Above all, 2012 was a year of transitions in Warren County.
Familiar faces faded from the spotlight to make way for new. Long struggling plans folded while communities sought to tie up loose ends. New directions and changed plans were the order of the day as the county struggled through a backdrop of drugs, drought and development.
Ike to close, charter, convert
This alternative site for an Eisenhower Charter School was never needed
As the spectre of a possible closing loomed on Eisenhower Middle/High School's horizon, individuals in the Warren County School District's northern attendance area took steps to form a charter school in the area. An application from Community School Ownership Initiative, Inc. was submitted to form an Eisenhower Charter School, but denied in a tie school board vote. Meanwhile, the district began to show progress on a plan to convert Eisenhower into a K-12 facility, making a commitment to keeping the facility open for the foreseeable future. Charter discussion evaporated in the face of a long term commitment to the facility. Bonds for the renovations and additions needed for the conversion have been approved and final planning on the project is underway. Planning for a similar conversion to take place at Sheffield Area Middle/High School is moving forward as well. Additional work at Beatty-Warren Middle School is already underway.
Anchor building project sinks
The Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED) announced plans to conduct a fiscal monitoring review of a $500,000 grant intended to fund the development of the Allegheny Center for the Arts (ACA) anchor building project on Liberty St. following the dissolution of the agency coordinating the project, GRO-Warren and the announcement project contractor Eriez Construction was owed significant amounts of back payment. As it became increasingly clear the project was not delayed but, in fact, a failed effort, DCED announced finding a long list of "not allowable" expenses grant money was used for. In response, the City of Warren, as original grantee, agreed to repay the grant money into a revolving loan fund over 20 years. Meanwhile, word of a grand jury investigation into the project, and possibly other city projects, have leaked, leaving residents waiting for a final resolution to the mess.
Unconventional projects creep into county
As the potential of the Marcellus Shale formation became more apparent and drillers looking to take advantage of it began streaming into the state, Warren County didn't face the sheer numbers of developments neighboring McKean County did, but related projects still made an impact. The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection issued 13 permits for unconventional gas wells in the county in 2012. Meanwhile, possible wastewater injection wells in Columbus Township stirred controversy. While final permits have been issued, the issue is still facing public outcry over possible side effects.
Not meant for a relaxing dip in the tub
Warren County saw an early spike in the use of new drugs collectively known as bath salts. Incidents related to use of the new drug went up around the country, but the county saw a particularly high increase in usage due to its location along a "drug corridor". A February county-wide drug sweep by the Warren County Drug Task Force netted 39 initial arrests, and arrests and legal action as a result of the operation still continue 10 months later. The sweep resulted in arrests for more than just bath salts and included, "just about every hard drug you could imagine," Warren County Sheriff Ken Klakamp said at the time. The sweep, coupled with the break-up of a major cocaine ring lead by Joseph Richard Cieslak of Pittsfield, has resulted in some abatement of cases involving hard drugs in the county criminal justice system since.
District tightens belt even more
Continuing cuts in funding led to the Warren County School District to continue with cost-saving measures in 2012. Measures included a school budget freeze, program cuts and further staffing cuts. In a further contentious move, the district set out on a five-year plan to overhaul the Sheffield and Eisenhower Middle/High Schools into K-12 facilities and eventually close some community elementary schools as students were transfered to the expanded sites.
Northwest grows again
Northwest Savings Bank began work on expanding farther down Pennsylvania and Second avenues. After purchasing and then demolishing the former Knights of Columbus and Diamond Block/Sal Dicembre buildings, work began in earnest on a two-year project to expand office space by 50,000 square feet over four stories.
Rapp draws fire before bill is tabled over concerns
State Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-65) sponsored House Bill 1077, the "Women's Right-to-Know Act", which made it to the state house floor in February before being put on hold. The bill would have required doctors to position in view of a patient receiving an abortion an ultrasound screen showing the fetus. It, and similar measures across the country, sparked controversy over whether the laws were intended as a means of informing patients or shaming them and making the decision whether to have an abortion more difficult. The bill was pulled back by house leadership in March in response to concerns. Rapp called backlash over the bill "vile".
In May, the Allegheny Musarium Association ended more than a decade of efforts towards building. The trustees voted to terminate fundraising efforts, and disperse funds already collected, approximately $15,000, to the Warren County Conservation District.
Convention center plans collapse
Plans for a hotel and convention center on Clark St. fell apart officially in 2012. As the clock ticked to zero on the deadline for matching funds for a Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development grant to fund development of the center, hopes for the project first dimmed, then died. Once the April 1 deadline came and went, and a 30-day extension passed as well, developer Tim King announced plans to fund the venture privately. The city of Warren disbanded the Warren Convention Center Authority, the oversight group linking public to private efforts on the venture. The city began steps to recover money owed to the authority, and in turn the city, by King. In a response to an inquiry by the Times Observer this December, King said he is no longer involved with Warren area projects, dashing any lingering hopes of private funding on the project from that camp.
Blair brings jobs from Georgia
Blair, a wholly owned subsidiary of Orchard Brands, announced in April it would be transferring work from an Orchard distribution center in Eatonton, Ga. to its Irvine Distribution Center.
Beaulieu goes down
Mike Beaulieu, who attacked a couple in the Allegheny National Forest in 2010, first changed some pleas to offenses related to the incident to guilty in March before being sentenced to life in prison for his actions this August.
Permits were filed with the Warren County Zoning Hearing Board in April moving forward Sheetz' efforts to open a location at the intersection of Market St. and Jackson Run Rd. in North Warren. From there, property was vacated, existing development was demolished and the lot is currently being prepared for construction.
In a letter to the Warren County Commissioners dated May 1, the Farmington Township Supervisors stated their intent to be removed from the county's zoning ordinance and handle zoning issues themselves. After a number of false starts, required public meetings, and necessary votes from both the county and township sides, commissioners finally opted to remove Farmington Township from the county zoning ordinance in October. The supervisors, while not implementing official zoning, now have to work out building permit processes and a floodplain ordinance.
Ribfest saved, will be changing name
As Ribfest planning approached in late May, event organizer Warren Main Street showed signs of concern whether the event would even happen in 2012. Due to previous debt obligations and lack of required permits and registration fees, it looked bleak for Warren County carnivores. That's when the Warren County Chamber of Business and Industry stepped in. The chamber's greater resources allowed the event to proceed as planned but changes will be coming in 2013. In the upcoming year, Ribfest will be changing its name to the All-American BBQ Festival and State Championship BBQ and be officially sanctioned by the Kansas City Barbeque Society.
County backs out of playground program funding
This spring, municipalities began receiving letters from the Warren County Commissioners announcing the county would no longer be providing a share of the funding for summer playground programs. Well into June, municipalities were still scrambling to decide whether to provide the program and how to fund it if they did. In the end, many communities managed to maintain some form of summer playground program, but not all managed to continue the scope of programs past or even to hold a program.
Canoe/kayak races return
In July, Warren County once again hosted the Pennsylvania Association of Canoe and Kayak State Championships for the first time since 2009. Meanwhile, August saw the return of a national event. The U.S. Canoe Association National Canoe and Kayak Championships returned for the fifth time in less than a decade. The two events hosted hundreds of paddlers at Chapman Dam State Park and on the Allegheny River.
Water-related tragedies all too common
In May a Jamestown man drowned in the Allegheny River after his canoe capsized. A nearly week-long search followed before his body was recovered near Starbrick. Another Jamestown man drowned while kayaking in the Allegheny Reservoir near the New York state line that same month. In July, tragedy struck again as a Warren woman's body was pulled from the Allegheny River near Pleasant Township, the cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation by drowning. Then in November, a Kane couple drowned after suffering a canoe accident on the Allegheny Reservoir.
Council corrals chairs
This year's Fourth of July parade marked the end of an era in Warren. Shortly after this year's parade, Warren City Council passed regulations on when chairs can be placed along the parade route prior to the event. Gone are the days of mid-June jockeying for placement. Along with them go the weeks of chairs lining sidewalks, somtimes impeding pedestrians or blowing into roadways. Council's message to those hoping to reserve a spot; you have 72 hours.
Cancer center grows
The Cancer Care Center at Warren General Hospital broke ground in July on a renovation and expansion project. Work at the center, which opened in 2003, will continue into Phase II in the spring.
Glade Bridge gets some much needed TLC
Work to repair the Glade Bridge began in August. work stretched for more than a month as work crews laboured through the night to perform milling, paving, deck repairs and waterproofing on the bridge and some of the surrounding roadway.
Things start drying up
As June turned to July, low precipitation coupled with an unusually warm, dry winter of 2011 to create the conditions for drought to take hold. As the ground began to crack and the grasses turned a sickly brown, the state Department of Environmental Protection issued a drought watch including the county on July 19. The drought would officially continue into September.
Receipts rather than SRS
In a change from previous years, Warren County opted to take 25 percent of timber sales receipts from the Allegheny National Forest rather than a Secure Rural Schools flat rate payment. Municipalities and school district officials were optimistic the receipts would exceed the shrinking Rural Schools funds. Warren County Commissioners Chair Stephen Vanco said, "I hope we did the right thing," following the commissioners Sept. vote on the matter.
Non-profits looked at for property tax
The Warren County Assessment Review Board began taking a look at area non-profits to assess whether their property tax exemption status were merited. The board determined a handful may not qualify and thus the appeals process on the rulings began.
Stork comes to fish hatchery, but not for lunch
The Allegheny National Fish Hatchery had cause to break out the cigars. The hatchery bred adult lake trout for the first time since 2004 following a number of years in which the facility was shut down. During a two week window in Oct., the hatchery spawned their population of adult lake trout for the first time.
Impact fees debut
As part of new legislation governing natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, counties could opt to accept an impact fee from drillers. Payments started flowing in to municipalities and the county in November totaling more than $80,000.
Goodbyes and hellos
Some familiar faces left public positions in 2012, sometimes making way for new leadership. City of Warren City Manager Jim Nelles bowed out, making way for Nancy Freenock to take the reigns. The Warren County Visitors Bureau announced the resignation of Director Mike Olewine, who has not been replaced. Chief Education Officer and founder of Tidioute Community Charter School David Craig was ousted from the school, making way for Dr. Doug Allen to take the top spot.
Local organizations mark 100 years
Some local organizations celebrated some historic birthdays in 2012. Girl Scouts and 4-H nationally marked 100 years, as did the Chief Cornplanter Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Holy Redeemer Roman Catholic Church marked it's centennial, as did the Woman's Club of Warren and the Wiltsie Ladies Aid ministry of Wiltsie Community Church.