Shipwreck Study Underway Along U.S. Coast to Catalog Possible Environmental Risks


The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is in the process of cataloguing shipwrecks off the U. S. coast to determine which could pose an environmental risk as they deteriorate.   Lisa Symons, Damage Assessment and Resource Protection Coordinator for the  Office of Marine Sanctuaries, says they’re looking at shipwrecks since 1902 of vessels over 100 tons gross weight or 200 feet in length, those that could carry a significant amount of petroleum as cargo or fuel.

Just off the mid-Atlantic Coast during World War II, a German U-boat sent a nearly 500 foot tanker to a watery grave. In addition to vessels sunk during the war, there are other bigger ships beneath the ocean that could potentially pose an environmental risk.

A federal grant is helping assess the risk.  The work started in 2010, but was delayed by the Gulf oil spill.  It has resumed and should be completed by the end of the year.

The potential problem came to light as officials investigated a series of mystery leaks along the California coast near a marine sanctuary. Symons says they were able to trace that back in 2002 to a vessel lost during the Korean War.

When NOAA has completed the research, the Coast Guard will be given a list of vessels to watch. If any are deemed to be an imminent pollution threat, the Coast Guard could request money from the National Pollution Funds Center to do an assessment to see if a cleanup would be necessary.  

The list is being whittled down daily as historical records, museum records from Lloyds of London, Coast Guard records  and other documents are reviewed. Symons says some sites may also be recreational dive sites or may attract anglers as fish congregate there, and there’s often information available that’s not part of the historical record. There were just over 230 shipwrecks nationwide that had the potential to be a risk based on the research criteria. Fifty-nine of them are off the Atlantic  coast between New Jersey and Georgia. 

Symons says since many of the ships were lost at time of war, during the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, they don’t always have a record of exactly where the vessels went down. However, she says the Navy destroyed as many of the foundering ships as possible, so not all that meet the size criteria still pose a risk.

You can learn more about the German U-boat attacks at You can also learn about shipwrecks from the Battle of the Atlantic at NOAA’s website.

“National Night Out” Less Than Two Weeks Away

Some 36-million people, in 15,000 communities will take part in National Night Out (NNO) festivities on August 2nd.  NNO founder Matt Peskin is executive director of the National Association of Town Watch, which is based in Wynnewood, PA.  Now in its 28th year, Peskin says National Night Out is still growing.  “Each year we pick up some more cities and towns, which were either not aware of it, or not able to participate in the past,” says Peskin, who has seen NNO evolve from front porch vigils into massive community celebrations. 

The goal behind National Night Out is still to build communities and reduce crime.  Peskin says it’s the result of neighbors interacting with neighbors, and neighbors interacting with police officers in a non-threatening environment.  “Neighbors get to see that police are just people too and if something’s wrong, they feel a little bit more comfortable picking the phone up the next day and calling them,” Peskin explains.

National Night Out was a nationwide event from its launch in 1984, but you can find a litany of NNO events here in Peskin’s home state of Pennsylvania.  From Alburtis (Lehigh County) to Worthington (Armstrong County), NNO festivities are planned for towns big and small on August 2nd

With the current state of the economy, Peskin says this year is a great time to get involved with your local National Night Out.  “It’s good to know that there are people around you that you can count on, and one thing you want is a safe neighborhood.”

Capitol Rotunda - Facing House Chamber

Largest State Workers Union Approves New Contract

The state’s largest employees union has approved  a new contract calling for some concessions.  Members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13 voted to approve the contract with the state by a 4 to 1 margin.

David Fillman, executive director, says members did lose a couple of sick days and there’s a wage freeze in the first year, but all totaled for the four year contract, it’s a very fair contract.  Fillman says it’s fair not only for the employees, but also fair within the confines of the economic situation today and the budgets as we go forward. Members will also have to contribute more to the cost of their health care benefits.

The four year contract does call for wage increases in the final three years.  Fillman says it’s four years of labor peace and they can live with that.  AFSCME represents about 45,000 state employees.

The Service Employees International Union Local 668 is still voting on a new state contract. The union represents about 10,000 state workers and they are voting by individual ballots.  Those ballots are due by mail or to their chapter by August 9th

The Corbett administration reached deals with the two unions in late June, after requesting concessions in the face of a difficult budget.

Governor Corbett’s Transportation Funding Advisory Commission Votes on Recomendations

The final report of the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission is due to the Governor on August 1st. The panel voted Monday on a series of recommendations, including changes in fees and fines for drivers and uncapping a tax on oil companies. The goal is to fill a transportation funding gap, and develop more predictable funding to fix roads and bridges and pay for mass transit.

The commission recommends raising the driver’s license and vehicle registration fees to reflect inflation.   PennDOT spokesman Dennis Buterbaugh says whenever the fee is set, it can take another 10, 15, 20 years before they look at the fee again to see if it needs to be adjusted.  The recommendation calls for a 3% annual adjustment for inflation for many of the fees.

The commission is also suggesting some cost savings measures, such as biennial registrations and 8 year driver’s licenses.  This would cut registration and licensing paperwork in half and result in annual savings to the state.

The commission is calling for the cap to be removed from the Oil Company Franchise Tax.  For the average drivers, that could mean about $132 more a year out of pocket after the change was phased in over five years.   But Buterbaugh says those figures assume the entire change in the tax would be passed on to drivers, and the last time the fee was raised, almost none of it was passed along.

The commission has also recommended a number of fund transfers and other efficiencies.

The panel’s goal was to find $2.5 billion dollars in recurring annual revenue for transportation.

State Transportation Secretary Barry Schoch, who chaired the commission, says none of the recommendations should come as a surprise to the Governor. He says Governor Corbett will review each carefully when he receives the final report.  Schoch says the Governor put the charge out to them, saying transportation is important to him and he wants to know how to finance it.

Staying Safe in the Heat Wave

The miserably hot weather that’s been gripping the Midwest is beginning to take hold of Pennsylvania.  With every heat wave, Dr. Richard O’Brien treats multiple cases of heat related illness.  He says nobody is immune to the temperatures.  “Often they are sporting people, and sometimes they are little old ladies going to church,” says O’Brien, spokesman for the Pennsylvania Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians and associate professor of emergency medicine at The Commonwealth Medical College. 

The three basic levels of heat illness include: heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.  “Heat exhaustion is a little more serious, we often use IV fluids for that; you might need a visit to the hospital for that.  Heat stroke is very serious and life threatening.  Think of heat stroke as being as serious as a real stroke,” O’Brien cautions. 

The symptoms of heat exhaustion can include weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath.  “You need to seek care.  You need to lie down, you need to be cooled off, you need to be hydrated,” O’Brien tells us.  He says the key is to keep heat exhaustion from becoming heat stroke.

Dr. O’Brien urges everyone to limit activities and to keep well-hydrated in this weather:  “The reason why we hydrate is so that we can sweat, so that we don’t overheat, so that we don’t get sick.”  He points out that children and the elderly are especially vulnerable to heat illness. 


Hot Car

AAA Says a Sun Shield Can Minimize Heat Buildup and Protect Your Car's Interior

With children’s safety in mind, AAA is urging us never to leave kids alone in car.  Once a car is locked up, temperatures inside can climb by 20-degrees in the first 10-minutes.  “The inside of a car, on a day like this – with temperatures in the 90s – can reach 200 degrees,” says AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Jim Lardear.  “You can cook food… at that temperature,” Lardear warns.    

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports at least 27-documented child deaths, per year, which are linked to hot vehicles.  Both O’Brien and Lardear say these safety rules for hydration and car safety apply to our pets too.

Airedale Terrier

Governor, First Lady to Welcome “First Pets”

Governor Tom Corbett and his wife Susan can hardly wait to hear the pitter-patter of little paws at the Governor’s Residence.  “We have two Airedale puppies coming.  We’ve had Airedales, three of them so far.  Right now I call them four and five,” Governor Tom Corbett tells us.  Without names for the pups, the Corbetts are turning to the children of Pennsylvania for some assistance.  “We’ve received a number of entries so far.  There are some cute entries, and then there are some adults writing in as kids,” Corbett quipped. 

Suggestions can be made online or mailed, but must be received by next Monday, July 25th.  The two kids who submit the winning puppy names will receive an autographed photo of the Governor, First Lady and “First Pets.” 

Governor Corbett says there are a few names that are already out of the running:  “Maggie was the first Airedale, Fergie was the second Airedale, and Daisy was the one that we had as Attorney General.  She lived to be about ten and a half, and she died back in November of 2009.”

Appearing on “Ask the Governor,” Corbett discussed his dogs, both new and old.  “It’s the largest terrier of the terrier breed.  They’re black and tan.  Right now, as puppies, they look like little black bears,” Corbett said of the Airedales.  “They were messengers in World War I, they’re police dogs in England.  They are great dogs; very loyal,” Corbett explained. 

Airedales are also known as skilled hunters.  “There won’t be any groundhogs at the Governor’s Residence, I can guarantee you that,” Corbett joked.  

(Photo credit: Mary Bloom, copyright AKC)

Bill Would Regulate Non-farm Fertilizer to Improve Water Quality

A state senator who also chairs the Chesapeake Bay Commission has introduced a bill to set limits on non-farm fertilizers in Pennsylvania.    Senator Mike Brubaker’s (R-Lanc) bill would require all professional fertilizer applicators to be certified, setting limits on applications to lawns, golf courses and athletic fields.

Brubaker says the science is perfectly clear, that when you apply the appropriate amount of fertilizer to commercial lawns and residential lawns, then water quality is improved. The goal is to reduce the amount of nitrogen and phosphorous in the water and ultimately the Bay.  He says similar legislation has already been enacted in Maryland and New Jersey.

He says people’s fertilization habits don’t need to change if a soil test shows the turf needs nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. He says SB 1191 is aimed at getting the correct amount applied.

Senator Brubaker says they have been working with the professional lawn care industry in drafting the bill and they’re getting input from golf courses as well.

He says Pennsylvania and other states in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed are under a federal court mandate to reduce the levels of pollution getting into the bay. He believes regulatory changes need to occur in some cases in order to allow the state to meet those limits.

Brubaker says they have to address how turf grass is fertilized, because the number one land use in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed is turf grass, including cemeteries, residential lawns, commercial lawns, golf courses and football fields.

The bill would not apply to farmers, who have been under nutrient management law for decades. It would also not apply to homeowners who are using fertilizer on their lawns.  Senator Brubaker says they will attempt to deal with those residential applications through education.

Amish Population Grows… Especially in New York State

Nationally, the Amish population grew by about 10% over the past two years.  But New York’s growth rate was three times that of any other state.  “Pennsylvania for example… had a growth rate of 7%, in Wisconsin it was 10%, but New York was 31%,” says Don Kraybill, senior fellow in the Young Center for Anabaptist Studies at Elizabethtown College.  “Over the last two years, there have been ten new geographical settlements of Amish that were founded in New York state,” Kraybill adds. 

Why is the Empire State home to such rapid growth in Amish population?  For one, it’s close to the Amish hubs of PA and OH.  Kraybill also tells us that central New York is home to plenty of isolated, rural land.  “In some of those areas, non-Amish farmers are interested in selling their farms or leaving the farms, so it’s possible to purchase farmland at fairly low cost.”   

There are about 261,000 Amish living in 28 states.  “In general the Amish population is on track to double about every 16-years or so,” Kraybill says.  He assures us that Pennsylvania is still the biggest Amish state with about 61,000 adults and children.  Meanwhile, New York has ascended to 5th on that list, due to its recent growth. 

About half of Pennsylvania’s Amish are in the Lancaster settlement.  The other half are scattered across 54-different geographical communities throughout the state.

Capitol View from East Wing

State Reminds Massage Therapists New Licensing Deadline is Approaching

The deadline is approaching for massage therapists to become licensed under the grandfather provision of state law.  The Massage Therapy Law requires anyone practicing the therapy to be licensed.

Existing practitioners’ applications must be approved, not just submitted by December 30th, and turnaround will take some time.  Anyone applying for licensure after the deadline must pass the state examination to become licensed, even if they already have all of the qualifications.

Katie True, Commissioner of the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, says they’re working diligently to get applications processed.  She says people being grandfathered in will have to submit paperwork with their applications.

True says they’ve already have a huge number of applications come in.  They’ve had to put some extra staff on to properly review the paperwork. She says turnaround time can be anywhere from three to four weeks, so she recommends massage therapists start now in gathering their paperwork and submitting their applications.

For more information on licensing requirements, go online to

National Drivers Test

PennDOT to Hold Hearings on 12 Year Plan Update

Pennsylvanians are being asked to share their ideas on highway planning during a series of public hearings to update the state’s 12-year transportation program. The plan is updated every two years and is a “blueprint” of prioritized transportation projects.

PennDOT wants to hear what members of the public, local governments and county governments see as the top needs for transportation in their areas of the state. PennDOT is required by law to conduct the biennial process.

The hearings will be held August 11th in Altoona, August 25th in the Pittsburgh area, August 26th in Gettysburg, September 15th in Shawnee on Delaware, and September 16th in Philadelphia.  Pre-registration is required for those who want to speak at a hearing. People can learn more about the hearings at PennDOT’s website.