DEP regional office holds open house

KATELYN HIBBARD/Sun-Gazette During an open house at the state Department of Environmental Protection's Northcentral regional office on Third Street, Tom Randis, far right, clean water program manager, shows a family the eggs on the belly of a crayfish caught locally. From left are Leah and Mary Feerrar, Jared Feerrar, Nate Noel and Randis.

Visitors to the state Department of Environmental Protection open house Monday could learn about anything from radiation to small business and see small fish and aquatic specimens on display.

All ages were represented in the crowd that moved from room to room learning what the northcentral region of the department has to offer residents of the 14-county area.

“I think the benefit is that it connects us with the community. DEP is often thought of as this big, bad government agency and our goal is to be much more transparent and to let people know that there are faces behind the names and that there are a lot of good things that DEP does,” said Marcus Kohl, regional director.

“Under the regional offices’ purview we have air quality, water quality, waste disposal radiation protection and we have the oil and gas program as well as environmental justice and mining. Here in Williamsport we have a little bit of everything,” Kohl said. “If you can dream it as far as environmental impact, we’re the overseers.”

Several students attended to see what the agency offers in respect to future career opportunities.

“I’m a student at Lock Haven University. I came to just get my name out and to see what DEP is doing,” said Michael Bodnar, a sophomore. “I’m a marine biology major, so a lot of this stuff interests me.”

Lock Haven University freshman Seth Dangle came to the event because of his interest in a possible internship.

An environmental biology-ecology major, Dangle said the information was pertinent to his field.

“I’ve always liked the outdoors. Certainly this fits my interest,” he said.

People visiting the waterways and wetlands display could learn about on-lot septic systems or see various fish and aquatic life that had been gathered from area waterways.

“They’re all locally caught and they’re going to be released. No animals were harmed … they’re going to be released where we caught them,” joked David W. Garg, environmental program manager.

He said the specimens were caught in two area streams — one a freestone stream and the other a limestone stream — in order to get a good mix.

Information at the radiation protection display alerted visitors to various types of radiation hazards that could be lying around the home or neighborhood.

“We’re responsible for inspections of all the uses of radioactive materials. They’re in just about everything around. They’re in us,” said Lisa A. Forney, radiation protection program supervisor. “There are a lot of good uses on the medical side, academic and industrial.”

Forney’s display included photos of articles such as medical devices and propellers from airplanes with sensors on them. All were radioactive and had been disposed of properly by the department.

At the other end of the table equipment used to measure radioactive exposure particularly with people exposed to medical scans or even digital dental X-rays were on display.

Information about the department’s new outreach program being rolled out this summer, called DEP Connects, also was available at the open house.

The purpose of it, according to Megan Lehman, the department’s community relations coordinator, is to engage directly with the public from the regional office.

“Our office here in Williamsport covers the northcentral region. That’s 14 counties. We really want to try to find opportunities to get out around the region, not just invite people here to hear someone speak. So we want to plan a series of events where we move around the region. There are going to be different topics every time and the format might change. The one might be a tour, one might be a panel discussion, one might be an open house like this. We just try to capture what people are interested in right now that DEP works on and help communicate with the public about that. It gives people an opportunity to tell us what they’re thinking and what they’re concerned about,” she said.

The local office will be conducting four events this year.

People could sign up at the event and the names will be used to create a data pool.

When the program is operational, the agency will pull from that pool and notify people when there is something in their area of interest available.

A sign-up online will soon be available and people can follow developments on social media Lehman said.