PublicSource

Could Drones Make The Energy Business Safer?

Jun 11, 2014
Photo courtesy of Identified Technologies

Small, high-tech drones are being used to make movies, shoot photos for the media and find sick or diseased crops in farm fields across the country — even though the government restricts commercial use.

Now, some are saying that drones could make operations safer in an industry Pennsylvania knows well: Energy.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, could be used in oil and gas operations for anything that is “dangerous or dirty to do by people,” said Michael Blades, who analyzes the drone industry for the global research firm Frost & Sullivan.

For This Pittsburgh Football Coach, There's A Passion For The Game

May 25, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson doesn’t yell or bark like a football coach.

Bulky defenders suited out in black and gold crouch on three points while he sputters a snap count, trying to get them to jump offside.

“Hut. Hut. Go, Joei. Hut.”

With his hefty frame bent low, he’ll mimic a snap, and the defenders power out of their stances.

This is his defensive line.

“Do not tackle the coach,” says Hutch, 60, standing up from his crouch and smirking. “You do not tackle the coach.”

Inspection Records For PA Amusement Parks Now Online

May 23, 2014
Fen Labalme / flickr

Before someone gets strapped into the Storm Runner at Hershey Park or feels their stomach drop on Kennywood’s Phantom's Revenge this Memorial Day weekend, they’ll be able to go online to check when the rides were last inspected.

The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has launched a website that allows any amusement park goer to see whether a ride has recently been inspected.

Ryan Loew / 90.5 WESA

Pastor Lee Dreyer helps organize the Water for Woodlands water bank at White Oak Springs Presbyterian Church in Renfrew, Pa.

The church distributes water to 34 families whose wells went bad around the time fracking started in the region. The coincidence can't be proven but residents said they can tell by taste, smell, color and skin reaction that their water hasn't been right.

Read more of this story at the website of our partner PublicSource.

With No Health Registry, PA Doesn’t Know The Impact Of Fracking On Health

Apr 30, 2014

After more than five years and about 6,000 wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale boom, public-health experts say the need to collect information near fracking operations in Pennsylvania is urgent.

A health registry could show trends of illnesses, collect data and potentially answer the question of whether fracking is safe — a debate currently characterized by emotional arguments with little reliable information.

How will anyone in the state know the possible health impacts of hydraulic fracturing unless information is collected?

Bluegrass Pipeline Project Comes To A Halt

Apr 29, 2014
Natasha Khan / PublicSource

Developers of a multi-state pipeline project, which has stirred controversy over the past year in Kentucky, announced Monday they have suspended all investment in the project indefinitely.

Williams Co., a Tulsa, Okla.-based company, said it has stopped investing in the Bluegrass Pipeline “primarily in response to an insufficient level of firm customer commitments.”

Dispute Over Disabled Man's Care Magnifies Guardianship’s Complexities

Apr 6, 2014
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Rarely is there so much tension — or so much at stake — around giving someone hope for a family reunion as in the case of Dominic Pantoni.

Every month, Dominic intently waits at the door of his group home for his mother to arrive, and he immediately asks her, “When’s the next hearing?”

A court hearing, in Dominic's eyes, means going home, or at least leaving a place that he calls prison, said his mother, Nancy Pantoni. She has been trying since 2010 to change legal guardianship of her 27-year-old son, who has intense special needs because of a genetic disorder.

ucy Schaly / Beaver County Times via PublicSource

Walking with his daughter from a Friday night football game in New Brighton, Pa., Fire Chief Jeffrey Bolland heard what sounded like a jet overhead and saw an orange glow in the distance.

Twenty-three rail tank cars of ethanol derailed on a bridge above the Beaver River on that night in 2006, setting off an explosion that burned for 48 hours. Some of the black, torpedo-shaped cars tumbled into the river.

No one was injured, but 150 people were evacuated and a nearly multi-million dollar cleanup ensued in the city about 30 miles Northwest of Pittsburgh.

Under the Keystone: A Veteran's Progress

Mar 12, 2014
Jake Danna Stevens / Scranton Times-Tribune, via PublicSource

Earl Granville, of Scranton, Pa., is the second person featured in Under the Keystone, a new collaborative series from our content partner PublicSource. A veteran who lost his leg in Afghanistan and lost a brother to PTSD, Granville is now studying mental health counseling so he can help veterans and others who have come through difficult situations.

More Than 81,000 Children Have a Parent in Prison in PA

Mar 2, 2014
Emily DeMarco / PublicSource

When she was a baby, Kayla Bowyer of Pittsburgh was adopted by her grandparents because her mother was in and out of Allegheny County Jail.

Her grandfather died when she was 10 and her ‘Grams' had to go to work to support Bowyer, her younger brother and three cousins.
 

Though the presence of adults in her home changed, she was not alone.

In 2004, she and her brother were matched with Yolanda and Ron Bennett through Amachi Pittsburgh, a nonprofit organization that pairs mentors with children of an incarcerated parent.

Photos: Meet Joe Bonadio, Steep Street Music Man

Feb 10, 2014
Michael Novara

Welcome to a new PublicSource feature, Under the Keystone, that will feature profiles of interesting people throughout the state.

We have an idea that a series of photos and videos of Pennsylvania people might actually help bring the state together and help readers understand what a variety of enthralling and disparate personalities live here.

Millvale Couple Lives with Love and Disability

Jan 26, 2014
Martha Rial / PublicSource

MILLVALE — Bob Norris zips down the bus’s metal ramp in his motorized Steelers wheelchair as his wife, Tina, emerges with a jolting gait.

Time for grocery shopping.

Her slender frame askew but confident, Tina marches through the Giant Eagle with a list of foods and prices on her mind.

Bob lingers in the aisles, hoping to chat up the friendly store manager. His slurred speech doesn’t prevent him from making new friends.

Tina traps a loaf of bread with the side of one hand and a curled wrist while Bob holds open a reusable grocery bag.

Natasha Khan / PublicSource

The land agent first came knocking on Vivian and Dean House’s door in July. They sat on the patio of the retired couple’s 85-acre farm in this Central Kentucky town and chatted.

The guy was friendly, the kind of guy Dean could talk to about fishing.

He put the couple at ease and told them his company was interested in running a pipeline through their land. They were later offered more than $165,000 to sign easements.

As Armed Forces Scale Back, PA Young People Often Disappointed

Dec 8, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

An all-honors student and varsity soccer player, Luc LaChance could have had his pick of colleges when he left Slippery Rock High School in Butler County.

Instead, he chose to enlist with the U.S. Marines, where he will be trained as an infantryman — what the 17-year-old describes as “the common soldier.”

Eric Enslow, a 25-year-old Shaler Township resident with a master’s degree, joined the Navy after an exhaustive search for teaching jobs in Southwest Pennsylvania. His choice in the military was an intelligence job, which he was denied because of student-loan debt.

PA’s Hate-Crime Law Still Leaves Many Groups Out

Nov 24, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Jane’s whole life has been like one long hate crime.

As a teenager, her classmates beat her to a pulp because she shaved her legs. Her family believed that praying would cure what the belt didn’t.

Jane was born a man. Today, she is a woman.

Jane, a transgender woman, asked PublicSource not to use her name because of fear that she might be targeted. She completed her transition from male to female in rural Pennsylvania about two years ago.

Transitioning to a New Generation of Playgrounds

Oct 14, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Narrow slides and flimsy swings are what most people think of when they hear the word playground. But based on a 2010 court ruling, those trademarks of the past are changing. The US Department of Justice made access to play areas a civil right under the Americans with Disabilities Act and new standards took effect last year.

Public Source Reporter Halle Stockton reports that the playgrounds that are required to make these changes are new or majorly reformed playgrounds that began modifications after March 15.

But many playgrounds have already altered their equipment to fit the needs of all children. Some of these changes include a smooth ground surface that's usually rubberized to prevent injuries. You'll also find play structures with ramps along with wide pathways so that children on wheelchairs or a cane can maneuver throughout. The swings also have “rollercoaster seats” to provide back support for children with low muscle tone.

Playgrounds Unwelcoming to Disabled Children

Oct 11, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Missy Buss, a 9-year-old who can’t walk or talk, endures a 45-minute drive to the closest swing that will accommodate a wheelchair -- a treat that relaxes her shoulders and coaxes a smile.

Her mom, Wendy Grossman, thinks there would be more friends around the house if a playground near their Tarentum home allowed Missy to play alongside others.

Cheryl Dennis of Squirrel Hill talks about “the coolest” playground in the Pittsburgh area, but it’s a place she can’t take her son, Spencer, to play with his sisters because he has balance and coordination problems.

Most Port Authority Pay Stations Faring Well, PublicSource Survey Finds

Oct 2, 2013
Emily DeMarco / PublicSource

Allegheny County’s 59 new pay stations at light-rail platforms and bus stops have been performing well, with the exception of some along the East Busway.

PublicSource recently tested 54 of the pay stations operated by the Port Authority of Allegheny County and found few problems with the machines along the West Busway and light-rail lines. But nine of the 14 machines along the East Busway had one or more deficiencies.

Half of the East Busway’s machines could not print receipts. One didn't accept coins. Four of the machines’ robotic voices were broken.

PA’s Regulation of Amusement Parks Falls Short in Inspections, Enforcement

Aug 14, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

Pennsylvania has more amusement park rides than any other state, with 9,300 registered rides. And its parks are unmatched in safety, Gov. Tom Corbett said in a June press release, because of the state’s rigorous ride-inspection program.

But a PublicSource investigation shows that the state agency that oversees amusement parks doesn’t track the safety inspection reports that parks are required by law to file each month they are open.

As PA Ages, the State Examines Guardianships and Abuse

Aug 4, 2013
Halle Stockton / Public Source

Norma Carpenter, a nurse and school board member, visited her 82-year-old mother regularly at a personal care home in Indiana County. The two would walk hand in hand through the home, stopping to hug each other. 

Then, in October 2012, Norma was banned from visiting or calling her mother, Mary Little, who has dementia. Her visits, she was told, left her mother sad and depressed.

In December, Norma discovered that her mother had been moved nearly 100 miles away to a Fayette County nursing home.

All of these decisions were made by a court-appointed guardian.

PublicSource

Freelance reporter Leah Samuel writes about social and environmental issues for PublicSource and others. As a journalist, and as a reader, she finds the lessons of history are best learned from the margins.

Martha Rial / PublicSource

After 30 tons of fertilizer detonated in West, Texas last April, investigators are looking into the cause of the explosion that killed fifteen people, including twelve firefighters and emergency responders.  PublicSource reporter Bill Heltzel has been investigating chemical plant Dyno Nobel in Donora, PA, and gauging the town’s understanding of hazardous substance safety.  United Steel Workers safety officer Kim Nibarger represents union workers at the plant.

Explosives Maker In PA Has 400 Times More Ammonia Than West, Texas, Plant

Jul 21, 2013
Martha Rial

On April 17, when 30 tons of fertilizer detonated in West, Texas, a shock wave traveling faster than the speed of sound crushed homes. Windows shattered seven miles away. The United States Geological Survey recorded a 2.1 magnitude tremor from the blast.
 
Fifteen people died, 12 of them firefighters and emergency responders, and 200 were injured.

The same chemical that blew up West — ammonium nitrate — is manufactured in Donora, Pa., 20 miles south of Pittsburgh.

Martha Rial / PublicSource


Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the country -- behind Texas, Alabama and Florida -- for the number of hotels with labor law violations, according to the Department of Labor and a recent PublicSource story. This includes wage and child labor violations.

PublicSource Reporter Leah Samuel says because many hotel workers are low skilled and in the hospitality industry, where tips may be given, they’re especially vulnerable to wage violations.

“In Pennsylvania, you can actually pay someone as low as $2.83 an hour if they receive tips,”  Samuel explains. So even if a hotel worker normally gets paid at or above the minimum wage, when it comes to overtime, the rate might be 1.5 times that $2.83, which is illegal.

“It’s supposed to be 1.5 times the regular wage they would receive, minus something called the ‘tip credit’.”

Halle Stockton / PublicSource

Pittsburgh's city housing authority recently closed the waitlist for the majority of public housing properties. This is the  first time in 17 years this has happened and reflects the critical shortage of public housing in the city and Allegheny County.

Reporter Halle Stockton has written about this issue for our content partner Public Source and joins us to look at this issue.

90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania's open records law went into effect in 2009, ideally making it possible for citizens to easily search government records. But some say it hasn't made good on its promise of accessibility. WESA Capitol Correspondent Mary Wilson has written about tweaks to the law being proposed in the legislature, and those who have violated it.

Leah Samuel recently took an in depth look at the status of PA's open records law for PublicSource, including anecdotes from citizens who have been thwarted in their search for information.

Pennsylvania Office of Open Records Executive Director, Terry Mutchler says citizen requests should not be denied.

Emily DeMarco / PublicSource

  Roughly 28,000 people ride the Pittsburgh area’s light-rail system every day. But many more could be using and funding the system if the stops were easier to access. Inspired by a study from the Center for Transit-Oriented Development, PublicSource reporter, Emily DeMarco embarked on a tour of the Port Authority's 52 T-stops. She took photos, gathered audio and asked commuters what they think of the light-rail system.

PublicSource

Dan Blevins, 29, of Carnegie is one of more than 10,000 veterans in Pennsylvania who has been waiting more than a year for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to rule on disability claims.
 
In Afghanistan, Blevins jumped from a Humvee onto an icy dirt road and broke his right foot. Even after surgery, he has days when it is too painful to walk.
 
Since duty in Iraq, he gets migraines that feel as if  “somebody is taking a hammer to my head.”
 
Because of too many bombs, guns and grenades, he has tinnitus that he believes has cut his hearing by half.

The Right to Know, or the Right to No?

Apr 21, 2013
Alexandra Kanik / PublicSource

After getting a parking ticket at Pittsburgh International Airport, a driver requested a copy of the Allegheny Police Department’s report of the incident. The department didn’t respond.

A parent asked the Ligonier Valley School District for documents detailing planned teacher layoffs. The school district said it had no such documents.

A reporter asked Middle Smithfield Township for maps of local sewer lines. The township refused to turn them over, saying that could jeopardize the security of the sewage system.

Photo provided by the Allegheny County Jail

Fourteen years after a Vincentian Academy coach and teacher was forced to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct with basketball players, the Pennsylvania Department of Education is questioning former athletes who played for him.

David Scott Zimmerman, 46, of O’Hara is the subject of the investigation, according to one of his former athletes. He said a state investigator contacted him to verify his story.

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