William O'Boyle: State highlights collaborative plan to pave roads with recycled plastic

Oct. 19—Officials from the state Departments of Transportation (PennDOT), Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), Environmental Protection (DEP), and General Services (DGS) this week highlighted a pilot project to pave part of a Ridley Creek State Park roadway with an asphalt and recycled plastic mixture.

The project, coordinated through PennDOT's Strategic Recycling Program which is funded through DEP, includes two quarter-mile roadway stretches surfaced with an asphalt/recycled-plastic mix. The material is intended to strengthen the roadway surface without leaching plastic material into the surrounding environment.

"Transportation is integral in our communities and we are always evolving our operations," said PennDOT Acting Deputy Secretary for Highway Administration Mike Keiser. "We are very pleased when we can pursue innovations bringing benefits to the public, our transportation assets, and our environment."

The material being tested supports inter-agency goals to increase the commonwealth's sustainability in operations while supporting deployment in the state overall. Potential benefits include:

—Extended useful life of asphalt pavements.

—Diverting waste plastics from landfills and helping to establish a viable market for these plastics.

—Continued ability to reuse asphalt millings in future recycled-asphalt pavement applications.

"DEP is proud to support this project in partnership with PennDOT through the Strategic Recycling Program," said Pat Patterson, DEP Southeast Regional Director. "Recycling is a fundamental environmental principal and DEP supports any effort that diverts waste from landfills."

The pilot project location was chosen in coordination with sibling agencies and supports increased emphasis on sustainable practices. The pilot is incorporated into a 1.5-mile reconstruction project within the park from the entrance to Pavilion 14. The rest of the roadway is being paved with a standard asphalt mixture to provide a comparison for the new material over the five-year evaluation period.

"Sustainability is at the core of DCNR's mission and we are pleased that one of our 121 state parks was selected to be a part of this innovative pilot project," DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams Dunn said. "We look forward to testing this new technology based on the expected benefits, and are hopeful that it is a model for future successes in Pennsylvania — especially with regards to state agencies collaborating to create more sustainable operations and policies across the commonwealth."

Through the Pennsylvania Department of General Services, the GreenGov Council is responsible for developing and implementing strategies to ensure that state government agencies play a lead role in energy sustainability, conservation and greenhouse gas emissions reduction. Among their goals are efforts to integrate sustainability and energy high-performance standards in building construction, lease, or renovation through the DGS Public Works deputate which is responsible for all state government non-highway construction projects.

"Through the PA GreenGov Council, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to improve the effect our activities have on the environment, especially with other construction and renovation of our facilities," said GreenGov Council Director Mark Hand. "Our Public Works deputate currently has 79 active projects with 173 in queue and a portfolio valued at nearly $2 billion. These projects will require plenty of paved areas and we look forward to collaborating with PennDOT's Strategic Recycling Program by identifying pilot projects within our agency to assist their efforts to evaluate this asphalt and recycled plastic mixture technology."

Minimum deposit eliminated

to open a PA 529 account

Treasurer Stacy Garrity this week announced that the minimum contribution to open a PA 529 College and Career Savings Program account has been completely eliminated.

"My goal is to make PA 529 accounts available to everyone in Pennsylvania who wants one," Garrity said. "Allowing families to open a PA 529 account with no deposit will give everyone the opportunity to start saving for education."

Once a PA 529 account is opened, future contributions can now be any amount — as little as $1. This reduction marks the second time since July 2020 that the amount has been reduced and is 90 percent less than the previous $10 minimum.

"Today, more than ever, education doesn't necessarily mean a four-year degree, and PA 529 plans are here to help no matter which path a child takes," Garrity said. "PA 529s can help pay for community colleges, technical schools, or apprenticeship programs around the corner or across the country. Every dollar saved today is one less that must be borrowed tomorrow, meaning less student debt for future generations entering the workforce."

Contributions can be made to PA 529 accounts online via electronic bank transfer, through the mail by check or money order, or by setting up a simple automatic contribution from a bank or paycheck.

Saving with PA 529 offers account owners generous tax benefits and the flexibility to choose the plan that works best for their budget and will help achieve their unique education goals. Assets saved in PA 529 accounts have no impact on Pennsylvania state financial aid eligibility.

PA 529 accounts can be used to pay for more than just tuition, including fees, equipment, books, room and board, and other qualified higher education expenses.

To learn more visit pa529.com, email [email protected] or call 800-440-4000.

Pa. Redistricting Advisory

Council invites public comment

Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week that members of his Pennsylvania Redistricting Advisory Council will hold listening sessions across the state to gather public feedback on congressional redistricting.

"The opinions of Pennsylvanians must be heard as the legislature prepares to draw new congressional district boundary maps," said Wolf. "The decisions made through the redistricting process will affect every person and community in Pennsylvania for the next decade. Reviewing the maps is one of my most important acts as governor and I take that responsibility extremely seriously.

"I have long believed that gerrymandering is wrong, and politicians should not use the redistricting process to choose their own voters. That is why I have tasked the advisory council with listening to people and providing their expert advice to me so that I can better evaluate the maps in the best interest of all Pennsylvanians."

—There will be a listening session on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 5:30 p.m. at the University of Scranton, Brennan Hall, The Rose Room, 800 Linden St., Scranton.

Created by an executive order the governor signed on Sept. 13, the six-member council is comprised of redistricting experts who will provide guidance to the governor to assist his review of the congressional redistricting plan which will be passed by the General Assembly later this year.

The council will review redistricting processes in other states that reduce gerrymandering, develop factors to determine if a plan improves the integrity and fairness and prevents the dilution of a person's vote and offer recommendations to ensure that districts are compact and contiguous to keep communities together and ensure people are proportionally represented.

Medicare open enrollment

period begins on Friday

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA) this week hosted a news conference to acknowledge the Pennsylvania Medicare Education and Decision Insight (PA MEDI) volunteers, the known and trusted community resource for Medicare information for Pennsylvania's Medicare beneficiaries.

The Medicare Annual Open Enrollment Period began Oct. 15 and ends on Dec. 7.

Medicare beneficiaries are encouraged to contact their local Area Agency on Aging to schedule an appointment with a PA MEDI Counselor for assistance during this time when beneficiaries can join, switch, or drop Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Coverage.

Susan Neff, PA MEDI director, said, "Having such a large, dedicated volunteer force allows us to maximize PA MEDI's reach to those most in need of our services. With the Medicare Annual Open Enrollment Period starting on Friday, PA MEDI volunteers and staff are available and committed to assisting older adults with any questions and concerns they have about their Medicare plan options for 2022."

Over the past year, nearly 650 PA MEDI volunteers housed in local Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) contributed approximately 35,000 hours of service by assisting Medicare-eligible older adults, their families, and caregivers to help them make informed decisions about their healthcare. PA MEDI volunteers also provide educational presentations to community groups, individuals and at health fairs and senior expos.

In addition to PA MEDI events and programs, older adults can learn more about PA MEDI on the Department of Aging's website or by calling the PA MEDI Helpline at 1-800-783-7067, Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.