Mahoning Township supervisors received updates on several issues from Carbon County Chairman of the Commissioners William O'Gurek, including the status of the Packerton Yards project, during last evening's supervisors meeting.
Commissioner O'Gurek appeared before supervisors with Packerton Yards engineering consultant Ron Tirpak to present the status of the project, but opened his presentation to any questions or concerns township officials had with regard to Carbon County.
“I want to give a recap of the project at Packerton Yards and explain where we are now," said O'Gurek to the board. He proceeded to outline the process the county was undertaking to develop the land for industrial use.
“There are eight parcels of land in the project, six of which we will be using for development and two will be reserved for open space," O'Gurek said. He indicated the open space would be for passive recreational space and plans would include a park and a walkway along the river. He told the board that those parcels total about 18 acres of the 70-acre project. The other six parcels would be developed for sale which includes roads, improvements to the infrastructure and whatever other requirements would be needed for the parcels to be shovel ready."
O'Gurek said the process for preparing for developing the land was long and involved. One of the earliest issues involved getting the local railroads that pass near the yard on board with the project. He explained the Reading-Northern railroad would service the park, while the Norfolk-Southern railroad would link the yard into the rail lines.
Supervisor George Stawnyczyj asked O'Gurek if the issues between the railroads and the commissioners were resolved. When all of the parties, including Stawnyczyj, inspected the areas, the railroads did not seem conducive to supporting the project. O'Gurek said the issues that were causing problems with the railroads had been resolved and they are supportive of the project.
“We needed to resolve their concerns before we could move forward," O'Gurek responded.
He told Stawnyczyj the original junction was one of the disagreements, but with the county receiving $500,000 in funding from Rep. Keith McCall for refurbishing the crossing for Norfolk-Southern, it helped resolve the railroad issues. He added the PUC required the railroads consent to the project before the commissioners could proceed. They worked to resolve the disagreement successfully, which in turn satisfied the PUC.
O'Gurek also mentioned another major concern was the environment. The Department of Environmental Protection required them to study the area and perform test borings to ensure there were no contaminants. While most of the test bores they made were clean, four revealed levels of petroleum and lead contamination. He said the solution would be to encapsulate the affected areas, which involves paving over it with a road, parking or a building among other solutions.
Supervisor John Wieczorek questioned whether DEP would be acceptable to the solution, pointing out the agency was notorious for not telling people how to correct problems, but also not accepting solutions until it was what DEP required. O'Gurek explained Tirpak has been keeping DEP involved in the whole testing process and ensuring the solutions proposed would be acceptable.
“Ron is working with DEP through the process," he said.
One township resident asked what the estimated costs for the cleanup would be. Tirpak said the costs range about $20,000-$25,000. He said the reason for the lower than expected costs was that most of the contamination just needed to be contained and not hauled from the site.
“All we need to do is make sure it is encapsulated. They aren't the type of contaminants that are required to be removed from the site," Tirpak said.
The county also has applied to PennDOT for a highway occupancy permit said O'Gurek. He said the commissioners and engineers reviewed several possibilities but felt the area at the Packerton Dip was the best access point.
“Our original entrance options included from the 209 bypass and through Jamestown," O'Gurek said, “but we finally settled on the dip area."
Tirpak told the supervisors one of the issues with moving from the Jamestown location was the poor sight distances, a major safety concern. He said the dip provides the best sight distances.
Township Chairperson Pat Snyder said traffic was one of her major concerns. She especially expressed her anxiety over increasing tractor trailers on that road.
“It's a steep hill from the Jim Thorpe side and I don't know how they will be able to stop coming down that hill especially in the winter," Snyder said. She also expressed reservations about the delays that would occur in installing a traffic light at the intersection.
She asked if there was any way tractor trailer traffic could be curtailed. Tirpak observed, “But it's an industrial park." Stawnyczyj said that he drove trucks and they would stop at that intersection just like they would stop at any other one.
O'Gurek explained the intersection would eventually have a light once it was warranted. In response to Snyder, Tirpak said the intersection had to meet one of 11 conditions PennDOT designated to receive a traffic signal. He assured supervisors the commissioners were aiming for requiring the need for the light sooner than later in the parcel's development.
Snyder and Supervisor Travis Steigerwalt also mentioned that traffic congestion is becoming one of the worst township issues and each expressed serious reservations about anything that would exacerbate the issue. Steigerwalt said he sat on the McCall Bridge already for three lights before being able to cross it.
O'Gurek said he shared their concerns adding that he has also been in that situation. He assured the supervisors when the development advanced to the point that warranted traffic control, the commissioners would be responsible and deal with the area just like any other developer.
Another area of concern which supervisors mentioned in previous meetings was with the economic projections and employment projections for the site.
“I know there was some concern over how the information was derived," said O'Gurek. He pointed out the county was a member of the seven county Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance, which conducted the economic impact study using software called IMPLAN, which was an economic modeling system.
Wieczorek pointed out the model, which was complex, had several different versions and he asked which was used. O'Gurek replied he wasn't sure, but the job projections it made came from examining not only the jobs that would finally be there if the whole plant was built out, but also from the construction of the site.
“It looks at both levels of jobs," he added, “construction jobs and business activity jobs."
O'Gurek pointed out there was a potential of 300,000 square feet of space that would be available among the parcels. He said if the sites were able to house 50 jobs each at a base salary, plus benefits' packages, of $50,000 potentially, the parcel would produce $15 million in income for the employees. He added that the software is generally accepted as a good way of forecasting growth and jobs. Wieczorek said that his only request is the information be kept relevant.
Through his presentation O'Gurek stressed he wanted to maintain an open relationship with Mahoning Township and Lehighton borough, adding that he wanted them to be partners in this effort. He mentioned that recent turnovers due to retirements and death did hamper communications among the entities and that the county was trying to correct the poor channels the municipalities were experiencing with the project.
“We want to work with you and we are glad to answer your questions," O'Gurek said.
He mentioned there is support on all levels from federal to local government, adding that Congressman Paul Kanjorski, U.S. Senators Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, Gov. Ed Rendell and Senators Raphael Musto and David Argall, and Speaker Keith McCall, are all in favor of the project and cooperatively have pledged $5.3 million to make it a reality. O'Gurek said the county has not needed to spend much of its own money with the funding available.
He also told the supervisors the county was within days of hiring a marketing firm to sell the property, aggressively looking to find companies that will create jobs. He pointed out the county didn't want to bring a warehouse with 10 or 11 jobs.
“We want to see 50 or more jobs created."
Steigerwalt said he was in favor of that type of job adding that a warehouse doesn't create enough good jobs.
“We aren't looking for any breaks or favors. We want to be partners with you and Lehighton. We aren't asking for any special consideration. We have been doing our part with regard to paying for any fees, permits or other bills," O'Gurek said, adding that the latest bill for engineering fees was in the mail to the township.
He thanked the board for its time and offered his appreciation for allowing him to explain the project in detail.