By Peter Becker
Citing a pressing need to expand business development in Pike County, Palmyra Township (Pike) Supervisors have been asked to consider a piece of Delaware State Forest land for a new business park.
Michael J. Sullivan, Executive Director for the Pike County Economic Development Authority (EDA) met with the Supervisors Jan. 22nd. His proposal is to ask the state to swap the parcel for a portion of the existing business park set aside in Blooming Grove Township, that has never been developed.
The tract he is looking in Palmyra is a big, rough triangle, containing 154 acres, at the corner with Interstate 84 on the north, and Route 390 on the east. Shiney Mountain Road borders on the west. Old Greentown Road cuts through the middle. The triangle's southern tip is where Shiney Mountain Road meets Route 390.
Sullivan told the Palmyra Supervisors that there are issues with the Blooming Grove business park that make it largely unbuildable. The land includes an "enormous ice age bog" with about 200 acres of wetlands. The EDA has been searching for alternative sites in Pike, which are few, he said.
The urgency of the matter, Sullivan explained, are the troubling economic statistics Pike County faces. Information compiled by the Pike County Chamber of Commerce from US Census and IRS data show that after a long growth period, Pike is now losing population. From April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2011, the population is estimated to have decreased by .9 percent (515 people). Unemployment rate in Pike has been among the highest in Pennsylvania for almost two years. Sullivan said that the total number of businesses in Pike decreased by about 10 percent between 2008 and 2010.
EDA would like to trade about 500 acres of the park in Blooming Grove Township, with the 154 acres in Palmyra, as well as a few other building lots EDA hopes to identify.
The section he wants to trade is mostly wetland, which the state may want to preserve. There is also an endangered species of salamander on the Blooming Grove tract, but no endangered species identified at the Palmyra site. The empty business park totals 600 acres.
The tract under discussion in Palmyra appears to be quite suitable, with no known wetlands, no slopes greater than 25 percent, and good soils. There are no streams, which would be problematic given the required buffer zones. A septic system would be required. There is no water service at present but there is hope suitable well water could be drilled. An electrical transmission line passes through, which they hope could provide electrical service.
Lots could be developed along Old Greentown Road with reasonable buffers from the business development, he added.
Sullivan said this was still exploratory, and nothing would happen if the state did not agree to the swap. He first wanted to know how the Township would feel, and if they did not agree, EDA would accept that.
Two of the supervisors voiced concerns. Ken Coutts said he favored business development but was concerned that a great deal of money and work went into preparing the site in Blooming Grove Township, and now it is "deemed unusable." He said that they don't want the same thing to happen in Palmyra Township.
Eric Ehrhardt noted that the Sterling Business Park, off of I-84 in Sterling Township, Wayne County, is not far away. No tenants have been announced there.
Sullivan stated that the Pike County EDA works closely with the Wayne Economic Development Corporation (WEDCO). The Sterling site, which offers a centralized sewer and water system, has considerably more expensive rates than he said the Palmyra site would be able to set. Given that the Palmyra site would only have a septic system, "we could sell for $15,000 an acre," Sullivan sated.
Ehrhardt described the I-84 exit in Palmyra serves as an "entry way" for their residents. He said that if the forest land were to be "torn up," the Supervisors would be getting "feedback." Sullivan noted that nothing would be done to the land unless they had a tenant.
The EDA recently obtained a two-year forbearance for the loan to develop the Pike County Business Park. Pike County Business Development Corporation, which has the title to the park, has at least $2.5 million debt from purchasing the land and getting it ready. The plan was to pay back the debts as plots were sold to companies, which failed to happen. The two-year forbearance gives the EDA time to arrange the land swap and sell parcels to businesses. This in turn would settle past debts and bring in needed jobs.
In an interview later, Sullivan said that the Supervisors' concerns are legitimate, and it is not his wish to impose anything. "The towns hold all the cards," he said, and now he will wait and see. Sullivan stressed that there are about 350,000 acres in Pike County, and if only about 300 would be available, "that would be terrific for business."
He said there are many voices for the environment but not many speak for business development. He said that he, as well as the EDA, wishes to champion "thoughtful" economic development that would be suitable for Pike County.