hire one or more contractors to help with the mammoth job of getting the mountains of snow off borough streets and alleys.
The declaration is also necessary for the borough to apply to get reimbursement through Dauphin County or the state to cover part or all of the cost of bringing in the outside contractors – and reaffirms and continues the travel and parking restrictions that have been in place since Curry issued a snow emergency proclamation Friday night.
Until the disaster ends, residents are ordered not to drive on borough streets except for purposes of “essential travel or to preserve health and safety.” Parking of motor vehicles on sides of streets marked “Snow Emergency Route” will be subject to being immediately towed, according to the mayor’s proclamation.
Where do we put the snow? The borough has enough places to take it, said Chris Burkholder, Middletown’s superintendent of public works – including the municipal swimming pool on South Union Street, athletic fields on Susquehanna Street and Oak Hill Drive, and the Hoffer Park parking lot.
As of Monday morning, a number of borough streets, including major arteries like Emaus, were passable though down to one lane. Some sidewalks had been cleared, others not even touched.
Middletown has seven public works employees for snow-clearing operations. They worked throughout the weekend, some continuing on a voluntary basis beyond what they were expected to do, Burkholder said.
“I didn’t lose anybody,” he said. “They all just kept pressing on close to 20 hours on Saturday in that shift. Other than a few alleys and some back streets, they kept everything open. I can’t really say anything other than it was extraordinary for a crew of seven people.”
“I was going around town digging our plow trucks out with a snow shovel so I could keep them moving and I didn’t have to get a loader to pull them out,’’ Burkholder said. “I can’t say enough about the dedication of those people.”
In Londonderry Twp., four public works employees and two golf course employees worked 12-hour shifts, sometimes longer, to clear roads since Friday, and outside contractors were brought in to help. At times during the storm on Saturday, trucks had to pull off the roads because drivers could not see through the heavy snowfall.
“The roads are open, if not all the way open,’’ Letavic said.
In Lower Swatara Twp., seven two-person crews worked to clear roads over the weekend, rotating turns to grab some food and sleep, said Anne Shambaugh, township manager.
Online, there were offers from neighbors to fellow neighbors to help with shoveling, and acts of kindness cited.
There were some grumblings and complaints, such as those that come in the wake of any snowstorm – even those not judged historic. But on the whole, Curry said he was impressed with what he saw as far as the cooperation and attitude of borough residents.
“I don’t think you could have asked for better service from what these people did,” Curry said of the borough staff. “The phone has been in my hand since 8 p.m. on Friday, addressing people on Facebook, taking calls, e-mails, etc. The frustration I think is minimal.’’
For more photos from our readers of the historic snowstorm, check out our print edition or click here for our E-edition
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 January 2016 12:47
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane’s office cautioned both Pennsylvania consumers and businesses to be aware of the potential for price gouging following the State of Emergency declaration made by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Price gouging restrictions prohibit anyone involved in the sale or distribution of consumer goods or services from "unconscionably excessive" increases above average prices during the emergency and for 30 days after its conclusion.
The state's Price Gouging Act gives the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection the authority to investigate price gouging complaints and allows for penalties of up to $10,000 per violation, along with restitution and injunctive relief.
The restrictions required by the act not only apply to businesses involved in direct consumer sales, but also to manufacturers, suppliers, wholesalers and distributors of consumer products and services.
Attorney General Kane also advised consumers to follow the Public Utility Commission's tips for residents during power outages, including calling utility companies instead of 9-1-1 if power is lost. Commonwealth residents also are encouraged to limit travel during power outages involving downed power lines.
Consumers can report potential price gouging by calling the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection helpline at 800-441-2555 or by filing a consumer complaint online.
Last Updated on Friday, 22 January 2016 11:30