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EZ Pass

Published July 15. 2011 05:01PM

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission has applied for a permit to fill in three-and-a-half acres of wetlands that are needed for the proposed EZ Pass only interchange off Interstate 476 onto Route 903 in Penn Forest Township.

The new exit on the 110-mile Northeast Extension will be located between the Mahoning Valley (exit 74) and Pocono (exit 95) exits on I-476.

During the Carbon County commissioners' meeting on Thursday, Commissioner William O'Gurek, chairman, discussed the public notice the county received on July 1, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the recipient of the application.

O'Gurek explained that the notice is to ask for county residents' opinions on the turnpike commission's application for a water quality certificate. The application states that "The proposed project area (for the interchange) is 45.6 acres along I-476 and SR 903. The applicant proposes to permanently fill 3.598 acres of wetlands and .027 acres of open water to construct the new interchange."

Impacts to the wetlands and waters by the proposed project, as outlined in the U.S. Army Corps' public notice, include:

• The construction of ramp B will impact .116 acres of Palustrine Scrub/Shrub (PSS)/Palustrine Emergent Wetlands (PEM) and .545 acres of Palustrine Forested (PFO)/PSS wetlands.

• The construction of ramp C will impact .178 acres of PEM and 1.502 acres of PFO/PSS wetlands.

• The construction of ramp D will impact .047 acres of PEM wetland and .644 acres of PFO/PSS wetlands.

• The widening of SR 903 west of I-476 will impact .545 acres of PSS and .021 acres of PFO/PSS and .027 acres of open water (Little Beaver Lake).

To alleviate any problems that these actions may cause, the turnpike commission is also proposing the construction of 6.64 acres of wetlands and .027 acres of open water in an area close to the impacted areas.

O'Gurek pointed out that in the notice, it states that studies have determined and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission has confirmed that no archaeological artifacts are present on the land in question and that the project would have no adverse effect on the resources in the area.

"I know this project seems to be on hold, but they are going through the permitting process as we speak," O'Gurek said.

According to the public notice, the Corps of Engineers "is soliciting comments from the public; federal, state and local agencies and officials; Indian tribes; and other interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps of Engineers to determine whether to issue, modify, condition or deny a permit for this proposal."

Comments on the proposed work should be submitted in writing, before Aug. 1, to the District Engineer, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Philadelphia District, Wanamaker Building, 100 Penn Square East, Philadelphia, PA 19107-3390.

The proposed $25 million project has been in the works since 2008.

It has been planned in phases, some of which have been completed to date. The project is expected to be fully operational by spring 2014.

In other matters, O'Gurek said that the county will be submitting a modified highway occupancy permit to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for its Packerton Yards Industrial Park project.

He explained that the county's engineer and economic development director met with PennDOT earlier this week and an agreement for changing some of the details for the entrance of the business park, located near the Packerton Dip in Mahoning Township.

"I think we're now in place," O'Gurek said. "He (Ron Tirpak) needs to finalize the changes by submitting a formal application with changes but we're happy to have heard that both PennDOT and the engineer have reached an agreement that both sides will be happy with. I think we're getting there."

The highway occupancy permit is one of the last obstacles that county must overcome before work on the proposed industrial business park can begin.

The industrialization of the former Packerton Yards rail yard has been a goal for O'Gurek and Commissioner Charles Getz since 2002, when the pair 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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