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Heated debate over Packerton Yards

Published July 30. 2010 05:00PM

Carbon County officials got into a heated debate after accepting a multimillion dollar grant that will be used in the development of the Packerton Business Park.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted 2-1 to accept the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project (RACP) grant agreement in the amount of $2 million to assist in the development of the Packerton Business Park, located in Mahoning Township and Lehighton.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein cast the sole "no" vote.

Prior to the vote, Nothstein asked how grants and loans are going to be repaid and who is going to be responsible for the maintenance of the roads.

Commissioners Charles Getz and William O'Gurek answered Nothstein's questions, stating that the grants would not have to be repaid.

O'Gurek said any money that would be gained from the sale of the seven parcels at the business park would be reused in the economic development program.

"That (the money made from each sale) would pay for things like the maintenance of the roads and upkeep and things of that nature," O'Gurek said. "The county is not allowed to make a profit on those grants but any monies realized above and beyond the sale of the property can go back into the program."

O'Gurek explained the county is setting up a program to enhance the economic opportunities within the county.

"The money very well may be spent in other areas of the county where we have the resources to develop property to continue this program of economic development that we never had," he said.

Nothstein said he wants to know how long the income from the sales would help maintain the facilities.

He mentioned that there is a 40,000-square-foot shell building that is currently becoming vacant in the area so he is worried that it may take a long time before the county sees the outcome it is hoping for.

Nothstein added that he would like to see some cost estimates for the project on paper.

O'Gurek questioned Nothstein as to where he stood on the project because of his vote to not accept the RACP grant.

"Since we started this project in 2004, you voted 70 times in favor on matters pertaining to Packerton," O'Gurek said, reading off a list of votes on the project. "I think you're sending mixed messages."

Nothstein responded, stating that he wants to see answers in writing about where the funds will be used and again asked where the county would get the money if the grants needed to be repaid after the sale of the property.

O'Gurek said that numerous other grants the county previously obtained are being used to match the RACP grant, which requires a dollar-for-dollar match. He noted that these funds will not have to be repaid.

Nothstein said that he feels that there is more and more money being dumped into the project.

"I'll believe it when I see it that we're bringing in 360 some jobs," Nothstein said.

He then asked O'Gurek how many businesses have expressed interest in the property.

O'Gurek said that companies are not ready to look at sites until its shovel ready and that the county is working toward making that property ready for business.

The debate turned heated briefly as both parties questioned the other's agendas including former plans for Packerton Yards that never occurred and not supporting Carbon County residents when they were asked to support them for an employment opportunity.

O'Gurek said that when Nothstein was the chairman of the board in 2003, the commissioners talked about cleaning up the Packerton Yards property, but never acted on the matter.

Nothstein fired back, stating that O'Gurek and Getz did not support a group of Carbon County residents when they asked to become the county's support team for hazardous material emergencies.

Much debate has circulated around the site since the county purchased it from Joseph and Betty Zaprazny in February 2005. The purchase was part of O'Gurek and Getz's platform to industrialize the site and bring jobs into Carbon County. Nothstein voted against the purchase.

Throughout 2006, Lancaster County business owners April Koppenhaver and Bruce Clark, as well as Nesquehoning native Thomas Zimmerman IV, filed multiple injunction requests against the county in hopes of stopping the demolition of the last remaining structure on the site. Their attempts failed.

The building was torn down and the commissioners were given the green light to move forward with the industrialization of the site.

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

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