burrell township bldg sign

BLACK LICK — The Burrell Township supervisors on Wednesday backpedaled on their move last month to disband the township’s recreation and parks board after hearing protests that the supervisors’ criticism of the board is undeserved.

Board member Mary Whitfield took issue with the complaints that the supervisors aired in May as they voted on an ordinance that creates a public park system and gives supervisors all control. The measure effectively rendered the existing parks board powerless.

“I was disheartened,” Whitfield said of reading a published account of the supervisors’ action, and called for the board to pause. “Put off the vote until you sit down with the park board and we can have a discussion between each other,” she said.

She acknowledged one of the claims the supervisors made last month — that the township seems to do most of the work connected with keeping the parks and ballfields in shape for public use.

“I know that’s a big job,” she said. “But the parks board has a significant role in what happens down there, and our decision-making has a big part of what is put in the park. And I thought it was very unfair for it to be said that we meet for two hours and all we do is fight. That’s very untrue.”

Whitfield cited the board’s order of business at their session in May. They considered allowing a Boy Scout to use the park for an Eagle Scout badge project, discussed whether to build a dog park and planned for grant-funded restrooms for park users.

“I had everything that I needed to do that. I can’t do that now if we’re not going to have a park board, and that would have paid for the bathrooms down at Saylor Park,” she said. “I don’t think the fight is among the park board; I think the fight is between the park board and the supervisors on some levels. And I don’t know that it’s a fight — comments were made by someone that I’ve never seen at our meeting more than once, so to say what happened at our meetings was unfair.”

Supervisor Chairman John Shields said that the park board members, who are appointed by the supervisors, ought to come to the supervisors’ meetings to express their thoughts.

Whitfield also said the supervisors’ airing of discontent could discourage people from deciding whether to volunteer their time and effort for causes like Burrell Township parks.

“Think about the message you are sending,” she said. “There are so many things that I think, before you make a vote, that we need to sit down and discuss. And then if you decide to do it, at least we’ll feel like we have closure.”

Except for Shields’ invitation for parks board members to approach the supervisors, the only other mention was Supervisor Larry Henry’s motion later to table consideration of the ordinance for reconsideration July 17. Shields and Supervisor Dan Shacreaw agreed with putting it off, as Shields asked Whitfield to contact the supervisors to set up the meeting that she requested.

In other business, before a large but generally quiet turnout of township residents, the supervisors:

• Learned that the township library, still homeless 17 months after losing its building because of water damage from a frozen and burst water pipe, continues to schedule community based programs. The Summer Quest 2019 “Universe of Stories” schedule has programs from 10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays from July 11 to Aug. 15 at the Black Lick United Methodist Church.

Joe Van Hannak, husband of librarian Jen Van Hannak, said the librarian’s plans are to offer as many hours of programs as the library itself was open for public access.

“She’s going to open at different places. To get state funding, they wanted her open a minimum number of hours … and she will try to get as close to that as possible,” he said. “She’s going to have access to the collection, people can sign out books, people can do the app, and that will probably be at some churches, here (at the township office building) and some other places.”

Shacreaw said the township has been providing information to the Indiana County Office of Planning and Development for library grant applications.

Van Hannak said the library board also is planning a local capital campaign and to launch a Go Fund Me online effort to raise money toward construction of a new building.

• Heard support for a proposed ordinance that would govern grass and lawn-mowing in the township. Resident Mike DeSantis called the proposal “a good idea” that he hoped would help restrict the spread of wildlife, such as snakes that he said have emerged on an overgrown property near his home.

“We don’t want these kinds of critters,” DeSantis told the supervisors.

Supervisor Dan Shacreaw said the paperwork should be ready in July for the supervisors to recommend for public review. The board could enact lawn-mowing regulations as early as August.

• Appointed Richard K. Shoemaker, of Vine Street, Blairsville, to a seat on the Burrell Township Library Board of Trustees, with Shacreaw’s endorsement.

“I know R.K. personally, he’s volunteered in Blairsville with the fire company for many years. It’s good to see young people in the township getting involved in the community,” he said.

• Told residents that the township would meet with Highridge Water Authority leaders about renewing a plan to extend water service to Campbells Mill and Falling Run roads, a project that was canceled in August over a disagreement between Highridge and the township over an ordinance that requires property owners in the project area to accept and pay for service.

Representatives of the county planning office will conduct public meetings with the supervisors to take comment on the commitment of community development block grant money for local projects, such as the waterline extension, at 1 p.m. July 2 and 6:45 p.m. July 17.

• Received notice from paving contractor Quaker Sales, of Johnstown, that the company’s crews would soon begin roadway improvement work under a PennDOT contract on Old Route 22 between Brady Street in Blairsville and the Route 22/119 interchange in the township.

Including Quaker’s contracts for work on Old Route 119 and Old Route 56 in the Homer City and Center Township area, the projects will include “curb and sidewalk improvements as well as drainage and milling and repaving of the existing roadway,” project manager Caleb Overdorff wrote in a letter to the board. He advised drivers to expect traffic delays, restrictions and flagging including overnight and early-morning hours.

• Reported that the township project on Chestnut Ridge Road has been underway with replacement of 19 old metal cross pipes with plastic drain pipe, in advance of the repaving of 3.2 miles of the road. At a special meeting May 28, the supervisors awarded a contract to Derry Construction, of Latrobe, to provide paving materials and service at a cost of $133,988.

Daylong closures of the road are nearly finished, Shacreaw said.

• Heard a suggestion from township resident Tammy Shields for the display of banners on utility poles to honor local military veterans.

“There’s a lot of history in this town of people in the military,” she said. “Not that they have to be deceased to have their banner hanging there, I just think its something that truly needs done. They need to be appreciated in whatever way we can do it. Granted, the cost will fall back on the family, but I think it’s the least this town can do.”

The supervisors offered to consult with Blairsville Borough, which has a similar banner program in place, and utility companies for details on starting a banner project.

Staff writer/Web Editor, The Indiana (Pa.) Gazette

Staff Writer/Web Editor

Chauncey Ross represents the Gazette at the Indiana Area and Homer-Center school boards and White Township, Center Township, Homer City and Burrell Township, and is something of an Open Records, Right to Know and Sunshine Law advocate in the newsroom.