It was a monumental year for news in Beaver County, and reporters at The Times worked tirelessly to tell those stories.
Here’s our list of most influential Beaver County-centered stories in 2022, and what non-subscribers may have missed this year.
Shell’s ethane cracker plant goes online
The oil and gas giant hit a number of salient milestones throughout 2022, ending the year with news that operators at the multi-billion-dollar petrochemical complex had finally started producing plastic pellets after more than a decade of lobbying, planning, building and commissioning.
The complex will convert natural gas into polyethylene used in plastics manufacturing. It’s expected to produce up to 1.6 million tons of polyethylene each year to make products like flexible food packaging, toys, crates, shampoo bottles and milk cartons.
Construction of what was among the largest building projects in the nation wrapped up in early September, with operations beginning by mid-November. Construction began in November 2017 and stopped only briefly for a COVID-related pause.
While nearby residents become accustomed to a change in scenery — the plant’s gas flares routinely lace the horizon with an eerie ginger glow — other lifelong homeowners have fled, fearing more industrialization. Many patiently await the economic gains promised by lawmakers who supported the company’s move to Beaver County.
Pittsburgh bridge collapse prompts closer look at deteriorating bridges
The Fern Hollow Bridge collapse near Pittsburgh’s Frick Park in January highlighted Pennsylvania’s 3,300 other structurally deficient bridges.
President Joe Biden visited the site alongside lawmakers and figureheads, stressing the role his $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill will play in preventing similar disasters.
In the aftermath of the collapse, The Times found dozens of Beaver County bridges listed in poor condition like the ill-fated Pittsburgh bridge. More than 11% of Beaver County’s 398 state and locally owned bridges were considered to be in poor condition by Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation.
Among those considered structurally deficient in Beaver County is the Route 18 bridge over Raccoon Creek in Potter Township, first built in 1932 and rehabilitated in 1977. Just down the street from Shell’s ethane cracker plant, the structure sits in the midst of a major industrial hub ― expected to facilitate as many as 9,000 vehicles daily in the coming decades. PennDOT plans to begin replacing the steel truss bridge in 2023.
Rochester borough officials spar; mayor charged following altercation
An ongoing dispute between Rochester Mayor Keith Jackson and borough officials came to a head in September when Jackson was charged with assault after an altercation at a council meeting allegedly turned physical.
Jackson for years has maintained that his role as an elected official has been impeded by his colleagues, with council members and law enforcement claiming Jackson aims to overstep his authority. Rochester Council in 2021 passed a resolution requiring a third person to be present at meetings between Jackson and other borough officials, adding a roadblock to his daily duties.
Jackson in September was charged with two counts each of simple assault, disorderly conduct and harassment with physical contact after Beaver County detectives said he physically threatened and “bumped his chest” against Rochester Manager John Barrett during a heated argument. Council members were debating the role of retired police chief Frank Mercier, who plans to remain on staff as a borough code enforcement officer.
Competing San Rocco Festas cause stir
Mired in a yearslong leadership and money dispute, members of the now-splintered San Rocco Foundation and San Rocco Cultural Committee held dueling festivals in August. The competing Italian events took place on the same dates with similar attractions, but in different locations.
The Cultural Committee’s event was held near the Beaver Valley Mall, while the Foundation’s was held at St. Frances Cabrini Campus of Mary, Queen of Saints Parish.
Members of the San Rocco Foundation filed a motion in Beaver County Court asking a judge to give the Foundation access to financial records and festival-related equipment ahead of the group’s planned San Rocco Festa, but the judge ultimately denied the motion.
Both the San Rocco Cultural Committee and San Rocco Foundation events planned a traditional procession through the streets of Aliquippa following that weekend’s Sunday Mass at St. Titus Church in Aliquippa, although Committee members canceled their participation in the procession last minute, citing safety concerns.
Wanda Solomon released from prison
Wanda Solomon, the Beaver Falls woman released and quickly sent back to prison in 2019 due to a Bureau of Prisons oversight, was released this year.
Just a month after qualifying for a Trump-era early release program, Solomon was sent back to prison for years-old incidents unrelated to her original sentencing charge. Advocates said Solomon’s situation is evidence of larger systemic problems that demand prison reform.
For more than two years, Solomon had appealed the Bureau of Prisons’ decision to send her back into custody. It wasn’t until February 2022 that Solomon learned she was eligible for early release due to her FSA Time Credits, which, under the First Step Act, allow nonviolent inmates who complete specific programming while incarcerated to have time knocked off their sentence.
After more than 16 years of incarceration, she was sent home earlier this year. Now, she faces new challenges not unfamiliar to other formerly incarcerated people, including post-traumatic stress disorder. She’s terrified a minor slip-up, like arriving late to an appointment due to traffic or a misunderstanding at a grocery store, may strip her of her newfound freedom.
Beaver County rallies for abortion rights, gun reform
Hundreds of protesters, including Beaver Countians, stood on the steps of Pittsburgh’s City-County Building in June to publicly mourn and lambaste the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to reverse 1973’s landmark Roe v. Wade and dismantle federally protected abortion rights. The rally included remarks from western Pennsylvania leaders who shared both anger and calls to action.
Full story:Western Pa. reacts to Roe v. Wade decision
Also in June. and just weeks after an 18-year-old man slaughtered 19 children and two teachers with an AR-15-style rifle at a Texas elementary school, local residents, politicians and activists honored the victims and demanded stricter gun laws at a March For Our Lives rally in Beaver. Among the demonstrators were local students who shared the trauma of enduring regular active shooter drills and questioning their safety in the classroom.
Officer on leave following Industry man’s death
A Center Township police officer was placed on administrative leave as Pennsylvania State Police investigated his role in the November death of 48-year-old Ken Vinyard.
Witnesses say Vinyard was killed by an off-duty police officer while helping a shooting victim in the parking lot of Center Township’s Walmart Plaza. Attorney Joel Sansone, the lawyer representing Vinyard’s family, said Vinyard was killed after the plainclothes officer forced him to the ground unprompted, causing him to hit his head.
He died at a Beaver County hospital shortly after. Sansone said witnesses have identified the officer as John Hawk of the Center Township Police Department. No formal charges have yet been filed under this name.
Aliquippa wins PIAA appeal to remain in Class 4A
The PIAA in January approved Aliquippa High School’s second appeal regarding the PIAA moving the Quips’ football program up from Class 4A to 5A. Aliquippa remained in Class 4A this fall.
The PIAA’s competitive-balance rule was the basis behind the PIAA’s attempt to force Aliquippa up one classification. Beginning a few years ago, the PIAA implemented the rule to prevent teams from dominating their respective classifications with several transfer students. If a team accumulates six or more “success points” — making a PIAA title game appearance earns a team four such points — and has at least three transfer students over a two-year span, it will be moved up one classification.
Aliquippa’s leadership said the move would have created legitimate safety threats to the Quips’ players.
Entertainment heats up in the Beaver Valley
In movies, a film crew for “The Pale Blue Eye” spent parts of January at Old Economy Village in Ambridge capturing footage for the 1830s-set Netflix film starring Oscar-winner Christian Bale and Gillian Anderson.
The makers of “The Deliverance,” a thriller directed by Lee Daniels, shot a dialogue-heavy scene with actress Aunjanue Ellis at the McDonald’s off the Center exit of Interstate 376 in August.
Crews for “A Man Called Otto,” starring Tom Hanks, filmed scenes along Merchant Street in Ambridge in March.
And Joanie Sprague, formerly of Patterson Township, joined forces with New Brighton designer Christy Miller on a new Outdoor Channel show, “Renovation Hunters,” which will air nationally in 2023 on Outdoor Channel.
In local music, Joe Munroe, of Center Township, played keyboards with the Ghost Hounds on their European stadium tour with the Rolling Stones this year, and The Allegheny High band backed Charles Wesley Godwin on a massive U.S. tour for sold-out Zach Bryan shows.
Franklin Township teen Morgan Gruber dazzled national audiences on “American Idol,” making it through two highly competitive Hollywood rounds of the iconic ABC program and just short of the Final-24, where viewers decide who goes further.
Gruber’s career appears to have already taken off thanks to the visibility. She’s been spotted performing at local venues, and hopes to move to Nashville to continue her musical pursuits.
Bruce Mansfield gets new owner; Bitcoin company sets up shop near ATI
Company buys Bruce Mansfield plant with plans for redevelopment
New owners of Beaver County’s idled Bruce Mansfield facility plan to repurpose what was once Pennsylvania’s largest coal-fired power plant. Check out the story at https://presto-suite-story-editor.gannettdigital.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=104530&action=edit.
Doral Chenoweth, Beaver County Times
New owners of Beaver County’s idled Bruce Mansfield facility plan to repurpose what was once Pennsylvania’s largest coal-fired power plant. Representatives with Buffalo, New York-based Frontier Group of Companies announced the development firm purchased Shippingport’s former 2,490-megawatt plant from Energy Harbor alongside a second retired coal plant in Ashtabula, Ohio.
Leadership said the defunct plant may eventually be used to house “petrochemical, steel, energy, digital currency or transportation logistics-related companies.”
Meanwhile, an Australia-based company specializing in cryptocurrency mining started developing a 100-megawatt Bitcoin mining center near a former Beaver County steel shop. Mawson Infrastructure Group, a Sydney-based digital infrastructure company, is leasing 6 acres of property on the west side of Allegheny Technologies Inc.’s idled melt shop in Midland to build a mobile data center for Bitcoin mining.