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Feds take over city manager's corruption case

Plus, the sum of the Mariner East II pipeline fines.

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A daily newsletter by The logo of Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.
Your Postmaster: Tanisha Thomas

Friday, November 17, 2023
In today's edition: Pipeline fines, federal charges, strike end, encampment lawsuit, prison report, conviction appeal, and a very hated highway. 

Construction of Sunoco's Mariner East II natural gas pipeline has been completed, but not without first drawing at least $42 million in fines for related pollution that occurred across the commonwealth.

Within that total is a $10 million fine to restore private waterways fouled by the project — dubbed "one of the most penalized in state history” by the Associated Press — but Spotlight PA and the News Lab at Penn State report little of the money has flowed toward affected residents.

Read the full report: Companies behind Mariner East II pipeline paid $42 million in pollution fines to Pennsylvania.

THE CONTEXT: Of the $42 million, $32 million comes from penalties levied by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, which fined the builders for drilling fluid leaked into streams, lakes, and private wells.
The rest comes from a $10 million plea agreement brokered with Energy Transfer (which counts Sunoco as a subsidiary) that charged the company with repeat contaminations of waterways, failures to report environmental damage, and the use of unapproved chemicals in drilling fluid. 
Since the agreement was announced, less than 1% of the funds have been distributed, and the attorney general’s office has not disclosed the status of the rest.

So far, $1.8 million of the $10 million has been slated for use by Growing Greener — a DEP program that gives grants to conservation groups — but only $387,786 has been committed to projects and $22,082 of that has been doled out. The rest is mired in government contracting processes.

“I was always very proud to hear that they had gotten a notification ... that they were delaying their trip to visit their grandma, that they were going to start testing, that they were monitoring.”

Emma Sudduth, a senior consultant for the Association of Public Health Laboratories, on the effectiveness of Pennsylvania’s COVID-19 notification app.

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Fall foliage in Derry Township, Dauphin County, via Robert N. Send us your photos by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
trees with red, orange, and brown leaves line up against a white fence along a black trail
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania. FED CHARGES: Federal authorities have arrested and charged Herm Suplizio, the suspended city manager of DuBois, with conspiracy and other crimes, Spotlight PA reports. They allege that he diverted hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars into secret bank accounts, which he then used to underwrite personal vacations, pay his utility bills, buy jewelry, and shop at department stores.
  • RELATED: How Spotlight PA reported its investigation into suspended DuBois City Manager Herm Suplizio, via Spotlight PA

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.

CONTRACT DEAL: Mack Truck workers at a Lehigh Valley plant were among the United Auto Workers members who approved a new contract Wednesday, ending a 39-day strike, the Morning Call (paywall) reports. The contract includes a 19% general wage increase, provides 8.5-hour work shifts, and strengthens accident and sickness protections. The strike began on Oct. 9 after the union rejected an Oct. 1 tentative agreement.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania. HOUSING LAWSUIT: Two organizations have filed a federal lawsuit against Pottstown to prevent the borough from closing a homeless encampment along the Schuylkill River Trail, WHYY reports. A representative from the Community Justice Project, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit, said Pottstown officials must offer alternative housing options before closing the encampment. The borough does not have a year-round shelter for single adults. 

Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania. CONDITIONS REPORT: The troubled Dauphin County Prison needs to develop better policies, hold consistent staff training, and hire more middle management, a former state official said in a report this week. PennLive reports ex-Corrections Secretary John Wetzel’s firm, Phronema Justice Strategies, was hired to review the prison’s operations following a spike in inmate deaths and violent incidents. 

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.CONVICTION APPEAL: A suspended district attorney convicted of attacking a woman is seeking a reduced sentence or acquittal, claiming “credibility issues” with the victim and an “inconsistent” verdict from the jury, the Tribune-Democrat reports. An attorney for Jeffrey Thomas, who was sentenced to up to seven years in prison, said the motions are a precursor to an appeal to Superior Court.
🏆 NEWS QUIZ: If you've been paying attention to the news, test your powers of cognition with the latest Great PA News Quiz: Legal pot next door, Biden family subpoenas, and Black Friday origins.
ROUGH ROAD: Pittsburgh officials foresee potential financial hardship in the city’s future and are planning to cut spending on items like street paving. PublicSource breaks down the city’s proposed budget for 2024 and beyond.  

DOG DAYS: A State Police dog who helped search for escaped prisoner Danelo Cavalcante will be honored at this year’s National Dog Show in Philadelphia, ABC27 reports. 

MARATHON GUIDE: The Philadelphia Marathon is this Sunday. The Inquirer (paywall) put together a handy guide on the best places to spectate or to avoid the race. 

TURNPIKE HATE: A recent survey found the Pennsylvania Turnpike is one of the most hated highways in the United States, CBS Philadelphia reports. The turnpike ranked at No. 4 on the list.

ICON EXHIBIT: Northampton County’s Martin Guitar Museum revealed a new exhibit this week called “Joan Baez: Musician & Artist,” Lehigh Valley Live reports. It looks at the folk icon’s six-decade-long career.
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