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Railroad crossing gets state approval

Published July 16. 2010 05:00PM

A railroad crossing at the entrance of a proposed industrial park in Carbon County will soon be getting a facelift.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board received notification from the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission approving the conversion of a private crossing across Norfolk Southern and Reading and Northern railroad tracks at the entrance to the former Packerton Yards along Route 209, into a public crossing.

The crossing will include the installation of flashing light warning signals and automatic crossing gates; as well as surface improvements and the installation of a sewer line across the tracks to connect to the existing sewer main.

Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, explained that this crossing was one of the many outstanding things the county needed to get approved before work at the 59-acre site, located in Mahoning Township and Lehighton, could begin.

"We had a private crossing for access to our property all along," O'Gurek said. "But we had petitioned the PUC (in July 2008) to make it a public crossing so that when the park comes to fruition, we will have access to it."

When the county first applied for the change, Norfolk Southern submitted an objection, but that issue was resolved in early 2009. Since then both Norfolk Southern and Reading and Northern railroads have been OK with the county's request.

"This is yet another piece of the puzzle and that's good news," he said.

O'Gurek also noted that the project will be funded through a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation that Speaker of the House Keith McCall helped secure in December 2008.

The next step the county must complete before work on the proposed industrial park could begin includes securing a highway occupancy permit, and an Act II liability release from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The county must also receive subdivision plan approval from Lehighton, Mahoning Township and the Carbon County Planning Commission.

In September 2008, the Carbon County Planning Commission gave the subdivision plans preliminary plan approval.

Late last month, the Lehighton Borough Council voted to reject the plans, going against Lehighton Planning Commission's recommendations for approval.

During yesterday's meeting, Carbon County officials voted to hire Hughes, Kalkbrenner and Ozorowski, LLC of Plymouth Meeting as the county's special counsel to fight Lehighton's rejection. Commissioner Wayne Nothstein cast the sole "no" vote for the hiring. He said he felt hiring special counsel wasn't necessary.

County officials are now planning to file an appeal in the Court of Common Pleas against Lehighton Borough Council. Carbon has until July 28 to file the appeal because, according to the law, the developer has 30 days to appeal the decision.

O'Gurek said, "We were notified in writing on Wednesday by Lehighton Borough that the council voted on the 28th (of June) to reject the subdivision plans. To me that's a sad thing because Lehighton Planning Commission recommended approval but the council failed to take that recommendation."

O'Gurek also explained that the county will file the appeal because "there are legal issues that we want to address in the Court of Common Pleas and we want to state our case why we think Lehighton Borough Council's rejection of the plans was wrong."

The industrialization of Packerton Yards has been in the works since 2002, when Commissioner Charles Getz and O'Gurek included the project as part of their campaign.

On Feb. 25, 2005, the county purchased the site from Joseph and Betty Zaprazny at a cost of $350,000.

Since then, the board has worked with state and federal officials to secure millions of dollars in funding to use for developing the site.

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