Some 2023 News Will Continue To Make Headlines In 2024 – Jamestown Post Journal

Jan 1, 2024
A groundbreaking took place in Bemus Point last June, symbolizing the start of the reconstruction of the Chautauqua County Veterans Memorial Bridge. P-J photo by Gregory Bacon
Several stories that resonated with readers this year don’t fit into any easy category — but that doesn’t mean they won’t be making news as the year continues.
One such story was the news that regulations requiring state-conducted background checks for gun and ammunition buyers had kept Sheriff James Quattrone from buying ammunition for a September fundraiser.
“On Sept. 22, I attempted to purchase two boxes of shotgun shells at a local sports store,” Quattrone told The Post-Journal. “These shells were to be used at a trap/skeet shoot that I was sponsoring to raise funds for a new nonprofit organization.”
Under the state’s Concealed Carry Improvement Act that went into effect Sept. 13, Quattrone’s background check approval wasn’t given until after the fundraiser ended.
“Previous to the new practice of background checks for ammunition, I would have been able to purchase ammunition from the club where the shoot was held,” the sheriff said. “Due to the new regulation, clubs are not selling the ammunition. There have been attempts to get clarity for the clubs regarding selling ammunition for use during the events and practices but we have received conflicting information. The clubs are widely choosing to err on the side of caution and not sell until a definite decision is made.”
The law has been the subject of several legal challenges, though much of the law has been upheld in federal court challenges. Earlier this month, the federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled a provision in the law requiring concealed carry permit applicants to disclose their social media accounts is unconstitutional as well as striking parts of the law that ban gun possession by default on private property and in places of worship. The rest of the law, thus far, has been upheld though challenges will continue to be heard throughout the year.
PA. COAL PLANT CLOSES
Post-Journal readers were also interested in a report earlier this year that Pennsylvania’s largest coal-fired power plant would shut down. Decommissioning at the Homer City Power Plant, 50 miles east of Pittsburgh, began July 1 – a move that reverberated in New York state because New York was importing power from Homer City to keep its electric grid operating smoothly as New York embarks on the transition to an all-renewable electric grid.
Homer City has been in operation since 1969 and could power up to 2 million homes at capacity. However, energy production hasn’t been so strong in recent years. It ran at less than half-capacity since 2015, and only at 20% capacity in 2022.
The plant had financial struggles for years. In 2017, it went through a bankruptcy reorganization that eliminated $600 million in debt. In its annual reports to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission as far back as 2010, company officials warned of its market vulnerability.
The Homer City plant’s closure caught the attention of state Sen. George Borrello, R-Sunset Bay, who had spoken several times on the Senate floor over the past several years about New York’s reliance on power generated from the Pennsylvania facility. The issues are particularly acute in the New York City region, which the New York Independent System Operator has warned could see power shortages starting in 2025 if renewable energy projects aren’t completed on time and if coal peaker plants that provide power when needed are taken offline.
“On a hot summer day, we import a lot more power from outside of New York State just to meet the demand, so this is going to definitely have an impact, especially because they somehow think that they are going to replace that much of power with renewable energy, which is likely an impossibility,” he said. “My understanding is for the moment, we can meet the demand, but in the long term as New York continues to shift away from reliable forms of energy, we’re going to have a real problem without Homer City as a backup.”
LUTHERAN NURSING HOME CLOSURE
The late fall brought news that Lutheran Social Services is closing its nursing home and rehabilitation program in Jamestown by the beginning of 2024. Forty-nine residents and 106 positions will be impacted.
“It is with great sadness that the Lutheran Board of Directors and administration have decided that it is necessary to close this great community resource,” Tom Holt, Lutheran president and CEO, said in a statement. “Lutheran is currently working with the New York State Department of Health to ensure that this transition is as smooth as possible. Our top priority is to work with every resident, their families and our valued employees, to secure new housing options, care and job placement.”
Full- and part-time employees, as well as those considered per diem, will be impacted by the upcoming closures of the 715 Falconer St. nursing home and rehabilitation program, Lutheran announced. Notice was filed with the state Department of Health and includes the permanent shuttering of Warner Place Adult Day Care, a program discontinued during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pending the discharge of its last resident, Lutheran said the closings will take place Jan. 2, 2024, if not sooner. In a news release, the organization said the decision will not impact current housing and care at Hultquist Place Assisted Living or Edgewood Communities, both also located in Jamestown.
At present, Lutheran said the number of certified skilled nursing beds in Chautauqua County far exceeds the number of residents; at present, Lutheran has 148 beds for its nursing home and rehabilitation program located in the city.
Lutheran pointed to federal and state regulatory burdens, decreasing Medicaid reimbursement rates, escalating delivery costs, a shrinking skilled health care workforce and the current incentives to have elders and those requiring medical rehabilitation to remain at home for care.
“We know this decision is coming as a surprise to many but we are dealing with harsh industry realities,” Holt said. “Hard decisions have to be made to keep the other county-wide facilities viable financially. There just aren’t enough people, both residents and staff, to keep all the facilities open, providing optimum levels of care. We can’t be three years down the road, not paying our bills and be financially insoluble where it negatively impacts the other programs under the Lutheran senior housing umbrella.”
Regarding occupancy rates, Lutheran said local skilled nursing facilities have been running at an average 65%. The occupancy rate, the organization said, is significantly lower than the “optimum” 90-95% that is needed to maintain financial sustainability.
VETERANS MEMORIAL BRIDGE FACELIFT
For years the Veterans Memorial Bridge across Chautauqua Lake has fulfilled its purpose as a key piece of transportation infrastructure in southern Chautauqua County with only routine maintenance. It was news of interest, then, for readers when it was announced the bridge will receive $78 million of rehabilitation work starting this year and continuing into 2026.
Marie Therese-Dominguez, state Department of Transportation commissioner, was in attendance locally earlier this year to announce the project, which is expected to begin this summer and take four years to complete. Therese-Dominguez noted that the project includes work on the four separate structures that make up the bridge.
“It’s going to enhance safety, it’s going to ease travel and it going to extend the service life of these bridges by another 40 years,” she said.
Therese-Dominguez said as part of the project they will be addressing the 4,000-foot main bridge that crosses Chautauqua Lake, and the two 500-foot-long bridge structures that split off on the eastern end of the main bridge.
“These are going to receive new concrete bridge decks, bridge barriers, bearings, and steel repairs,” she said.
The fourth bridge structure that carries the westbound Southern Tier Expressway ramps to Route 430 will also be resurfaced and receive new bridge joints.
Therese-Dominguez said the initial work will focus on creating crossover lanes to move traffic during future phases. The plans are for one lane of traffic in each direction to be maintained during the bulk work of construction. There will be occasional overnight bridge closures that will occur as well.
“It’s going to take a lot of patience but in the end I think it’s going to be well worth it,” she said.
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