|McKeesport Area News from Tube City Almanac|
|White Oak Council Prepares For Community Center Opening|
|Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:11:00 -0400|
Another step has been taken toward the opening of the White Oak Community Center.
At Monday's council meeting, borough Council President Ron Massung said the center has received its official occupancy permit and the building is being cleaned and prepared with supplies.
In other business:
|Scout Troop Attends White Oak Council Meeting|
|Wed, 18 Oct 2017 13:00:00 -0400|
Boy Scout Troop 1640 attended Monday's White Oak borough council meeting to observe the actions of local government.
The visit was a requirement for the Boy Scouts' "Citizenship in the Community" merit badge, according to Scout Master Bill Klimek.
(Photo by Cami DiBattista, special to Tube City Almanac)
|Residents Voice Objections to County's Bus Rapid Transit Plan|
|Mon, 16 Oct 2017 23:39:00 -0400|
Above: Port Authority senior analyst Amy Silbermann and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald greet an audience Monday night at the Palisades ballroom in McKeesport. (Tube City Almanac photo)
Port Authority officials and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald came to McKeesport on Monday night to explain a "bus rapid transit" system that they said would relieve overcrowding and late buses between downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland.
But what residents heard was that McKeesport, Duquesne and Homestead could soon be getting 45 percent less service from the heavily traveled 61C route --- and they don't like it.
At times, the atmosphere in the Palisades ballroom was tense, with arguments breaking out at one table between residents and Port Authority board members, and Fitzgerald exchanging sharp remarks with transit advocates in the audience.
"I chose to live in McKeesport because I saw that the bus service would be beneficial to me," said Dan Beyerlein, who said the 61C is his lifeline to doctors in Squirrel Hill and Oakland, and provides a connection to his church in Wilkinsburg.
Eliminating 45 percent of the 61C's daily runs to McKeesport, Beyerlein said, would make him unable to get his connecting buses. "Then I'm late to my doctor's appointments and there's nothing I can do about it," he said.
The hearing in McKeesport on Monday --- originally scheduled for Oct. 11 --- was the second of three in the Mon Valley.
The first was held Oct. 2 in Braddock and the third will be held at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday (Oct. 18) at Duquesne City Hall, 12 S. Second St.
Comments may also be left via the Port Authority's website.
(Story continues below this map.)
The proposed bus rapid transit system, or BRT, would connect downtown Pittsburgh with Oakland using dedicated bus lanes, with buses running every three to five minutes during peak hours.
Some buses using the BRT would circulate in a continuous loop, while others would leave the BRT system in Oakland and continue on the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway; on surface streets to Greenfield; or to Shadyside and Highland Park.
The BRT is designed to solve a severe overcrowding problem on current bus routes between downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland, said Amy Silbermann, a senior analyst at Port Authority.
Above: Port Authority's Amy Silbermann. (Almanac photo)
Buses passing through the Oakland corridor are late 27 percent of the time, and are among Port Authority's top 10 most overcrowded routes, she said.
"The buses are unreliable between Oakland and Downtown," Silbermann said, "especially during rush hour. Buses are bunching up --- meaning buses on the same route are coming one after the other. That's really bad."
But the transit authority's data indicates that after a bus leaves downtown Pittsburgh headed toward Oakland, most of its passengers exit before they get to Squirrel Hill, and many of the remaining passengers get out in Pittsburgh's Greenfield neighborhood, she said.
The 61C serves McKeesport, Duquesne, Homestead, Squirrel Hill and Oakland's hospitals and universities before heading into the Golden Triangle.
On average, 61Cs arrive in McKeesport from Pittsburgh with about eight passengers, Silbermann said.
If the BRT system is implemented, then the 61C would go from McKeesport to Oakland, where riders would be required to transfer to a BRT bus to continue into the Golden Triangle.
Other bus routes that would terminate in Oakland, and no longer go into downtown Pittsburgh, would include the 61A to North Braddock and 61B to Swissvale, and the 71-series buses to Wilkinsburg and Point Breeze.
The 61C buses also would run less frequently --- on 30-minute headways instead of the current 15-minute headways.
"I'd be interested to see how this doesn't disproportionately harm people of color, low-income people and people with disabilities," said Laura Wiens, director of Pittsburghers for Public Transit, who was in the audience of about 40 people.
"What people are hearing is that they're going to have less service," she said. "We appreciate that you're going to get people from downtown to Oakland five minutes faster, but in the meantime, people are going to be waiting on the street in McKeesport for 30 minutes."
That brought a sarcastic retort from Fitzgerald: "I guess things are going so well in McKeesport that we can leave everything like it is."
The county executive added that transit ridership to and from McKeesport is down 27 percent, while the area's population is down 20 percent. Ridership on the 61C alone is down 37 percent, Fitzgerald said.
"Don't you think some of that ridership decline is due to the cutbacks in the bus routes on the hills around McKeesport?" asked Sue Scanlon, a Port Authority transit driver who works out of the West Mifflin garage, and a member of Pittsburghers for Public Transit. "People have found other ways to get around."
"You lost ridership because you eliminated service in Port Vue, Liberty and Glassport," added Carole Kast, a commuter from Port Vue. "We've been down this road before."
Silbermann said the Port Authority estimates that more frequent and more reliable bus service in the Golden Triangle-Oakland corridor would have ripple effects that would increase overall ridership 10 percent.
"If you take away service, how are you going to increase ridership?" McKeesport Councilwoman Fawn Walker-Montgomery said.
The audience of about 40 people included Port Authority's interim chief executive officer, David L. Donahoe, several Port Authority board members, and transit advocates such as Wiens.
The discussion was sometimes heated. At least one person was heard calling the meeting "a farce."
"You made a lot of these decisions before you even came here tonight," Helen Gerhardt, an organizer with Just Harvest, told Fitzgerald and Donahoe.
Above: Helen Gerhardt of Squirrel Hill, an organizer with Just Harvest. (Almanac photo)
"I am all for data-driven decision making, but the people who are going to be affected were left out of these decisions," said Gerhardt, who lives in Squirrel Hill and said she rides the 61C "every day."
Most of the people that her agency serves don't have cars, she said, and they shop for food every few days, going to and from the store on buses.
"There are a lot of people being displaced right now (from Pittsburgh) to areas like Penn Hills and McKeesport, which already puts them under enormous stress, and if you then cut down the frequency of bus service, you can really wreck people's lives," Gerhardt said.
Some people were rankled because BRT is being designed to speed people between Oakland and downtown Pittsburgh.
"The people on the BRT system will have the cream of the crop, and all of these different options for buses," Pearl Hughey of Rankin said. "Out here, we'll still only have one option."
According to published reports, residents of the Braddock area who attended the Oct. 2 hearing voiced similar complaints.
Port Authority officials stressed that nothing about BRT has yet been decided, and that the agency will listen to all of the comments it receives before making a decision.
Fitzgerald and Silbermann said one idea under discussion is increasing the frequency of two routes that connect McKeesport with downtown Pittsburgh but avoid Oakland --- the 56 via Lincoln Place and the P7 McKeesport Flyer.
"We're not trying to hurt the community --- we're trying to help the community," Fitzgerald said.
He said Port Authority has studied 42 different alternatives for improving service through the Oakland corridor, and the proposed solution was the best.
Updated plans will be presented to the public in Spring 2018, Silbermann said, with project construction estimated to begin in 2019 and 2020.
The estimated cost of the upgrades necessary to implement BRT is $195 million, Fitzgerald said, but the Port Authority expects substantial savings each year in its operating budget.
|Volunteers, Students Break Ground on Grandview Greenspace|
|Mon, 16 Oct 2017 17:09:00 -0400|
(Photos by Vickie Babyak, special to Tube City Almanac)
Volunteers and students from McKeesport's Youth CAST along with staff from GTECH Strategies broke ground Saturday morning for improvements to a greenspace at the corner of Grandview Avenue and Auburn Street.
GTECH, a Pittsburgh-based non-profit, has been working in the city since 2015 to reclaim and re-use vacant lots for community purposes, while Youth CAST, which stands for Communities and Schools Together, is a McKeesport-based leadership development program for young adults in grades 6 through 12.
Last year, in cooperation with students and several other local organizations, GTECH and Youth CAST developed a playground and greenspace --- called a "Green Playce" --- at the corner of Jenny Lind and Butler streets.
Above are Youth CAST members, seated, Ajayla Johnson, Calise Johnson, Paul Francis and Isaiah Johnson, and standing, Nyiana Watson, Youth CAST program coordinator Aaron Johnson, Deja Newby, Skylar Palmer, Nicora Watson, Zekeil Palmer, Denaja Newby, Sontee Peterson, Dajere Newby and Savanah Still.
More photos below the jump.
Above, Tom Mulholland and Ian Brown of GTECH, Aaron Johnson of Youth CAST, City Administrator Tom Maglicco and Harold Allen of Youth CAST.
Maglicco, Johnson and McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko.
(All photos by Vickie Babyak, special to Tube City Almanac. For reprints, contact email@example.com.)
|Attorney, Newspaper Co-Owner Pleads Guilty in Fraud Case|
|Mon, 16 Oct 2017 13:22:00 -0400|
A suspended attorney pleaded guilty on Monday to charges he embezzled funds from one of his clients, then used the money to support the Mon Valley Independent newspaper.
Keith A. Bassi, 61, of Jefferson Twp., Fayette County, will be sentenced on three counts of mail fraud March 14 by U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab, said a spokeswoman for Acting U.S. Attorney Soo C. Song. Bassi faces up to 60 years in prison, a fine of $750,000, or both.
Bassi's license to practice law has been suspended, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania announced on Aug. 16.
Prosecutors said that Bassi had power of attorney over the estate of an elderly client suffering from dementia. They accuse him of engaging in "a series of financial transactions" in which he diverted the estate's assets into his own accounts at CFS Bank and PNC Bank.
According to investigators, some of the funds were used to support the operation of the Independent, a daily newspaper which he helped to found with three other investors. The paper, which began publication in May 2016, recently expanded into the McKeesport area.
The newspaper reported on Sept. 27 that the criminal investigation of Bassi "will not affect the newspaper's operations," while Bassi's attorney was quoted as saying anyone defrauded would be "made whole with no financial losses."
Bassi was a former partner in the law firm Bassi, Vreeland & Associates and, among other his duties, served as city solicitor for Monongahela, Washington County.
Prosecutors allege that in one instance, Bassi purchased an insurance policy using the victim's funds, then cancelled the policy and kept the cash proceeds for himself.
The victim has not been identified.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory C. Melucci is prosecuting the case, which was investigated by the U.S. Postal Inspectors and the FBI.
|One Dead in Jenny Lind Shooting; City Man Charged With Homicide|
|Sat, 14 Oct 2017 14:55:00 -0400|
Updated Oct. 15 with victim's name and arrest details.
Updated Oct. 16 with bond and arraignment information.
Above: Damien L. Ashley. (Photo courtesy Allegheny County Police.)
A shooting Saturday afternoon in the 1600 block of Jenny Lind Street has left one man dead and another man hospitalized and facing charges.
Allegheny County police said the shooting stemmed from an argument between the two victims. McKeesport police were dispatched to the area at 1:20 p.m. and found two people suffering from gunshot wounds.
One victim was pronounced dead at the scene, police said. He was identified by the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office as Wyatt L. Gaza, 28, of Pittsburgh.
Minutes later, McKeesport police were called to UPMC McKeesport hospital where a man was reportedly being treated for gunshot wounds. County police said that man has been identified as Damien L. Ashley, 28, of McKeesport.
In a prepared release Sunday afternoon, Allegheny County detectives alleged that Ashley and Gaza were arguing and that they believe Ashley began shooting at Gaza, who returned fire. Police allege that Ashley fled after being shot and said he was driven to the hospital in a private vehicle.
Ashley was later flown to a Pittsburgh hospital's trauma center for treatment, police said.
According to court records, Ashley has been charged with homicide, unauthorized possession of a firearm, carrying a firearm without a license and tampering with evidence.
He was arraigned Monday and is currently being held without bond in the Allegheny County Jail pending a preliminary hearing at 11 a.m. Oct. 27 before Allegheny County Judge Jeffrey Manning.
County police said the investigation is continuing.
Court records indicate that Ashley has an arrest record in Allegheny County dating to 2007, including a 2008 arrest on charges of two counts of attempted homicide and one count of aggravated assault. That case was ultimately not prosecuted by the district attorney's office.
At the time of the shooting, according to a court docket, Ashley was free on $5,000 percentage bond after being arrested Sept. 16 by Pittsburgh police on charges of carrying a firearm without a license. He faced a preliminary hearing on those charges Oct. 19 in Pittsburgh Municipal Court.
Ashley also was charged Sept. 4 by McKeesport police with carrying a firearm without a license, simple assault, recklessly endangering other people, making terroristic threats and harassment.
He was released on his own recognizance Sept. 9 following an arraignment by Magisterial District Judge Robert Ravenstahl Jr., pending a preliminary hearing before Magisterial District Judge Eugene Riazzi in McKeesport.
|Library Homeowners Urged to Apply for Rehab Grants|
|Fri, 13 Oct 2017 16:08:00 -0400|
Cornell Street is part of the city's Library and Cultural District. (Tube City Almanac file photo.)
If you live in the city's Library and Cultural District and own your home, Joe Costa at ACTION-Housing wants to hear from you as soon as possible.
Costa, a housing associate with the non-profit agency, is putting together a grant request to the state's housing trust fund and is seeking homeowners whose houses need remodeling or rehabilitation work.
"We have one candidate signed up already," he said. "We need 10 candidates altogether. These could be safety upgrades, structural repairs, roof, wiring, plumbing repairs --- anything needed to keep a house up to code."
People who are interested should call Costa at (412) 281-2102, extension 2053, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Interested residents who want to learn more about the program are being urged to attend a meeting at 7 p.m. Oct 17 at McKeesport Presbyterian Church, corner of Versailles and Union avenues.
The rehab program is one component of a program announced last week by McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko to upgrade housing in the area around Carnegie Library of McKeesport, Twin Rivers Elementary School and McKeesport Little Theater, and to build two new homes along Cornell Street.
The housing trust fund, officially known as the Pennsylvania Housing Affordability and Rehabilitation Enhancement Fund, or PHARE, is supported in part by the realty transfer tax and gas-drilling impact fees, and supports construction and rehabilitation of affordable homes in disadvantaged parts of the state.
The city, in cooperation with ACTION, is seeking enough money from the fund to build two new homes and provide about $110,000 in upgrades to 10 others, Costa said.
"You have great housng stock up there, but a lot of them are on the verge of being too far gone," he said. "We're tyring to preserve as much as we can, because you really can't replicate those homes. You put any of them into Shadyside, and they're worth double or triple what they're selling for in McKeesport."
In the 1920s, the neighborhood was the home of many of McKeesport's wealthiest and most prominent families, including the Macks and Shaws of the G.C. Murphy Co.
The new homes proposed for vacant, city-owned lots at 1619 Bailie Ave. and 1400 Manor St. are not yet designed, but Costa said they would be designed to blend with the existing houses.
"Probably three bedrooms and two bathrooms, with a porch," he said. "We would want them to have a basement and ideally, they would include brick." Construction details and materials won't be finalized, Costa said, unless the city receives the PHARE funding and is able to set a budget.
The houses would be targeted to sell at $125,000 each, but would cost more than that, Costa said. The PHARE money would be used to make up the difference between the construction price and the sale price, he said.
The rehabilitation and construction program that's being proposed comes on the heels of a $200,000 effort to tear down abandoned and blighted houses in the area.
Neighborhood resident Shari Holland, who is part of a group called the Concerned Citizens of the Library District, said she's excited about the program.
"I really like that they are pairing the idea of new homes that will aesthetically fit the neighborhood, with providing resources for residents to rehabilitate the homes already here," she said.
If the program is funded, Costa said, the rehabilitation grants will only be available to households earning $36,500 or less per year.
The two new houses, if built, will have no income restrictions, he said.
"Our goal is to get some other reinvestment in the neighborhood," Costa said. "There are also hopes of re-developing the old Centennial School."
Because housing prices are so depressed in McKeesport, he said, it would be difficult for any private real estate developer to turn a profit on new home construction. ACTION and the city are hoping that the new houses, and rehabbing some existing houses, will help "prime the pump" for others to invest as well.
"What we've done in the past is invested in a (targeted) area, and what you notice pretty soon is other private investment, either across the street or on the same block," Costa said. "We're trying to get something going in that neighborhood. We'd like to see a wave of investment there."
|New Police Officer Joins Duquesne Force|
|Fri, 13 Oct 2017 10:18:00 -0400|
Duquesne has added a new police officer.
During Wednesday's city council meeting, Mayor Phillip Krivacek reported that Thomas Cranmer was hired Sept. 15 at the recommendation of police Chief Richard Adams.
|Four Honored for Living City's Message of Respect, Hope, Love, Dignity|
|Thu, 12 Oct 2017 17:44:00 -0400|
From left: Tony Riggs, Ty-Meer Brown and Brian Evans were honored this month for living the "McKeesport Message" of "Respect, Dignity, Hope and Love." (Tube City Almanac photo.)
Four people were honored this month by McKeesport Mayor Mike Cherepko and the McKeesport Message Committee for upholding the values of respect, dignity, hope and love.
A subgroup of the mayor's Select Committee on Crime and Violence, the committee accepts nominations from the public and makes the selections four times per year.
Citations were presented at the Oct. 4 council meeting to Brian Evans, Tony Riggs and Ty-Meer Brown. Another citation was issued to Linda Brewster, who was unable to be present.
Riggs, 64, is a jack of all trades – having worked in every field from carpentry to steel production to public transportation. But when he retired from the Port Authority of Allegheny County two years ago, Riggs started spending more time in his neighborhood.
When he graduated from McKeesport Area High School in 2010, Brown went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in sociology at the University of Connecticut and a master’s degree in sports administration at Boston College. He played football at both schools, and even joined the coaching staff in Boston.
“I’m using my love of the game to give back to my community,” he said. “I have a true passion for giving back to my community.”
Evans, 41, is a lifelong McKeesporter who graduated from McKeesport Area High School in 1994. In his youth, he played a variety of sports for the White Oak Athletic Association and McKeesport Area School District.
By day, Evans drives buses for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, and on evenings and weekends, he dedicates his spare time to teaching kids the value of sportsmanship on the basketball court, as well as softball and soccer fields. He has coached in the McKeesport Metro traveling league, White Oak Athletic Association, and McKeesport Area Lady Tigers Athletic Association. He serves on the boards for WOAA and MALTAA.
“I love the game, and I love teaching kids about the game,” Evans said. “It’s not only about improving their skills. It’s about sportsmanship. It’s about teamwork. You learn early on that it’s not always about winning or losing.”
Evans has coached age groups up to eighth grade. He said he loves teaching children to apply themselves and push toward their goals. He wants kids to have the patience to make good choices.
“As a coach, you are helping young people build character,” Evans said. “You are teaching them to respect others – their teammates and the opposing team. Any team in any sport will experience adversity. Overcoming that in a game gives you the experience you need to face the obstacles in your life.”
Evans said the hardest part about being a coach is treating your own children fairly. He pushes his daughters Brianna, 15, and Brooke, 11, to be strong and respectful players. He can’t wait until his son Brady, 23 months, is ready to play.
“I feel like I’m so much harder on my own kids than the rest of the team,” Evans said. “I know what these kids are capable of, and I want my own children to set a good. Somehow, my kids actually enjoy working with me as a coach. It gives us an opportunity to spend quality time together doing something we all love.”
Evans said he looks forward to coaching for years to come and finding new ways to be involved in the McKeesport community.
Living the Message
|Croatian Club Slates Halloween Party Oct. 21|
|Thu, 12 Oct 2017 00:04:00 -0400|
Yukon Croatian Club will kick off the Halloween season with its over-21 Halloween Party on Oct. 21 with a DJ from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.
The festivities also include a prize for best costume and a door prize ticket, a spokeswoman said. Admission is $1. The club will open at 7 p.m. It is located at 109 Union St. in Yukon, exit 53 on I-70.
For more information, call (724) 722-4100.