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Opinion: A blueprint for success

Last week’s announcement that the four boroughs of the Panther Valley have been approved as a Blueprint Community comes as good news for the future.

By resolution, each of the municipalities - Coaldale, Lansford, Nesquehoning and Summit Hill - came together to approve their 10-year commitment that makes them part of the first-ever regional effort in eastern Pennsylvania in the program’s history.

The agreement sets in motion a framework that links the communities’ interests in improving opportunities and quality of life issues as they move into another decade.

And who wouldn’t agree that would be a good thing for the area?

Blueprint Communities have been around since 2005, when a Pittsburgh-based bank kick-started the initiative to revitalize communities and neighborhoods in Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia.

Members work in teams to develop and implement projects with assistance from financial organizations and professional groups. Thus far, $500 million has been leveraged in public and private funding to the 64 participating communities.

In the program’s inaugural year, Tamaqua was chosen as one of the participants as was a neighborhood in Berwick, Columbia County.

Almost 20 years later, both boroughs have reaped benefits that helped repurpose old buildings and revitalize their overall communities. In fact, this year, Berwick has been accepted into the program for its second run on a larger scale. Closer to home, White Haven in Luzerne County has become part of the program.

State Sen. David Argall was a driving force behind getting the locals involved. He pointed to Tamaqua’s success in revitalizing its business district and highlighted its effort in bringing much needed housing to the borough.

Argall said that some of the communities involved have used the program to expand tourism, create better housing, support local business and redevelop historic buildings.

The newest local Blueprint members have already been looking at ways to breathe new life into their communities.

Take, for example, the work being done at the former Lehigh and New England Railroad Station in Lansford.

Or maybe the proposal to highlight the role of the Switchback Railroad from its beginnings in Summit Hill. Officials there have discussed a high-tech visitors center to preserve its story and keep it alive for future generations.

In Nesquehoning, they’re developing private industry and businesses at the former KME properties. Reading and Northern Railroad’s work to build a siding (low-speed track section) making the borough a launching point for tourist excursions could make the community a magnet for commerce and spur new business as it grows.

As a more practical matter, a joint sewer authority needs to upgrade and expand its facilities to accommodate and encourage further development.

The possibilities are endless, and perhaps those involved might consider plans and ideas to share and standardize services and ordinances that were proposed in previous comprehensive plans.

Argall pointed out that last week’s announcement was an important next step in breathing new life into the region as well as each of the four communities.

Moving ahead, the regional Blueprint team will receive support in designing plans and implementing their initiatives. They’ll have opportunities to hone leadership skills and get help in connecting with technical experts to deal with issues unique to the region.

In addition, training will include help in building partnerships with providers of local and regional resources, as well as links to public and private funding sources.

There will be opportunities to promote projects in the region and build community support.

Most importantly they’ll have access to financial support from the sponsoring organization and other local institutions.

The important thing throughout the process will be maintaining the commitment.

Too often, local governments have spent countless hours and spent countless dollars in defining problems that lead to incomplete solutions.

Continuity is certainly something to consider. Will the face of the group change as elections come and go? Will its goals and initiatives lose momentum as time passes? A decade, after all, is a long time and who knows how the dynamics of the group might be affected.

Judging from comments of those involved at the program’s onset, energy, enthusiasm and the spirit cooperation are high, at least for now.

One member said the next 18 months will be a road map to help lead the communities involved and thus the region to change for the better.

And maybe even a blueprint for success.

ED SOCHA/tneditor@tnonline.com

ED SOCHA is a retired newspaper editor with more than 40 years’ experience in community journalism. Reach him at tneditor@tnonline.com.

The foregoing opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of the Editorial Board or Times News LLC.