Members of the Central Carbon County Regional Comprehensive Plan committee were updated on the progress of identifying the region's natural and cultural resources. The meeting was held Thursday at Schwab Law Office, Mahoning Township.

Allen Heist of Stell Environmental Enterprises, project manager and consultant for the CCCRCP committee, met with representatives of each of the five communities who have joined together for the project.

Heist organized the plan into five focus or issue areas based on the problems, needs and opportunities of the region that will be used to set the framework of the plan: ensure the economic vitality of the community, improve mobility in the region; determine land use plans; identify physical and historic settings and determine present and future residents needs of the area.

During Thursday's presentation, Heist noted that the area has distinctive geologic formations, which will affect future land use.

He also noted that a significant amount of natural gas exists in the Marcellus Shale Formation which underlies areas of Pennsylvania, but that after looking a data, there have been no permits for gas well issued so far for Carbon County.

"If gas exploration and production in Carbon County becomes economically viable, municipalities should consider the consequences of this activity due to potential ground and surface water pollution.

He noted that during a previous meeting held to accept the public's input, he had heard about area coal reserves, but the information he gathered from Pennsylvania Department of Protection, of the 7 million tons of minable anthracite coal reserves in eastern Pa., none are in CCCRCP area.

He noted that the area does have outstanding geological features, such as the Stony Ridge, a 9.7 mile ridge between Ashfield and Little Gap, which consists of a 100 foot thick ridge of white sandstone; and Devil's Pulpit, a pinnacle of quartzite which resembles a pulpit that is a solitary remnant of rock left by erosion of the gap.

Heist also noted that steep slopes cause severe erosion and can create serious problems when building homes, such as having to build driveways on steep grades, difficulties of installing on-lot sewage disposal systems and soil erosion.

The region's topography, formed by erosion of underlying rock, is bordered on the south by the steeply sloped Blue Mountain.

Heist said that the plan seeks to identify important farmland areas that can be used for the nation's food supply. He noted in the plan area that there are 5,021 acres in Agricultural Security Areas and an overall acreage of 8,341 acres in the area has farmland soils of statewide importance.

Heist also noted that area has regional watersheds that are within the Lehigh River basin which flows into the Delaware River and eventually the Atlantic Ocean. He said that the many streams have excellent water quality and have been designated for special protection as either high quality (HQ) or exceptional value (EV) waters. He noted that these special protection classifications make it difficult, if not impossible, to be used for discharge of treated effluent directly into a stream.

He noted that the Lehigh River is one of the most significant geographical features in the east central part of Pennsylvania and is a culturally important asset to the residents of the area.

Heist said that he has documented a number of wetland areas but that his data is limited and additional research is needed to identify other wetlands.

Also, he said that woodlands are important to the natural ecosystems. He said the woodlands are concentrated along the slopes of the Blue Mountain, Mauch Chunk Ridge and Bear Mountain.

Heist said that the plan will advise communities to consider conservation initiatives for natural areas on private land to protect natural areas. Included in that recommendation will be identifying bodies of water and the need to provide buffers around natural areas.

Discussed were the important bird areas which are facing habitat loss. He said that the Kittatinny Ridge is the premier raptor migration corridor in the northeastern United States and one of the leading sites in the world.

Heist said that communities should be encouraged to implement floodplain conservation, conservation of natural resources, provide for scenic preservation and ridgeline preservation to protect these important features.

The committee, at length, discussed the historic resources in the area. The committee was asked to make notes of historic areas that are located in their individual communities and share them at the next meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 16.