November 14, 2019

Helicopter, K9 search for Chelsea Bruck

FLAT ROCK, Mich. –

On Monday morning the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department, with help from the Michigan State Police, continued looking for clues to where Chelsea Bruck may be.

Bruck, 22, disappeared after a Halloween party in October 2014. She was wearing a Poison Ivy costume; a costume just like it was found near an abandoned building in Flat Rock on Sunday.

A state police helicopter and K9 team spent hours searching the area on Monday. Police did not say if anything else was found, but did say that search was just one part of their investigation. So far, they have followed up on 650 tips, some of which led to them utilize dive teams to search.

Meanwhile, residents and volunteers started lining the streets, hoping to help.

“We were coming out here to see if they’d let us help, just to see what we could do,” said Jessica Derry.

One man found a cellphone that was turned into police, and a volunteer search crew found what could have been another part of her costume.

Unfortunately, detectives said it was not.

“This case has gone on way too long,” said searcher Dawn Nartker. “This is a small community and it’s important to all of us.”

DNA testing will determine if the costume found is actually Bruck’s, but the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department cautions that although Monday’s search was extensive, it does not necessarily mean they are close to finding Chelsea.

Chelsea’s sister, Kassie Bruck, said after nearly 6 months they’re extremely grateful investigators are still working as hard as they are.

“We were afraid they would stop looking months ago,” Kassie said. “So actually the fact that we’re at 5 ½ months and still having these searches and (they’re) going on leads, it’s not a concern that they’ll stop.”

Despite that, nearly 6 months after her disappearance, Chelsea’s family just wants an answer.

“Easter was very hard,” said Kassie. “I was frustrated. You get angry, but today I’m a little more positive and I’m feeling a little better about the situation. It changes every day.”

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Helicopter, K9 search for Chelsea Bruck

New clue in missing Chelsea Bruck case?

FLAT ROCK, Mich. –

Police said they may have a new clue in the disappearance of 22-year-old Chelsea Bruck, the woman who was last seen at a Halloween party in Frenchtown Township.

Bruck went to the party dressed as the character Poison Ivy. Police said they found what they believe to be a portion of that costume Sunday evening in the area of Peters Road and Vreeland in Flat Rock.

While no other details have been released, police said they are now trying to determine whether the findings are connected to Bruck’s disappearance.

Police have received hundreds of tips since Bruck vanished. Two people have been charged with lying to investigators about the case.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department said in March that there was no evidence that Bruck was hurt or killed, but her Oct. 26 disappearance prompted searches in Michigan, Ohio and Indiana.

Stay with Local 4 News and ClickOnDetroit.com for updates on this story.

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New clue in missing Chelsea Bruck case?

HOLMBERG: Gay homeless man’s decapitation murder 16 years later

RICHMOND, Va. –It was one of the most bizarre and grim murders in Richmond history. It remains unsolved after nearly 16 years. Also unresolved – was it one of the state’s worst hate crimes ever?

Three young people heading down to the James River Park’s Northbank on March 1, 1999 came across a man’s decapitated head sitting straight up on the concrete floor of the park’s pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks.

Killed was 39-year-old Henry Edward Northington, a Navy veteran and wanderer who was painfully estranged from part of his family because of his sexuality.

His head was on a walkway often frequented by cruising gays heading down to the park, which was what raised concern about it being a hate crime.

murdered man

“It was overkill, it really was,” recalled “Eddie’s” sister, Dianna Sharp. “Something that happened like that is very personal. And where they left him was a message.”

The Richmond Police Department’s top brass initially made sounds about it being a possible hate crime, but quickly backed down as the national media took notice. Their reason: How could they call it a hate crime without a suspect or a motive?

Ed Northington was beaten to death, according to his autopsy report. His body was found near a rough homeless camp known as “the tubes” or “the barrels” that I believe he was staying in at the time. His face was beaten and cut, but the most devastating wound was a huge crush injury to the side of his body – like someone smashed him with a boulder.

Dianna said she’s come to realize that it’s quite possible her brother’s killer or killers might never be found.

It’s absolutely heartbreaking to her, this gruesome murder of her older brother who had risked losing his place in his family “to be himself.”

“I truly believe Eddie led the way because he knew I was coming that way, too,” Dianna said.

She finds herself wishing she could tell her brother about her daughter’s success in high school. About how they lost their mom several years ago.

And about how they laws changed so she could marry her wife.

“I have to realize I can’t physically tell him that,” she said, adding that she wonders if Eddie would be happier in these times of much more widespread acceptance.

Ed Northington had a tough life, fraught with depression and alcohol. His life was perhaps nearly as tortured as his death.

And his killer is still out there. “It could be anybody,” Dianna said. “To think they did that to my brother . . . “

I did a lot of reporting on the case at the time and in the years after. Given the unusual nature of the crime, that it covered such a large area and that Northington had more than a few known associates, it seemed there should be a way to solve it.

Anyone with information about the case or Ed Northington’s path the last months of his life, please contact the Richmond police detective division, or me.

Here’s a detailed report about the case I wrote for The Richmond Times-Dispatch more than a decade ago.


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Richmond Times-Dispatch, March 14, 2004

Author: Mark Holmberg; Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

Five years have passed since Henry Edward Northington’s severed head was found carefully placed on a footbridge leading to James River Park on the north side of the river – a spot known at the time for homosexual trysting.

“There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think of him,” said his sister, Dianna Sharp. “I don’t want him to be forgotten. Maybe one day somebody will say, ‘I did see something or hear something.’ ”

Until then, she said, she and other family members will feel “like we’re suspended in air.”

The crime, discovered March 1, 1999, remains unsolved. It particularly stunned those in the gay and homeless communities, and is still felt by those in the danger zone.

“I know why he was killed,” Peter Graham said last Sunday as he basked in the sun and sipped discount beer with his homeless friends in Monroe Park. “He was gay.”

Graham, his broken-off teeth visible behind his thick, gray beard, said he’s gay, too, although he’s no longer homeless thanks to a $25-a-month subsidized apartment. He said he has felt the sting of a knife blade and knows of others in the homeless world here who have been killed for their sexuality. Not too long ago, he said, a killer ended the life of a Richmond resident known for picking up homeless men in the park, feeding them and giving them a place to stay so he could have sex with them.

And just last month, the naked body of 43-year-old Robert J. Connelly Jr. was found in an outside stairwell by schoolchildren at Carver Elementary School. Connelly was known in the gay community and frequented the same clubs Northington was often thrown out of for rude behavior. The evening before Connelly was found dead, he had briefly visited Godfrey’s on East Grace Street – in a highly inebriated state, said club owner Jeff Willis.

But it was the nature of Northington’s demise that was particularly haunting. It was reported across the country, in part because it came so soon after the death of Matthew Shepard, the young gay man who died in Wyoming after being beaten and tied to a fence.

According to Northington’s autopsy report, the 39-year-old drifter died from an “acute crush injury to chest and abdomen” that shattered numerous ribs, the broken ends lacerating his lungs, diaphragm and spleen.

He apparently had been staying at “the tubes,” a hardscrabble homeless site upriver from Hollywood Cemetery anchored by twin drainage tunnels that serve as sleeping shelters. The area is covered with large stones and boulders, one of which could have been thrown on top of Northington to produce his fatal injury.

His killer or killers then cut off his head between the third and fourth cervical vertebrae, leaving “hack marks at the edges consistent with a sharp instrument such as a knife,” according to the autopsy report.

Northington’s clothed body was thrown into the James River. And then someone carried the head several hundred yards through the woods and up the 70-odd steps to the pedestrian bridge. The head, perched upright, was found by three people out walking early the next morning.

“It was a very beautiful morning,” recalled Natalya, a native of Russia who asked that her last name not be published. When they saw the head sitting there, “I thought it was somebody joking. It didn’t look real at all.

“We walked to Maymont Park, talked to security. They walked back with us . . . confirmed it was a human head. That’s when I started shaking.

“I think about it sometimes,” she said when reached by phone last weekend. She has kept news articles about it because when she tells friends about it, “they don’t believe me.”

Northington was HIV-positive, according to the autopsy report and his family. He also had hepatitis, the report states. He suffered from alcoholism and depression and was prescribed Librium, along with medications to combat the AIDS virus.

His autopsy report tells part of the misery that had accompanied his walk through life.

But there were two Eddie Northingtons, say those who knew him. Sober, he was an introspective and highly intelligent loner, a natural scholar and avid reader of science fiction who played the saxophone and piano beautifully. Workers at homeless shelters remember his deft piano playing and genteel spirit.

“He was my hero, he really was,” Sharp said. “A lot of the problems I had, if I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone [about them], I could talk to Eddie.”

She was 10 years younger than her brother and enjoyed his humorous, and sometimes silly, spirit.

“He’d go around saying, ‘It ain’t easy being cheesy,’ ” she said. She recalled him building a campfire at Lake Gaston out of sticks covered with poison ivy. “Everybody got poison oak or poison ivy.”

Her brother seemed so wise, she said. “I really valued his opinions on things. He never had to study for anything. Knowledge came to Eddie. He could have been anything.”

Then again, Sharp said, “he could be a tailhole when he was drinking.”

In Richmond, Northington alienated a lot of people because of his drunken behavior. He would act irrationally, bursting into tears or interrupting the conversation of strangers, said those who encountered him. He could be pushy sexually in the gay clubs he visited and was thrown out frequently. He was barred from at least two establishments, club owners have said.

“Unfortunately, he wasn’t a well-liked person” in the gay community, said Willis, who previously served as bartender and manager at Christopher’s.

Sharp said even though she and other family members loved him, “Eddie was always looking for acceptance. I don’t think he really got it up until the day he got murdered.”

When Northington returned home from a stint in the Navy, he told his family he was gay.

“I’ll never forget when he told me,” Sharp said. “I was in the eighth grade. We were sitting up one night talking.”

She said she didn’t have any problem with it, but “I think that was a real blow for my dad, a real disappointment. It’s a guy thing. That may sound sexist, but it really was.”

At the time, “nobody understood it, everyone tried to hide it.

“He was always sort of like a loner, you know,” Sharp added. Faced with what he felt was rejection, she said, he drifted more deeply into depression and alcoholism, and then homelessness.

Sharp said she thinks her brother came to operate on the premise that “if nobody wants to love me for who I am, I’ll just be myself.”

“When he found out he was HIV-positive, Eddie was more self-conscious about that than anybody else.”

She remembers when he injured his arm at Lake Gaston, near where he lived at times, and she had to change his bandages.

“He’d say, ‘Diana, make sure you put some gloves on.’ He really walked on eggshells so no one else would suffer what he might wind up suffering.”

The past five years have been hard for the family. Dianna and Eddie’s grandmother died, among other relatives. And their father suffered a stroke in his brain stem last year.

And the murder remains a fresh wound.

“Five years is a long time,” Sharp said, “but it still feels like it just happened.

“I’ve gotten over the mad part of it. I feel sorry for” whoever did it.

But not her mother.

“I’m at the point where I get real mad about it,” Dorothy Webb said last weekend of the lack of a resolution. “It’s definitely a hate crime. They don’t want to admit that – Richmond doesn’t have that kind of thing.” She believes the U.S. Justice Department should be involved.

Richmond police investigators have said from the start that they don’t have enough information to classify the homicide as a hate crime, or to rule bias out as a motive. It remains unclear whether Northington’s sexuality or his homeless state played any role in his demise.

There have been no new developments in the case, Richmond police reported Friday. A suspect who may know something about the slaying is in a New York prison for an unrelated crime, but he won’t cooperate with investigators. “We can’t do enough with it right now to make a case,” said Richmond cold-case Detective Thomas Leonard.

“I have tried everything I know to do,” Webb said. “There’s not enough to put together for [airing on ‘America’s] Most Wanted.’ I tried to get a hold of Matthew Shepard’s mother” but couldn’t.

“Someday, sometime, somebody will pay for it,” Webb said.

She said she misses her son, and it hurts knowing that he’ll never come back. But there’s some small consolation that he didn’t have to suffer and die from AIDS, and that his other struggles are over.

“Whatever problems he had,” Webb said, “he doesn’t have to deal with them any more.”

“You have regrets,” Sharp said. “If you knew a person wasn’t going to be here tomorrow, you’d want to tell them everything you wanted to say to them today.

“A lot of things were left unsaid,” she added. “If I could just see him for five minutes, I’d tell him I love him and hug him.”



HOLMBERG: Gay homeless man’s decapitation murder 16 years later

'Gotham': What to Read Over the Holiday Hiatus

Gotham might be off the air until Jan. 5, but devotees of the Fox series don’t have to find themselves bereft of James Gordon, Renee Montoya or Selina Kyle until then. With more than 75 years of Batman comic book material to draw on, The Hollywood Reporter has come up with a list of recommended reading for you to spend the next few weeks digging through, with enough Falcone crime family and GCPD drama to tide you over until the new year.

Batman: Earth One

In many ways the motherlode when it comes to inspiration for the show, Batman: Earth One not only features a badass Alfred Pennyworth that Sean Pertwee would be proud of, but it also centers around the growing friendship between Jim Gordon, newly arrived in Gotham City, and Harvey Bullock, who settled into corrupt, slovenly ways some time ago. As the title suggests, Batman is in here as well, but otherwise this is pretty close to Gotham as you see it on a weekly basis.

Available in digital and print format.

Batman: The Long Halloween

For those who enjoy the crime family element of the series, this year-long story (written by Jeph Loeb, current head of Marvel Studios’ TV division) should be a destination. It takes place early in Batman’s career, when the Dark Knight works with Gordon and a pre-Two-Face Harvey Dent to prevent a crime war between the Maroni and Falcone families. Featuring a who’s-who of Bat bad guys — including Scarecrow, Poison Ivy and the Joker — this might offer some closure if you’ve been waiting for all-out crime family showdown on the show.

Available in digital and print format; also available as Batman: The Long Halloween Nos. 1-13 digitally.

Gotham Central Book 1: In the Line of Duty

If the police procedural aspect of the show is what turns your crank, then the entire Gotham Central series is a must for you, starting with In the Line of Duty. The series centers around two shifts in the Gotham City Police Department, with the show’s Bullock, Montoya and Allen playing substantial roles as the cops — nowhere near as corrupt as the ones in the show — and dealing with cases from the everyday to the super-powered. Think Law & Order but with costumed perps, and you’re halfway there. It’s a wonderful series, and highly recommended.

Available in digital and print format; also available as Gotham Central Nos. 1-10 digitally.

Catwoman Vol. 2: No Easy Way Down

While the childhood of Selina Kyle is one that’s been left relatively unexplored in the comic books, this collection of Ed Brubaker’s career-defining run on the character offers up enough drama to fulfill the expectations of any Selina fan from the show. As another plus, this collection sees her up against Roman Sionis, aka Black Mask, from the show’s “The Mask” episode.

Available in digital and print format; also available as Catwoman (2002-2008) Nos. 10-24 and Catwoman Secret Files No. 1 digitally.

Gotham Academy

A wild card choice, this current comic series is a young adult-focused, set in a prep school (partly funded by Bruce Wayne) that centers on a group of students and their potentially haunted surroundings. Beyond just being a good read, what might make this worthwhile for Gotham fans is the fact that the series is increasingly delving into the background of the Cobblepot family, suggesting that they have roots that go back to the very beginning of Gotham City itself. Who knew that Oswald’s family had such social standing…?

Available in digital and print format.

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'Gotham': What to Read Over the Holiday Hiatus

The Faces of FOX's Gotham: Children of Gotham

Gotham is still on winter break and our Mondays are a bit more boring right now. As you may or may not know, each week, we’ve been taking look at characters from this large cast and deciding what works and doesn’t work on the FOX series. So far, we’ve covered those who work for the Gotham City Police Department and the crime syndicate of Gotham.

Like many folks that live their whole lives in New York City or Chicago, when you are born into a bustling metropolis, like Gotham, it’s a place you’re going to set down your roots and stay in you’re whole life, so it makes sense to see so many beloved Batman characters as younger versions of themselves in this show.

This week, we’re taking a look at one of the most polarizing parts of this show: the kids. Some people love how they’re included in the show and other side of the coin really isn’t into what’s happening with how the kids are included in the show. Let’s get down to business and find out about all these kids.

Bruce Wayne

Spoiler alert! This little kid is going to become Batman. A young Bruce Wayne saw his parent’s murdered right before his eyes and it changed him from a stuck-up, spoiled child to a stuck-up, spoiled child with a passion for solving crimes. Jokes aside, this junior detective is in a transitional phase where he’s thrusted into adulthood and almost forcing himself to grow up too quick. David Mazouz plays the role of the famed Bruce Wayne.

What’s Working: David Mazouz actually does a really good job with what he has to work with. He’s great in his scenes and fantastic with showing emotion. You know, that thing called acting. He comes of as natural. The moments where Bruce learns about the world are exciting to watch.

What’s Not: The focus of this show went from the cops and crimes in Gotham to “what’s Bruce Wayne up to this week?” The problem has nothing to do with David Mazouz and everything to deal with how unfocused the show can feel at times. His character can be an unbearable as the creative team forces the character onto the screen, week after week.

Conclusion: Sometimes, Bruce is a great edition to each episodes, but sometimes, it feels like the writers threw him on the show just to throw him on the show. The latter half of the season, before the winter break, lots of people warmed up to him.

Selina “Kat” Kyle

Selina Kyle is the girl that grows into the woman Catwoman, Batman’s on-again, off-again, criminal lover. Carmen Bicondova plays the young Selina, who prefers to be called “Cat” or “Kat” by the way. Kat was the only witness, aside from Bruce, to the murder of Martha and Thomas Wayne, in that dark alley. She also spends a lot of time showing Bruce what the real Gotham city is like, which apparently isn’t as scary as you’d think.

What’s Working: Although I was really against Kyle being a witness to the murder, it did lead to some interesting stories for the show. Sadly, that’s about it.

What’s Not: She’s poorly written and forced into almost every episode as to scream to the viewer “Hey! I exist.” I feel bad for the young Carmen Bicondova because the character is bi-polar and all over the place, like seven different people had a hand in her dialogue. It’s like they don’t know what to do with her but demand she be a part of every episode.

Conclusion: I really want to like the character, but she’s directionless and doesn’t really offer the audience anything new. Sure, the more recent episode, where her and Bruce visited the underground, gave viewers insight into some of the underworld, but aside from that, the aren’t writing the character strong enough to pull this much screentime.

Thomas Elliot

Cole Vallis has the job of playing Thomas Elliot, in one episode so far. For those who are unfamiliar with the character, in the comics, he was a friend of Bruce Wayne’s who became a bit obsessed with him. Elliot ended up killing his parents, to be an orphan like Bruce, and a bit later down the road, Elliot became the villain Hush. On Gotham, Elliot is a big jerk bully that can’t stop reminding Bruce his parents are dead. Eventually, Bruce confronts him and give him a couple of right hooks.

What’s Working: He’s only in one episode so far, and the scenes of him were more of a wink and a nudge to fans. However, we do get to see Bruce come up against adversity that he can actually handle and control.

What’s Not: Some folks are not happy with the change of Thomas being a bully right off the bat. They want him to be Bruce’s friend. Personally, I don’t care. It works.

Conclusion: Elliot’s appearance on the show was short but sweet. He was really here to move forward Bruce as a character. Technically, it could have been any character with and name, but it was cool to see Elliot. Here’s to hoping we get to see him a bit more.

Ivy Pepper

Clare Foley plays Ivy Pepper, who will be in 4 episodes this first season. Ivy is the daughter of the man who was wrongfully accused of murdering Thomas and Martha Wayne. Thus far, she’s appeared in two episodes and she’s always are plants. Why? Well, she grows up to become Poison Ivy, we think. The Poison Ivy from the comics is named Pamela Isley, but the signs they’re the same character are all there. Basically, we’re just assuming they are the same character.

What’s Working: Not much. It’s a forced character with a decent backstory that’s never worked with.

What’s Not: Relatively everything. The character serves no real purpose other than a nod at the fans of the comic. Sure, because of the actions of the GCPD on the show, that gives her motivation to become Poison Ivy, but the audience will never see that fully realized. In a world where many shows don’t make it past a second season, the chances of Gotham hitting season 14 and seeing Poison Ivy are 9,999,999/1.

Conclusion: Ivy Pepper, if she actually is Poison Ivy, isn’t just the weakest character in the set of kid actors on the show, she’s the weakest part of the whole cast, right above Selina Kyle.

There you have it! Next week, we’ll be back to take a look at some of the villain of the week characters that have appeared on the show. Remember, Gotham returns from it’s Winter Break to Fox on Jan. 5 at 8/7c. What do you guys think of these characters?

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The Faces of FOX's Gotham: Children of Gotham

Ravenous Goats Making Quick Work of Hyde Park Poison Ivy

There are new landscapers in town and they’re not human.

Last month, the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation decided there was so much poison ivy in the area that it was deemed unsafe for children. So, they thought, let’s round up the goats, which are provided by a company that actually specializes in goat rentals for garden projects.

Patricia Alvarez, who works for the Southwest Boston Community Development Corporation, told Boston.com, “They love it. It’s like candy.”

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According to The Boston Globe, goats have been employed in Hyde Park to do some landscaping, sorry, “goatscaping.”

“The contract called for the goats to chomp their way to the point where the ‘targeted vegetation … will be no more than 4 inches high, with the exception of woody stems or vines with stems one half centimeter or thicker.’”

Yes, there was a contract.

“The site was once seen as an eyesore,” Ryan Woods, director of external affairs at the Boston Parks and Recreation Department, told The Boston Globe. “Now [the goats] have turned it into a place that people actually want to go to.”

Read the full story here.

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Ravenous Goats Making Quick Work of Hyde Park Poison Ivy

Woods hits poison ivy snag again

Poison ivy grows on a tree in the Lincoln Woods off West Pierrepont Avenue. This photo was taken two weeks ago.

Staff photo/Jaimie Winters

Poison ivy grows on a tree in the Lincoln Woods off West Pierrepont Avenue. This photo was taken two weeks ago.

Poison ivy growing in the Lincoln Woods has once again posed a dilemma for volunteers and officials looking to turn the property into an educational park. Construction of pathways and benches are presently on hold to address the vegetation, as the Shade Tree Committee and borough discuss how to move forward.

The volunteer Shade Tree Committee and Lincoln School community have been working since 2010 to turn the 1.8-acre Lincoln Woods, located behind the Lincoln School between West Pierrepont and Vreeland avenues, into an outdoor learning center for the nearby Lincoln School. The property was designated a permanent open space Green Acres property in 1985. But the property has been over run with poison ivy.

Aiming for a less expensive option that would not involve widespread herbicide treatment, goats were deployed to the site in June 2013 and October 2012 to chomp on poison ivy and other growth. Lawrence Cihanek, owner of Green Goats in Rhinebeck, N.Y., and his bearded, hungry herd of 15 were hired to take out the weeds, clearing a good portion of the property. According to borough officials at the time, Rutherford paid $3,420 for each visit for the animals and fencing, paid for through fundraising by the school. Seasons have come and gone since, but the poison ivy has returned.

The next phase would involve construction of a pathway through the property. However, as council members noted at their most recent meeting, the site is presently overgrown with poison ivy. A trail that would run through the woods with a wooden boardwalk leading over a swampy patch of land near Carmita Avenue, some small clearings with logs for benches, informational signs identifying local flora and even a small semi-circle for outdoor lessons have been proposed. Site design was provided by a landscape designer through the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC).

In his opinion, path work cannot begin until the poison ivy is cleared, Shade Tree Committee and DPW council liaison Jack Manzo said. On June 12, a lawn care contractor working for the borough inspected the site.

“We’re going to have to go in with a machine and clean it up or go in with heavy-duty weed wackers and do it by hand,” Manzo said. “With machines you have to be careful that you don’t take down little saplings hiding behind some of the growth, so it might be better to do it by hand.”

Manzo said it’s possible the work would be done over the course of the summer and likely done in-house by the Public Works Department.

In preparation for the next phase of the Lincoln Woods Project, the borough advertised and received bids for pending work. The highest was submitted by Atlas Tree Service at $20,800, the median bid by Sunset Ridge Landscaping at $16,500 and the lowest by Schule Landscaping at $8,800. A memo from the purchasing department indicated the lowest bidder Schule Landscaping attended a pre-quote meeting on May 9 and is aware of the work specification and project schedule.

As Manzo explained, the phase would involve installation of two winding, six-foot wide paths covered in woodchips that will meet towards the center with two different clearings with log benches. Access gates for the public and school will be included.

Due to the uncertainty raised by the poison ivy conditions, the council has yet to award a contract.

“This is a natural area, the idea is to have signage to stay on the trail and we want to have signage educating people about poison ivy, such as how to recognize it,” said Carol Hsu of the Shade Tree Committee. “It will never be poison ivy-free, it’s something we have to watch out for. It even happens in people’s backyards. I think there’s a difference of opinion on how much of the poison ivy must be cleared before the trail can be built.”

Bid specs recently advertised did include clearing of the ivy for the 6-foot-wide trails and border areas, for the safety of residents. The committee intends to ask the borough to spray herbicides between two and three times a year to eventually bring the ivy under control, a recommendation made by the NJMC and Shade Tree Department, Hsu said.

The Shade Tree Committee is comfortable with allowing the Department of Public Works to treat the site prior to the trail work starting, granted the next phase is only delayed a few weeks, Hsu said.

“We were hoping to have the trail in by summer, but we’d like to have something since a lot of people donated to this project, and we want them to be able to enjoy the property,” Hsu said.

Hsu is optimistic that the borough and committee can decide on the next step this week during their scheduled meeting, expressing optimism in the renewed communication due to Manzo’s attendance at their meetings. The previous liaison did not attend, she said.

Progress was also made in spring through hazard tree removal – ones at risk of falling and others that were infested with poison ivy, Hsu said.

Donations by the public and a state grant are planned to finance Lincoln Woods.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection awarded a Green Acres grant for the Lincoln Woods and Memorial Field projects combined in early 2013.

Rutherford falls into our Densely Populated Municipality category, and therefore, is eligible for a 25 percent grant and up to a 75 percent loan, with a total estimate for both projects combined at $1.02 million, explained NJDEP spokesperson Robert Considine. The grant itself came to $256,000, and a loan of $194,000 was approved by the state.

In October 2013, the Rutherford Council passed a bond ordinance allocating $256,000 in general bonds for improvements at Memorial Field and Lincoln Woods together. A donation of about $15,000 was made this spring by the Rutherford Education Foundation for the woods project, and over the last few years, funding has also been raised by the Lincoln School PTA.

The Green Acres grant has yet to change hands from the state to Rutherford.

Continued here:

Woods hits poison ivy snag again

Climate change to boost health problems

Climate change: Now it’s personal.

There will be more itching, sneezing, swelling and gasping for breath as Pennsylvania’s climate shifts and residents are exposed to more poison ivy, stinging insects, pollen allergies and lyme-disease-bearing ticks, and experience increased asthma, respiratory disease and heat-related deaths.

That was the assessment of scientists and physicians at a one-day climate change conference sponsored by the Allegheny County Health Department and the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health last week.

They said a silver lining is that Pennsylvanians won’t see the worst of those negative impacts until after 2050. But the bad news, echoing the findings contained in the third U.S. National Climate Assessment released May 6, is that the changes already have begun.

And, they agreed, the negative consequences of climate change brought on by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases will worsen the longer the world waits to reduce those emissions.

Raymond Najjar, a professor of oceanography in the Meteorology Department at Penn State University and an author of the 2009 Pennsylvania Climate Impact Assessment, said the most recent assessment released three weeks ago shows “some climate change is unavoidable,” and the state will get warmer and wetter. Heavy downpours will be more intense and more frequent.

He predicted that unless Pennsylvania cuts its emissions of greenhouse gases — including nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and volatile organic compounds — to 20 percent of what they are now, the state’s summer heat index will become 8 to 10 degrees warmer by the end of this century.

Without that level of emissions cuts, the number of days the temperature tops 90 degrees Fahrenheit each year will increase from 10 to 65 and Pennsylvania’s climate will resemble what is found now in northern Alabama.

“Pennsylvania has not done enough to reduce emissions and support renewable energy sources,” said Mr. Najjar, adding that even if emissions are reduced by 80 percent, Pennsylvania likely will see summer temperatures rise by 5 degrees Fahrenheit, giving it a climate resembling that of southern Kentucky today.

City and county officials must start now to adapt policies and programs to climate-altered and expanding public health needs, said Karen Hacker, Allegheny County Health Department director.

“Infectious diseases, ticks, mosquitoes will all increase as the climate warms, as will severity and incidence of asthma, water problems and severe weather,” Dr. Hacker said. “The increases will likely be incremental, but the impacts will collectively be bigger.”

Leonard Bielory, a professor at Rutgers University where he is studying the impact of a warming climate on allergies, said globally longer pollination seasons are expected to increase the duration of exposure and also the number of individuals who develop sensitivity to it.

“Ragweed is responding to climate change on a continental basis, so we’re seeing earlier and later pollen seasons and it moves northward with warmer climate,” he said. “By 2020, we expect to see pollen increase by 20 percent in Pennsylvania, and by 2050 sensitivity to allergens could double from what it is now.”

Dr. Bielory said research shows climate change is also likely to cause an increase in dust mites, stinging insects and cockroaches. The production of poison ivy oil, which causes the itchy skin rash, will increase as carbon dioxide levels rise, weed growth will be stimulated and peanut allergies, which have doubled in each of the last several decades, will continue to increase.

Lyme disease, the most prevalent vector-borne disease in the U.S. with 30,000 diagnosed and perhaps nine times more undiagnosed cases, also is likely to increase among humans as the geographic range of the tick that causes it continues to expand, according to Dustin Brisson, an associate professor of biology at the University of Pennsylvania, whose research involves evolutionary biology, molecular genetics and microbial ecology.

Peter Adams, a professor of civil and environmental engineering and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University, said warmer air temperatures combined with expected higher humidity “makes the atmosphere more able to do chemistry and produce compounds that could impact human health.”

One of those compounds likely to increase is ground-level ozone, the primary component of unhealthy smog. Methane emissions from increased shale gas drilling, along with nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compound emissions from drilling operations and increased truck traffic, also could rise.

“Depending on how tightly those [shale gas drilling] operations are controlled,” Mr. Adams said, “there could be significant health impacts on Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and even more significantly in the center of the state.”

Clifford Mitchell, director of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, said that mitigation policies are important and the public needs to get involved to force emissions reductions, but health officials need to plan now for how a changing climate will impact local populations and communities.

“We need to help people adapt,” Dr. Mitchell said. “We’re going to be doing damage control and we need to figure out how to do that systematically.”

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.

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Climate change to boost health problems

Waltham Voices: A monthly guide to maintaining your landscape

This is the first in a series of articles with tips for maintaining your landscape, using 90 percent less time and effort compared with traditional methods. Each month’s column will lay out what you need to do, based on the weather patterns here in Waltham. In other words, we will follow the local plant phenology (the study of how seasonal light changes and weather influence plant life cycles) for a do-it-right-the-first-time approach that provides safety, value, convenience and beauty through horticultural expertise and sustainable design.

-Safety: Removing hazardous sticks and branches, blocked sight lines, slippery areas and poison ivy, while maintaining effective lighting, drainage and security.

-Value: Adding to your property value through aesthetics, better air quality, rainwater management, reduced noise and an improved balance of shade vs. sun.

-Convenience: Using the proper tools and correct timing for results that last longer, keep you and your neighbors more satisfied, and provide faster completion of seasonal chores at lower cost.

-Beauty: While effecting safety, value and convenience, also gaining proper proportion, balance, form and density as well as color. Making everything from drainage management to the development of utility space meet your aesthetic standards that consider key views, seen from both inside and outside you home.

No matter the size of your property, these principles are the same, and become only more important within the small spaces typical of many Waltham yards.


January: Systems Documentation

You may perceive our cold Waltham Januaries as a rest time for landscape management, but in fact this is when we do critical work that sets the course for the year.

Most property owners are at the mercy of their memories to keep track of what has been done in their landscapes and the locations of the underlying systems. This causes waste when the person with the institutional memory leaves, and someone new must start fresh, or when contractors do harm or need to take more time and charge more money because of unknown factors such as the depth of pipe, location of wire, or species of tree.

The antidote to this is simple, and essentially comes down to the old adage “be prepared.” Use this cold month to identify and catalog all underground landscape systems, such as sprinklers, electrical service, invisible fencing, gas lines, water lines and septic, in a standardized site plan so everyone and anyone can follow and organize around it.

Then overlay this basic site plan with the plans for individual systems, such as irrigation, sick trees to prune, perennial weeds or known pest locations. Note future projects, such as integrated pest management (I.P.M.) programs and the drain intakes you plan to clean. Use these overlays to plan changes and budget time, money and any other limited resources. This documentation, along with photographs, will help you stay on track and convey your plan to others, such as contractors and the Waltham Building Department, to help reduce misunderstanding and error.

Here’s how:

-Always use a survey plan from the city of Waltham, removing elevation lines and numbers but with the correct outlines of impervious surfaces, such as the house, walkways, driveway, patios, shed, pool and so forth.

-Next, call 811 (Call811.com), the federally mandated call-before-you-dig number that provides information on all your underground utility lines. ;

-Use color coding to indicate each underground system – yellow for gas, blue for water, red for electric, orange for cable, and so forth.

-Finally, communicate with any contractors you may use. Explain that they may work on the property only if they add their work to a copy of this systems documentation, using the designated colors. Also, they must note and correct any inaccuracies they find, date and initial the document, and then return it to you.


One example: Shade tree care

We have a lot of mature, beautiful trees in Waltham, and one of the systems to document is shade tree care. It can be costly and often waits until unsafe conditions force action. We are safer and we save money by taking a proactive approach. Take pictures of bare-limbed trees on overcast days, from at least four compass positions, and mark the compass points on the photos for future reference. Highlight the limbs to be pruned in order to obtain competitive and clearly targeted estimates. With the site plan and photos in hand, the chosen contractor will possess first-hand knowledge and visuals that make it more difficult to take advantage of you or claim misunderstanding.


Brad Baker, of White Oak Consulting, is a Waltham resident with a degree in horticulture from Cornell University and more than 30 years of experience. ; He provides consultation and education in landscape design and maintenance. ; You can reach him through www.White-Oak-Consulting.com.

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Waltham Voices: A monthly guide to maintaining your landscape

Poison ivy It's getting stronger and tougher

Mark Laliberte is used to getting poison ivy, but the reaction he suffered in July was the worst ever.

The 37-year-old Candia man was clearing brush on his property when he slipped into some bushes.

“I didn’t see it, but once I fell into it, I knew it was poison ivy. I ran inside and showered, but it was too late. It was all over my face and neck, particularly on my left side,” he said.

Beth Almon’s doctor told her she has the worst case of poison ivy she’s ever seen. After battling the itch for three weeks, Almon is now on her second batch of Prednisone, a drug used to treat severe allergic reactions.

“This year, for some odd reason I can’t get rid of it out of my system,” said Almon, 32, of Raymond.

The reason for the severe cases may have something to do with changes in the poison ivy plant caused by higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, experts say.

Poison ivy is thriving and becoming much more potent, according to Lewis H. Ziska, a research weed ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ziska has studied the effects of carbon dioxide on plants and has found that it’s changing the chemistry of the urushiol oil in poison ivy, making it more toxic and more likely to cause a skin reaction.

His research looked at how plants react to more sunlight appearing in forests that have become fragmented, especially in urban areas. Ziska found that poison ivy flourishes, spreading faster and becoming more potent.

“Poison ivy tends to do better than most of the plant species we looked at. It’s able to take in the additional carbon dioxide and convert it into additional growth,” he said.

While she hasn’t seen more poison ivy sufferers than usual, Dr. Ellen Bernard of Epping Regional Health Center said there are treatments available to ease the itching and clear things up. Topical steroids can be used, but more severe cases may require an oral steroid.

Susan Chadwick, director of marketing at Derry Medical Center, said she takes steps to avoid poison ivy, but still ended up with a case in July.

“I’m very sensitive to it, so I try like the devil to avoid it,” said Chadwick, whose colleague also suffered a severe reaction this summer and ended up on Prednisone.


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Poison ivy It's getting stronger and tougher

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