Packerton Yards holds key to economic development
RON GOWER/TIMES NEWS William O'Gurek, chairman of the Carbon County Board of Commissioners, told Lehighton Borough Council that when industrial development occurs in the Packerton Yards, which straddles Lehighton and Mahoning Township, the main entry will be from Route 209 in the Packerton Dip. Improvements on Route 209 for the Packerton Yards entrance could occur as early as next year.
Carbon County Commissioner William O'Gurek said there's one major element which keeps him focused on the Packerton Yards project: the county's high unemployment rate.
O'Gurek spoke this week to Lehighton Borough Council and noted that Carbon's unemployment rate is currently 10.7 percent, the highest in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The state unemployment rate in August was 8.6 percent.
He told the council, "That has been the drive that keeps us going toward this project."
He said it is projected that the Packerton Yards project could create as many as 300 to 400 jobs when fully developed. One key to helping it become a success is the on-site railroad service that is available.
Packerton Yards development, he said, has the potential of dumping $35 million a year into the Carbon County economy.
"There have been a handful of companies that expressed interest," he said. However, the site won't be available for usage for at least a year.
Next year, the commissioners are hoping to widen a 1,400 length of Route 209 in the vicinity of the Packerton Dip where access will be made to the industrial site.
For the access, the commissioner said subdivision plans will soon be submitted to the proper government entities.
Packerton Yards, which straddles Lehighton and Mahoning Township, was once the operational site of the former Lehigh Valley Railroad. The railroad used to be one of Carbon County's largest employers. Although the railroad no longer services trains there, a rail line still goes through the property.
Commissioner O'Gurek said development of the Packerton Yards has earned the blessings of federal and state officials, who combined are providing $5.3 million in grants for the project, including $300,000 which was used for the purchase the site from Joseph and Betty Zaprazny.
He told the council, "Carbon County never had an initiative of its own as far as economic development. In 2004, Carbon County got that initiative the Packerton Yards," which is listed as a "brownfield" site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The site consists of nearly 60 acres, with about 25 acres located with Lehighton borough. The commissioners plan to subdivide the site into seven lots, six which are buildable. The seventh lot would be used possibly for recreation or as a "testimony to the railroaders who worked here."
Earlier this year, both Lehighton Borough Council and Mahoning Township supervisors rejected a request from the county to extend the Packerton Yards as a Keystone Opportunity Zone, which would have provided tax breaks for firms who locate their businesses on the site.