Local residents lost an opportunity to have their say Thursday night on the Central Carbon County Comprehensive Plan.

Only four people attended the public hearing, which was set up to give people living in Franklin, East Penn or Mahoning townships, or in the boroughs of Weissport or Lehighton, an opportunity to discuss the comprehensive plan.

Allen Heist of Stell Environmental Enterprises, project manager and consultant, along with the CCCCP board, wanted to hear what local residents think their community should be like in the future. Heist wanted to use the public feedback to help him prepare a custom plan that will meet the community's needs during the next 20 to 30 years.

The meeting included Heist and committee members. Franklin Township's representatives were Paul Kocher and Rod Mann. Also attending were attorney William Schwab of East Penn; Sue Pywar, Weissport; Darryl Arner, Lehighton; and Frank Ruch, Mahoning Township.

Mann is chairman, Kocher is vice chairman and Schwab is secretary.

Mann offered a history of the project, saying that most community's plans are sorely out of date. He said that Franklin Township's plan hasn't been updated in 40 years.

Mann said the state is encouraging communities to work together with other local communities to prepare a regional comprehensive plan, saying that by sharing resources, the costs are lower for each community involved. He also noted that Franklin Township initiated the process and was joined by East Penn, Mahoning Township and Weissport.

The last community to join was Lehighton, which helped lower the costs for all communities.

Attorney Schwab used his own community's expenses as an example of how joining together to do a regional plan helped lower costs.

"Taking part in a regional plan helped lower the cost for East Penn from $34,000 to about $12,000," Schwab said.

Heist noted that the public meeting held Thursday was only the first of about eight meetings that will be held to keep the public informed.

During the meeting, the board displayed a base map of the area and explained just what a comprehensive plan will explore. The group had already determined some key areas, such as traffic congestion, maintaining local character, multimodal transportation, economic development, traditional neighborhoods, aging and condition of housing, opportunities for mixed use in boroughs, demographics, municipal expenditures and energy conservation.

Heist noted that the community hopes to establish goals and objectives. He said that the goals or general vision statements on what people want their community to be like in the future in the next 10 to 30 years are broad. Objectives, meanwhile, are measurable statements that, when completed, help toward the achievement of a goal.

Goals include natural features and the environment, historic resources, community facilities (police and fire protection, schools, libraries, medical services), parks and recreation, transportation, housing, economic development and land use.

The project is being funded by a $35,000 Northeastern Pennsylvania Alliance (NEPA) grant, which will assist in the development of the transportation component of the plan, and a $40,000 Community Conservation Partnership Program grant that will fund the greenways and trails, park, recreation and conservation components of the project through the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Heist agreed with public comments he heard that "the plan is worthless unless communities implement it." Heist said it was up to council members and supervisors to use the plan after it is complete.

Heist noted that he has begun "key person" interviews, whereby he provides a list of important questions to several influential people in the community to gain their input.

Heist said he has contacted about 30 people and has completed seven interviews so far. These are people who hold key positions at schools and hospitals, county level officials, local farmers, financial institutions and local businessmen.

Along with the public meetings, local residents can also have a say by filling out citizen surveys, which will be sent to random households in all participating communities. Citizen surveys will also be available at each of the municipality's offices during regular business hours. Anyone who completes a survey should send it to Allen G. Heist, 25 E. Main St., Elverson, PA 19520.

A second public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 3 at the Lehighton Annex, Third Street, Lehighton.

Heist anticipates compiling the results of the public hearings, input from key persons and citizen surveys before the next committee meeting at 6:30 p.m., March 18.

The Central Carbon Comprehensive Plan is scheduled to be completed by the later part of 2011.