Portage Township supervisors clam up on Amfire complaints

PORTAGE – The topic of Amfire Mining Co. has been discussed at length at recent Portage Township meetings.

But as supervisors continue talks with company officials to solve problems with speeding and coal dust, they want to be saying less in public meetings.

Under the advice of solicitor Calvin J. Webb, the supervisors will not be addressing as many residents’ comments or questions during meetings, Chairman Bill Cooper said as he read from a prepared statement.

Supervisor Richard Olshavsky said the board has been open during discussions and willing to discuss complaints, but supervisors need to be careful.

“We can’t say a whole lot more, on any legal issue,” he said.

Murmurs rippled across the meeting room, with the 20 or so residents in attendance seemingly unsettled by the announcement.

Shoemaker Circle resident Renee Maul said with supervisors’ salaries paid with taxpayer dollars, it is their duty to talk with the people and update them on any progress with the company.

Olshavsky said the board is limited because their comments may be used against them should someone decide to sue the township.

“We’ve been instructed to say, ‘We’ve been working on a better solution,'” he said.

Some Shoemaker residents also were hoping for an update on a road feasibility study set to be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, but Cooper said an unforeseen conflict of interest has delayed the study’s release.

Solicitor Webb’s firm has worked with Amfire before on another legal issue, Cooper said, and has recused himself.

In order to complete the study for public release, supervisors voted unanimously to hire Hollidaysburg-based attorney Nathan Karn as special counsel to handle Amfire issues, at a $150 hourly rate.