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Sale would red-flag race track

Published April 20. 2013 09:02AM

It appears as though plans to build a high-performance racetrack near Palmerton may finally have to put on the brakes.

That's if the potential purchase of the 353-acre lot along the Blue Mountain approved earlier this week by the Pennsylvania Game Commission goes through.

The commission partnered with the Wildlands Conservancy and Palmerton Trustees Council to pay $3.8 million for the Monroe County, Eldred Township, tract, according to Christopher Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy. Kocher said funds from the Pennsylvania Audubon, along with a pending $400,000 Monroe County open space grant, would also be utilized to purchase the property.

The purchase is pending the Monroe County grant, said Kocher, who added "we still officially need to go through that process."

A decision will be made in early-May, and would then look to close on the property in late-May, Kocher said.

Kocher said the organization has worked "for years to see that property protected as open space."

"We're thrilled," Kocher said. "From a preservation perspective, this acquisition ranks as one of the most significant ones we've done in terms of preventing degradation of some very significant natural habitat."

However, Kocher stressed that the property has not yet been purchased.

"We currently did not purchase the property yet," he said. "We have an agreement of sale that's signed, but it's still in private ownership."

Kocher said the current owner of the property is Paul Matinho, of New Jersey, whose family owns a Portuguese-language newspaper.

Efforts to reach Matinho for comment in time for today's publication were unsuccessful.

Kocher said the Pennsylvania Game Commission would take over ownership of the land once the transaction is complete.

The sale would effectively squash the vision of Reading developer Richard Muller Jr, who wanted to build a private, members only, Alpine Motorsports Club. Last year, the investment group behind the club won a decades-long court battle to develop the property, though no construction took place.

Muller purchased 360 acres on the Blue Mountain in Smith Gap in June 2001 for $1.6 million, with the idea to construct a $20 million mountainside resort that would cover about 150 acres and include a 2.8 mile road course featuring garages, a car wash and self-service fuel station. There was to be recreational facilities like a welcome center, clubhouse with library, movie theater, game room, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts, outdoor swimming pool, gardens, picnic area and a two-mile fitness trail.

But a group of local residents and environmentalists, which included the Sierra Club, led by Frank and Marion O'Donnell, property owners next to Muller's 360 acres, formed the Blue Mountain Preservation Association late in 2001, citing noise and pollution concerns. They said that a portion of the road-course would be only 100 feet away from their property.

The Appalachian Trail Conference also objected to the building of the road-course, stating it would be about a half-mile away from the trail.

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