McKeesport Area News from Tube City Almanac
Citizens Encouraged to Participate on New Duquesne Committees
Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:18:00 -0400

Duquesne's mayor and city council have established eight committees to provide advice about municipal operations, and they're asking for representatives from each of the city's three wards to participate.

“We decided to initiate these committees so that we can function better as a community,” Mayor Nickole Nesby said. “We’re aiming to change the whole outlook of the city of Duquesne. We want people to feel safe here and be proud of their community.”

In addition, council has established a Civilian Police Review Board, to be overseen by Councilman John Guyer. The board will investigate citizen complaints about any improper police conduct, Nesby said.

The committees include Finance and Budgeting; Transportation; Public Safety; Development, Planning and Sustainability; Operations; Rules and Procedures; Utilities; and Workforce and Community Development.

Each committee will be comprised of at least one council member, one member from each of the three different voting wards and a related agency member, Nesby said.

The committees are currently seeking volunteers and sign-up sheets are available at City Hall.

“I think these boards and commissions can help Duquesne improve and increase and attract people to the area,” Nesby said. “We encourage all residents to participate.”

At city council's March 13 meeting, council voted to appoint Nesby to chair the Finance and Budgeting, Transportation and Public Safety committees.

Councilwoman June Wilson was elected to chair the Development, Planning and Sustainability Committee, which will be responsible for the redevelopment of blight areas, the rehabilitation and conservation of properties, and oversight of housing and community development in the city.

Councilman Jade Burleigh was elected to chair the Operations Committee, which will consider personnel and staffing issues relating to council.

Councilman Timothy Caldwell will chair the Workforce and Community Benefit Committee. The committee will be empowered to help increase community access to job and education programs, including literacy and computer technology programs.

Councilwoman Fawn McDaniel will chair city council's Rules and Procedures Committee, while City Manager Cha Sayles will chair the Utilities Committee, which will oversee the city's water department and sewerage system.

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer who covers municipal news from Duquesne and White Oak, as well as other matters.

Oldies Dances Slated at White Oak Legion
Tue, 20 Mar 2018 15:16:00 -0400
White Oak American Legion Post 701 will hold oldies dances from 7 to 11 p.m. April 7 and 21, a spokesman said.

Admission is $5 and music from the 1950s and '60s will be provided by DJs Candy and Mike.

The legion is located at 2813 Capital St. All proceeds benefit veterans programs. For more information, call (724) 984-6611.

GA Campus Grad Makes $30K Gift Toward Scholarship Fund
Tue, 20 Mar 2018 14:50:00 -0400

Barbara and Regis Becker (Penn State photo)

Penn State University's director of ethics and compliance is retiring June 30 --- but he's the one providing a retirement gift.

Regis Becker, a 1978 Penn State graduate, and his wife, Barbara, have made a $30,000 committment toward a new scholarship at the university's Greater Allegheny Campus in McKeesport.

The donation was announced by the university on Friday.

"When Barbara and I talked about what was important to us, she was the one who suggested the McKeesport campus," Becker said in a prepared statement. "She said, 'I really think we should try to do something for that campus, because they were so important in your career and your formation."

Becker spent two years at the McKeesport campus before completing his degree at University Park. He later earned a law degree from Duquesne University.

Becker's career includes service as a detective for the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office and in the FBI; manager of special investigations for Union Carbide Corp.; director of corporate security for Praxair, Inc.; and more than three decades at PPG Industries, where he rose to the position of chief compliance officer.

He was named Penn State's first director of ethics and compliance in 2013.

None of it would have happened if the McKeesport campus hadn't taken a chance on him, said Becker, who admits he "hadn't made a lot of good decisions in high school regarding my grades."

The McKeesport campus's decision to admit him gave Becker the opportunity for a good career, he said.

Through Penn State's Open Doors program, the university will match Becker's donation on a two-to-one basis, growing the new scholarship to $90,000.

First preference for the scholarship will be given to students in the Raise.Me program, which rewards students at certain Pennsylvania high schools with so-called "micro-scholarships" if they attain certain goals.

Jacqueline Edmondson, Greater Allegheny's chancellor and chief academic officer, said the Beckers' gift will "provide opportunities for our students that will truly transform their lives."

The gift, she said, "means a great deal to our entire campus community."

Regis Becker said he and his wife will continue to stay involved and supportive of the McKeesport campus.

"People are working hard, people are making their own history and people are making their own breaks," he said. "To be able to contribute to their efforts to become a better person and more successful to help their families --- I just think it's a natural inclination that people have, and we certainly had it."

Local Fire, EMS Departments Receive State Grants
Tue, 20 Mar 2018 14:12:00 -0400

Mon-Yough area fire and ambulance companies will receive nearly $400,000 in state grants through Pennsylvania's Fire Company and Volunteer Ambulance Service Grant Program, administered by the Office of the State Fire Commissioner.

In addition to funding equipment and training, the money can be used for repairing, building or renovating facilities and for repaying debt related to equipment purchases or facility building and maintenance, a spokeswoman said.

“These grants will provide crucial funding to ensure that our local firefighters and EMS workers have what they need to carry out their life-saving work,” said state Rep. Austin Davis, who represents the 35th District. More than $160,000 is being awarded to 13 fire and ambulance companies in his district.

The funding will provide for equipment, training and other resources that are so important to their safety and the safety of our community, Davis said.

According to the state Fire Commissioner's Office, fire and ambulance companies may use the money to repair, renovate or purchase fixtures, equipment or facilities directly related to their public safety services; pay off debt incurred for those repairs or purchases; train and educate their members; and train or educate the general public.

The money is allocated each year by the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Fire, ambulance and rescue companies may request up to $15,000 for authorized expenses, under state law.

Some of the Mon-Yough area grant recipients for fiscal year 2017-18 include:

  • Blaine Hill Volunteer Fire Co., $12,096
  • Buena Vista Volunteer Fire Co., $12,096
  • Bunola Volunteer Fire Co., $12,096
  • Central Volunteer Fire Co. (Elizabeth Twp.), $15,000
  • Circleville Volunteer Fire Dept. (North Huntingdon Twp.), $14,123
  • Citizens Hose Co. No. 1 (Glassport), $13,386
  • Clairton Volunteer Fire Dept., $12,000
  • Coulter Volunteer Fire Co. and Relief, $11,911
  • Crestas Volunteer Fire Co. (North Versailles Twp.), $11,543
  • Dravosburg Volunteer Fire Dept. No. 1, $14,307
  • Duquesne Annex Volunteer Fire Co. (West Mifflin), $12,096
  • Duquesne Volunteer Fire Dept., $12,833
  • Elizabeth Twp. Area Emergency Medical Service, $21,117
  • Elizabeth Twp. Fire Dept. No. 1, $24,149
  • Fire Department of North Versailles, $13,570 (fire), $7,037 (EMS)
  • Greenock Volunteer Fire Co., $14,123
  • Hartford Heights Volunteer Fire Dept. (North Huntingdon Twp.), $12,464
  • Lincoln Borough Volunteer Fire & Rescue Co. No. 1, $13,754
  • McKeesport Ambulance Rescue Service, $7,037
  • McKeesport Fire Dept., $14,770
  • North Huntingdon Rescue/EMS, $7,037 (EMS), $13,201 (Fire)
  • Rainbow Volunteer Fire Co. (White Oak), $12,649
  • Skyview Volunteer Fire Co. No. 4 (West Mifflin), $13,386
  • United Volunteer Fire & Rescue (East McKeesport and Wall), $12,649
  • Versailles Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1, $11,543
  • Vigilant Hose Co. No. 1 (Port Vue), $13,201
  • Volunteer Fireman's Association of Liberty Borough, $12,464
  • West Mifflin Volunteer Fire Co. No. 3, $13,201
  • White Oak Emergency Medical Service, $7,037
  • White Oak Volunteer Fire Co. No. 1, $13,386
  • Wilmerding Volunteer Fire Dept., $11,727

Recipients must complete and return original signed copies of their grant agreements by May 31 in order to receive the funds, Davis said.

Duquesne Police Officers Promoted
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 14:50:00 -0400

Three Duquesne police officers were promoted to sergeant at the recommendation of Police Chief Thomas Dunlevy.

This week, city council approved a motion 5-0 to promote officers Melissa Kuks, James Foster and Nick Manday.

Kuks is a 14-year veteran of the department. Dunlevy said she "excels at community relations and has an excellent rapport with the community." She will be taking on the responsibilities of police administrator.

Foster, who currently serves as a field training officer, has a master’s degree in the administration of criminal justice and will be in charge of patrol, Dunlevy said.

Manday served in the Marines and has "strong ethical values and exemplary leadership skills," Dunlevy said. Manday will be in charge of narcotics.

Duquesne Police Department answered 561 calls for the month of February, which resulted in 47 arrests and 119 citations. Calls for service included 17 abandoned motor vehicles, 18 crashes, 22 alarms, seven burglaries, 20 disturbances, 37 domestics, 15 juveniles, three robberies and seven reports of shots fired.

Cami DiBattista is a freelance writer who covers municipal news from Duquesne and White Oak for Tube City Almanac, as well as other subjects.

Turnpike to Display Mon-Fayette Plans, Discuss Route
Fri, 16 Mar 2018 14:31:00 -0400

Residents of communities that are in the path of the Mon-Fayette Expressway are being encouraged to attend one of three information sessions where the plans will be displayed.

Renee Vid Colborn, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, says the open houses will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. April 3, 4 and 5 at the Georgetown Centre, 526 E. Bruceton Road, Pleasant Hills.

The information will focus on Jefferson Hills, West Mifflin, Clairton, Dravosburg and Duquesne.

Turnpike representatives will be available to answer questions about the plans for the expressway, and also will be available to explain the property acquisition process to those directly affected by the project.

The turnpike commission is holding identical sessions on three consecutive evenings for the public's convenience, Colborn said. The meeting location is accessible to persons having disabilities.

The Mon-Fayette Expressway is a toll road that currently runs from Interstate 68 near Morgantown, W.Va., to Route 51 near Large.

If completed as designed, the expressway would continue to Interstate 376 near Monroeville.

The 14-mile segment from Route 51 to the Parkway East near Monroeville has been estimated to cost anywhere from $1.7 billion to $2 billion, according to published reports.

Anyone needing additional information about accommodations for the meeting should contact Renee Vid Colborn, public information manager at 724-755-5260.

Duquesne Partnering With Auberle to Clean Up Blighted Properties
Thu, 15 Mar 2018 17:33:00 -0400

Correction: A story on Feb. 19 had the spelling of Jade Burleigh's name incorrect. The original story has been corrected and we apologize for the error. 

Duquesne is partnering with McKeesport-based Auberle this summer to provide employment to young adults and clean up blighted and abandoned properties.

Auberle will offer work for up to 100 participants between ages 14 and 24 clearing blight, Duquesne Mayor Nickole Nesby said this week.

Those interested should sign up with Tim Kelly at (412) 673-5800 or contact the city. The deadline to register is March 31.

The program is part of the administration’s effort to address blighted properties in Duquesne.

Nesby said she recently attended a meeting at the Turtle Creek Valley Council of Governments where blight in Allegheny County was discussed.

Living next to a blighted home decreases the value of your property an average of 6.7 percent, Nesby said.

Duquesne is working with the Heinz Endowments to recruit someone to develop a strategy for dealing with vacant and blighted houses in the city, and develop a comprehensive plan to eliminate them, she said.

In other business, city council has asked state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to investigate the city's finances.

Editor's Note: Earlier this month, the city sued the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Duquesne and the non-profit Duquesne Business Advisory Corp.

The city's lawsuit alleges that the redevelopment authority transferred approximately $1.4 million of its $1.5 million revolving loan fund to the business advisory corporation in what the lawsuit calls an "illegal attempt to dissolve the authority" and to strip Nesby and city council of their power to administer the funds.


During the public comment section of the meeting, resident Dontae Parrish asked about the levels of lead in Duquesne’s water, which he said "tastes terrible." Parrish asked what council is doing to address water quality in the city.

Council assured Parrish that lead levels, which are regularly tested by the state Department of Environmental Protection, are in compliance but that efforts are currently being taken to improve water quality in Duquesne.

More than $400,000 in grant money has been provided to the city to address the issue of poor water circulation, and city engineer David Gilliland said several waterlines are scheduled for replacement. In addition, new water pumps are expected to be installed soon.

Resident Burton Comensky told council that he believes that his property located at 32 S. 6th St. --- which is scheduled to be demolished next week --- was unlawfully confiscated from him by the city after a sheriff’s sale on the property fell through.

Comensky said he received no eviction notice and feels the property should be returned to him until a proper sheriff’s sale can be completed. He asked that council rescind the demolition.

A motion to rescind the demolition failed, but Nesby said the city's solicitor will look into the matter to see if anything can be done.

During the Accounts and Youth Services report, Councilwoman Fawn McDaniel stated that all openings for the Duke City Youth Council have been filled. A family meet and greet at City Hall is slated for 6:30 p.m. March 23. Both parents and members are required to attend.

Additionally, the site supervisor position for the Duquesne Youth Athletic Association’s Summer Food Program has been filled. The program will begin in June. More details will be provided closer to the opening date.

Council voted 5-0 to allow the DYAA the use of Polish Hill Fields and the concession stand for the upcoming baseball season. Dates and times for use will be Mondays through Fridays, March 13 to July 1, from 4 to 10 p.m.

Councilman Timothy Caldwell reported he is researching resources to build an outdoor gym facility for Duquesne to encourage residents to get fit and be active.

Council by 5-0 vote appointed Alan Chiesi as the Right to Know Officer of Duquesne and appointed Councilman Timothy Caldwell and City Controller Jade Burleigh to represent Duquesne at monthly Steel Rivers Council of Governments meetings.

'Day of Prayer and Healing' for HIV/AIDS Planned Saturday
Thu, 15 Mar 2018 01:01:00 -0400

A day of "prayer for the healing" of people with HIV and AIDS will be held Saturday at Zion Baptist Church.

The event, called "The Balm in Gilead," begins at 11 a.m. at the church at 1300 Locust St., a spokeswoman said.

In addition to the church, sponsors include the Partnership for Minority HIV/AIDS Prevention.

The featured speaker is the Rev. Geoffrey E. Tate II, pastor of St. Paul A.M.E. Church and Christ Temple A.M.E. Church, whose planned discussion is entitled, "Let's Talk About It."

Participants will be encouraged to "share, pray and network with one another," the spokeswoman said, and dinner will be served.

For more information, call (412) 664-4762.

Mon Valley Attorney Sentenced to Prison in Fraud Case
Thu, 15 Mar 2018 00:19:00 -0400

A former attorney who was accused of funnelling money from one of his client's accounts into his personal businesses --- including the Mon Valley Independent newspaper --- has been sentenced to 33 months in federal prison for mail fraud.

Keith A. Bassi, 61, of Jefferson Twp., Fayette County, also must pay more than $505,000 in restitution and a $100,000 fine, and forfeit more than $235,515, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady said Wednesday.

The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Arthur J. Schwab.

A graduate of Yale and Duquesne universities, Bassi was a partner in the Charleroi law firm of Bassi, McCune & Vreeland and a well-known attorney in the mid-Mon Valley, serving as solicitor to several communities and school districts and as general counsel to the former Charleroi Federal Savings Bank, now CFSBank.

But federal prosecutors allege that beginning in 2012, Bassi began misappropriating funds belonging to the estate of an elderly Charleroi woman who was suffering from dementia.

The woman's estate was approximately $2 million when Bassi was asked to serve as her legal guardian.

Between 2012 and 2016, prosecutors said that Bassi funneled the victim's money into several bank accounts he controlled at Charleroi Federal and PNC. In one case, prosecutors said, Bassi purchased a life insurance policy in someone else's name using the victim's money. He then cashed in the policy and kept the proceeds.

He also used $145,000 of the victim’s funds to operate Mid Mon Valley Publishing Co., of which he is a part owner, according to a court filing in the case. The company was formed in 2016 to publish the Mon Valley Independent.

In one instance, the money was used to fund the newspaper's payroll, the court filing indicates.

The fraud was uncovered by U.S. postal inspectors and the FBI, Brady said.

Following Bassi's guilty plea in October 2017, prominent friends wrote letters to Schwab, urging the judge to show lenience to Bassi and sentence him to probation rather than prison.

But Brady said the seriousness of the crime --- and Bassi's abuse of his position of trust as an attorney --- dictated a prison sentence of at least 33 months.

Brady and Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory C. Melucci wrote in a court filing that Bassi "abused his role as guardian to the (victim's) estate, and capitalized on her vulnerability."

Bassi voluntarily surrended his law license in August 2017 and was disbarred in December, according to filings at the state Disciplinary Board.

City Seeks Solution for Mansfield Bridge Ramp Flooding
Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:36:00 -0400

Above: McKeesport public works crews clear flooding at the end of the Mansfield Bridge following a severe storm June 13, 2017. (Tube City Almanac file photo)

McKeesport officials are hoping to have a lasting solution this summer to flooding problems that have forced repeated street closures at the southern end of the Mansfield Bridge.

Council this month authorized the administration to seek $255,000 from the state's Small Water and Sewer Program for repairs to a storm sewer under West Fifth Avenue.

The city will be required to match the grant, if received, with at least $45,000 of its own funding, Mayor Michael Cherepko said.

City engineer Jim Garvin said the grant money would initially fund a thorough inspection of the line, so that the scope of the work can be planned out.

Until that happens, Garvin cautioned, he's only speculating on what has clogged the storm drain, which runs from the eastbound lanes of West Fifth Avenue, under Casturo Iron & Metal and the CSX railroad tracks, and drains into the Monongahela River.

The drain carries only storm water, not sanitary sewage, but has to handle a substantial amount of water that runs off the hillside from McKeesport's upper 10th Ward, as well as from Port Vue, he said.

"A lot of debris and sediment comes down that valley," Garvin said. "Sometimes, what happens is that you get, for example, a tree branch, or a piece of refuse, or some rocks wedged in there, and it provides a place for more and more debris to get wedged."

Several heavy rains in 2017 caused the street to flood and forced city public works crews to use front-end loaders and dump trucks to clear the mud and water.

During one especially bad storm in June, water backed up as high as the three-foot-high concrete barriers lining the approach ramps to the bridge, trapping two cars whose drivers had to be rescued.

But rain and melting snow have already caused minor flooding and lane restrictions on the street in 2018.

"It's a real nuisance," Garvin said. "It's especially a problem when you have ground that's already saturated or frozen, and there's nowhere for the water to go. The ground just can't absorb as much water as it can in July."

He's hopeful that the drain can be cleared and cleaned without having to be excavated.

The city hopes to have an answer to its grant application in April, Garvin said. If the grant is approved, work might begin in early summer, he said, after the specifications are finalized and a contract is awarded.

Ringgold Team Wraps Season; Featured Players From Across Mon Valley Schools
Wed, 14 Mar 2018 13:22:00 -0400

(Photo courtesy Ringgold Hockey Association, via Facebook)

Clayton Colecchi doesn’t feel any different aversion to playing hockey with a different high school on the front of his sweater. The South Allegheny High School sophomore wanted a chance to compete in the PIHL -- the governing body for high school hockey in Western Pennsylvania -- and playing under the Ringgold Hockey banner was his only option.

South Allegheny is part of a wide-ranging agreement that features eight schools, including Belle Vernon, Bentworth, Brownsville, California and Yough.

“I’ve embraced it and so have the other kids in my school,” Colecchi said. “They come out and watch the games and support it. They don’t care if it’s Ringgold, they consider it South Allegheny.”

Colecchi, a sophomore defender, was the only South Allegheny student on Ringgold’s roster this season. The Rams were eliminated from the postseason Monday night, losing to Burrell 6-4 in the semifinals of the Division 2 Penguins Cup playoffs at the RMU Island Sports Center.

Colecchi is the last remaining South Allegheny student after five played last season.

Ringgold provided the most players on this year’s roster with eight. Yough (three), Belle Vernon (three), Charleroi (two) and California (two) fill out the rest of the lineup.

“We’ve been together since August and have been working non-stop,” Colecchi said. “Over time, we’re going to get to know each other really well. A lot of us play hockey outside of high school in other tournaments teams, that’s a good way to get to know kids too.”

Colecchi helped orchestrate a major turnaround for Ringgold (15-5). The Rams, who finished 9-9-2 a year ago, outscored their opponents 82-52 this season under first-year coach Rick Kalinowski.

Colecchi tied for the lead -- along with Ryan Marek (Belle Vernon) and Jacob Booher (Ringgold) -- among the team’s defensemen with four goals. He also added two assists.

“Clayton is the type of kid who doesn’t disappoint,” Kalinowski said. “He always goes 100 percent.”

Kalinowski, who formerly coached at South Park, said balancing all the players from different school districts required a club approach. Most of his kids play on amateur teams, which are travel squads made up of players from around the area, so Kalinowski wanted everyone to mesh like they did there.

“You would think it’s a challenge, but I remember from day one, I told the kids, some of you know each other, some of you don’t, from other amateur programs --- so let’s treat this like an amateur program,” Kalinowski said. “As a team, we’re not playing for a particular school, although we’re under Ringgold, we are one team no matter who we are.”

Kalinowski decided to make Colecchi’s defensive partner Hunter Suarez, who is a freshman at Ringgold.

Their contrasting styles made them solid partners.

“Hunter plays a physical game and he’s fast,” Colecchi said. “I like to play conservative. If he were to hop up into play, I would cover for him. We both play an offensive game, we have goals on the year and a couple assists. It’s nice to have us paired together, it’s perfect.”

Working toward perfection has helped this co-op find its legs. Colecchi would like to see the notoriety continue to translate into victories.

“I think it’s good for Ringgold,” Colecchi said. “It’s been a while since we made it past the first round. Ringgold never had a big name in Division 2. After this year, teams are going to know who we are, which is nice.”