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Carbon officials meet with governor

For the second time in six weeks, Carbon County officials and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf met to speak about projects and problems taking place in the county.

The governor traveled to Jim Thorpe on Sept. 20 to meet with county officials and tour the pedestrian bridge being built as part of the D&L Corridor trail connectivity project, as well as visit with the downtown merchants.

On Monday, the three county commissioners and administrator Eloise Ahner traveled to the Capitol in Harrisburg to meet with Wolf to further discuss matters pertinent to Carbon County.

Commissioners’ Chairman Wayne Nothstein said he was thankful that the governor took the time to meet with the board and learn about what is going on in the county.

“It was an honor to have a one-on-one conversation with Gov. Wolf,” Nothstein said. “He is a sincere man who is willing to listen.”

Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard added, “It was a great day for us to be in Harrisburg. When the governor gives you his time, that shows he’s interested in you. We’re certainly appreciative of the opportunity he gave us to share our concerns.”

Monday’s session allowed the commissioners to discuss projects that will affect the residents, including the county’s ongoing fire training facility project and the proposal to relocate a portion of the D&L Trail that currently runs through the county-owned parking lot in Jim Thorpe.

Fire training facility

The estimated $10 million multiuse fire training facility is proposed to join the current Emergency Management Agency and county prison on the Broad Mountain in Nesquehoning. The previous burn tower in Lehighton that volunteers used to train was condemned and demolished after it was found to be unsafe.

The county has already secured over $600,000 for the first phase of the project, which includes widening Emergency Lane to accommodate firetruck traffic.

Officials, in February, also applied for a $1.68 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program grant, which would be used to partially fund the construction of the burn building and new Emergency Operations Center.

“After our short, but very informative meeting with Gov. Wolf, we feel confident that we should proceed on schedule with our Emergency Operations and Training Facility,” Nothstein said.

Carbon’s permit application has been resubmitted to the Department of Environmental Protection and Nothstein said he is hopeful that the county gets its permit in early January.

Once the permit is secured, bid specifications packets should be done before the end of February, with bids for the access road being awarded sometime in April and construction beginning in late May or early June.

Commissioner William O’Gurek said the conversation concerning the fire service centered around volunteerism and the demands put on volunteer firefighters to raise funds for their equipment and apparatus, while also keeping up with their training certifications that are required.

Right now, volunteers have to travel to training facilities as far as 70 miles away to complete their training hours, Carbon County Fire Chiefs Association President John McArdle said. Some locations include Whitehall, Montgomery County, Emmaus, Harrisburg Area Community College, Hazleton or Tamaqua.

This leaves gaps in coverage and costs departments thousands annually due to equipment costs, facility and burn material rentals and fuel for the apparatus.

“(Wolf) gets it,” O’Gurek said. “The governor comes from a small town (Mount Wolf) where the fire company there is all volunteer, so he knows well how difficult it is for firemen to stay ahead of the situation.”

D&L Trail

The Carbon officials also discussed an application they have pending before the state transportation officials for funding to take pedestrian and bicycle traffic off the county parking lot as part of the D&L trail project.

In September, the board applied for a $403,986 Alternative Set-Aside Application grant through the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation for the relocation project.

The money would be used for creating a separate trail closer to the Lehigh River in the county lot so that pedestrians and bikers have a dedicated trail without having to dodge vehicles trying to park or get out of the parking lot.

Problems Carbon faces

In addition to the fire project and D&L trail, officials discussed problems the county is facing due to the opioid epidemic, including the huge increase in court cases that impact several offices and the county prison.

Wolf talked about a collaborative effort necessary between the state and counties to combat the drug problems that have adversely affected the commonwealth.

The governor stressed the need to reign in drug companies and doctors’ methods of prescribing medications, and talked about a dire need to establish more treatment facilities in the state.

He asked the commissioners to continue to provide services to inmates and programs to combat the drug crisis, noting the problem is not one where society can sentence away the problem.

He also asked about PennDOT’s handling of the Route 209 rock slide problem that happened in September and spoke about highway and road repair work being done throughout the state in the aftermath of the state’s new transportation bill.

Gov. Tom Wolf, center, met with Carbon County officials Monday in Harrisburg to discuss projects and problems in the county. With him are, from left, Administrator Ellie Ahner, Commissioner Thomas J. Gerhard, Wolf and commissioners William O’Gurek and Wayne Nothstein. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO
Volunteer firefighters must travel to training facilities like this, located in Whitehall, to complete their certification hours. COURTESY NESQUEHONING HOSE COMPANY
Volunteer firefighters train at the burn training facility in Whitehall.