COAL TOWNSHIP - A shortage of township commissioners delayed discussion and potential action on a proposed west-end group home for pregnant mothers.

Two of the five commissioners, Bernie Rumberger and George Zalar, were unable to attend Thursday's meeting. Two others in attendance, Gene Welsh and Jerry Waugh, have a conflict of interest in the matter and are expected to abstain if a vote on a zoning variance is taken.

At the commissioners' request, six residents from the neighborhood where the group home is proposed agreed to withhold comment until next month.

"If we make comment tonight, the two voting members won't hear them," said Craig Fetterman, commissioner board chairman.

The commissioners will revisit the issue at their next monthly meeting, which is scheduled for 7 p.m. Oct. 11 at the township municipal building.

Central Susquehanna Opportunities Inc. (CSO), a regional nonprofit organization, bought the property last year in a county tax sale and has already begun renovations to accommodate up to four pregnant women between 18 and 22 years of age, along with their newborns. It's seeking a zoning variance to operate the group home.

A CSO administrator said last month that the program is not a drug rehabilitation setting and it is not court-ordered. It would be monitored around the clock and would include counseling services for motherhood and job training.

Admittance would require a successful drug screening and enrollment in either a high school or in a general equivalency diploma program. The mothers would be required to stay a minimum of six months and could stay as long as 645 days.

Pending receipt of a federal grant and a zoning variance, the home could open next June.

Some residents who live near the home are concerned about the potential impact on property values, the potential for crime and the overall effect it would have on the fabric of the neighborhood.

If the commissioners decide against granting the zoning request, CSO could open a group home for the elderly or the mentally or physically handicapped, and it could also rent to low-income families - all that without any further approval from the commissioners.

Welsh and Waugh are members of the CSO board of directors.

Blight money

The commissioners gave their anticipated approval to commit more than $84,000 in grant funding to the Northumberland County Housing Authority's Blight Task Force.

The funding will be pooled with other county communities eligible for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funding, including Shamokin, to use as leverage in pursuing other financial resources toward knocking down blighted properties countywide.

Rob Slaby, township manager, said the hope is that the township's funding would double or triple.

The commitment on behalf of the township is for five years.

Special meeting

Township commissioners will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 25 to facilitate discussion between state officials from Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), officials of Shamokin Filler and residents of Bear Valley Road.

Complaints have been levied by some residents against the coal company that they say negatively impact their health and quality of life.

The Shamokin Filler has recently paved a large swath of land directly to the rear of the residence to cut down on airborne dirt, have increased sweeping of Venn Access Road for dirt and have disposed of hundreds of tons of junk and debris that had been an eyesore.

While attendees at Thursday's meeting were assured nothing regarding the proposed group home on West Lynn Street will occur at the meeting, commissioners said some other unrelated township business could be conducted during the meeting.

Mining permit

The township received correspondence from DEP that Blue Ridge Mining LP is seeking an application to operate a new surface mine along Route 125 near Burnside.

Once coal mining ends, the company would backfill, grade and revegetate the area, according to a letter from DEP.

Blue Ridge has an Irish Valley address, and its president is identified as Marc Sandri, according to a DEP permit application.

A copy of the application is available for public inspection at the Northumberland County Conservation District, 441 Plum Creek Road, Sunbury, or DEP's district office in Pottsville.

Parcel sold

Fetterman and Waugh voted in favor of accepting a lone bid from D&G Ventures, owner of Brewser's Sports Grille, for a parcel of land at Walnut and Owl streets.

Welsh abstained from the vote due to a conflict. His son is one of the owners of the restaurant.

The land was appraised at $2,000 by Roger Williams and was sold to D&G for $7,510.

Vince Rovito, township solicitor, said a majority approval of three votes was not necessary for the financial transaction because it did not meet the required threshold.

Pete Long, of 1636 W. Lynn St., asked Rovito about the requirements a commissioner has regarding conflict of interest. Rovito addressed Long's question in part, but Long was directed by township commissioners to submit a Right to Know request for a copy of the law regarding conflicts of interest for members of the governing body for a more substantial answer.

Road project

Joe Schuck, of 1158 W. Spruce St., was critical of a township paving project on Locust Street near his property.

He said the newly paved road stops about two feet short of a township-owned wall, and the resulting gap allows rain water to channel into his yard.

Bill Kuzmick, township roadmaster, told Schuck that the paving was intentionally done as such ahead of a project to replace the wall. He said the plan is to cut out the wall and finish the paving project before the winter.

Creek concerns

Greg Adams, of 1506 Center St., Tharptown, encouraged township commissioners to seek grant funding to repair the Shamokin Creek channel in Tharptown.

Heavy rainfall last September caused the creek to flood. It also resulted in heavy erosion near Adams' home, and he fears what damage would occur if the channel isn't repaired in the event of another similar storm.

Commissioners have expressed concern about the state of the creek channel in Tharptown and that of Quaker Run in Ranshaw.

Slaby has previously said the entire length of the Shamokin Creek channel should be dredged, creating a deeper waterway and a larger buffer should it take on an exorbitant amount of water.

Downstream near 22nd and Center streets, a large washout near a second bridge has choked the water flow to one side of a bridge pier, keeping water from flowing on both sides as designed.

The township is working with state legislators to locate funding to make repairs to the creek channels, Slaby said.

Other business

The township commissioners also:

- Accepted a bid of $35,971.60 from William Orr and Sons Inc., of Jonestown, to install guide rail and paint yellow lines on the Rock Cut road in Springfield, paid for with CDBG funding.

- Voted to install stop signs at Clay and Hunter streets and Fern and Locust streets, and establish a 15 mile-per-hour speed limit on Upper Excelsior Road.

- Reallocated $9,000 from the township 2010 CDBG funding to use with $16,000 from a separate grant to rehabilitate a home in the township.

- Voted to allocate nearly $5,000 in the 2013 budget towards energy upgrades at the township municipal building and recycling center intended to reduce electric costs at the two facilities by approximately 36.5 percent in two years. The estimates were a result of a PPL energy audit.

- Approved a pair of requests from Maine Fire Company - to conduct its annual fund drive next week and to host a 10th anniversary memorial service for Tim Diorio for the fallen firefighter at 1 p.m. Oct. 28 at a memorial for him near First and Water streets.

- Acknowledged correspondence from PennDOT, which is planning to rehabilitate a bridge on Route 61 that spans Shamokin Creek near Tharptown.

- Approved advertising the board's intent to vacate a paper street between Independence and Walnut streets in the 1600 block of Walnut Street on a request by Ronald Gryzbowski.

- Announced a meeting of Lower Anthracite Regional Recreation Committee at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 10 at Brewser's, and a fundraising event for the committee, Dueling Pianos, to be held 8 p.m. Nov. 17 at Brady Fire Company, Ranshaw.