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Carbon returns rail yard money

Published January 24. 2014 05:00PM

Carbon County is giving back a $1 million federal grant.

During the county commissioners' meeting on Thursday, the board voted 3-0 to approve an offer to terminate a financial assistance award agreement for convenience with the United States Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration for $1 million.

The grant was secured in June 2010 for use in developing the Packerton Business Park in Mahoning Township.

Commissioner William O'Gurek, who along with former Commissioner Charles Getz, spearheaded the industrialization of the old rail yard, said that the action is a move by the county to give back the grant rather than the EDA taking back the grant.

He noted that there is a difference between the offer to terminate and the EDA terminating the agreement.

Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, chairman, clarified that the difference is because if the EDA terminated the agreement, then the county would never qualify for another EDA grant again. The move ensures the county may be able to qualify for other funding in the future.

"It saddens me that today we are giving a million back to the federal government in monies that were granted to us to develop Packerton Business Park," O'Gurek said, noting that it was in the works for a decade.

"Everyone knows Commissioner Getz and I initiated the process with aspirations of creating jobs for Carbon County and nearby county residents and it saddens me that we weren't able to do that."

He added that the $1 million grant now brings the total amount returned to state and federal entities to $2,350,301. Other grants given back include two local share grants totaling $1,231,501, and a federal Economic Development Initiative grant in the amount of $118,800.

Two grants remain in the county's possession a $500,000 Pennsylvania Surface Transportation Grant, and a $2 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Project grant.

O'Gurek noted that preliminary indications for the $500,000 is that it will be returned to the state; while no determination for the $2 million has yet to be made.

"With the other grants, we asked if we could redirect them to other projects and the answer was no," he said. "We will make an attempt like we did on the other two to try and salvage the money and keep it in Carbon because, as you know, it's not very often you get numbers that large, if any amount these days, from the state or federal government."

Nothstein said that it is a shame that the county has to give the funds back.

"Hopefully because this didn't work out for us," he said, "we hope that doesn't keep us from getting future grants for future projects that we are looking at."

Nothstein said that the county is facing issues of lack of space in county facilities mainly the prison as well as the archives building.

The Packerton Business Park project officially came to an end in November 2013, when Commonwealth Court Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt upheld a January 2013 Carbon County Court of Common Pleas ruling that denied the county from developing county roads through the 59-acre site between Mahoning Township and Lehighton.

At that time, the commissioners announced that they were not going to appeal the decision.

Carbon County has been working to build an industrial business park at the former Packerton Yards rail yard since 2003, stating at the time that it would bring hundreds of jobs to the area; as well as thousands in tax revenue.

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