PART FIVE: Conclusion
LORDS VALLEY - The fateful and meticulously planned decision to attack PA State Police troopers at the Blooming Grove barracks, September 12, 2014 had far reaching consequences.
As with any homicide, the deepest impact remains with the victim, and the the victim’s loved ones left behind. The high cost of the shootings in terms of dollars and cents included not only the millions spent on the 48-day manhunt, incarceration and jury trial, but also the disturbance wrought on the local economy.
The Senate’s Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee held a hearing June 15, 2017, at the request of their member, Senator Lisa Baker (R-20th). It was held at the Pike County Training Center in Lords Valley; three members of the Senate and the three local State Representatives heard testimony and asked questions in an effort to constructively assess how the emergency operation proceeded, what were the strengths and positive outcomes, and what could be learned from it.
PA State Police, county government representatives, school and economic development leaders took part.
This is the fifth and last part of the report, which covers the five hour hearing. The full series is posted online at www.neagle.com.
Chamber of the Northern Poconos
“They heard ‘Pocono Mountains’ and stayed away,” said Debbie Gillette, Executive Director of the Chamber of the Northern Poconos.
The widespread media coverage of the manhunt for suspect Eric Frein centered on the Poconos, a broad term that officially includes Wayne, Pike, Monroe and Carbon counties.
Although in the very first days no one knew who had done it, how many were even involved and which way the killer was headed, the search became concentrated in the central and western woodlands of Pike County and then the north central area of Monroe County, as investigators followed a trail of clues.
Major portions of the Poconos remained in the clear, including all of Wayne County.
Nevertheless, in the minds of the public looking to vacation in the “Poconos” in the height of the fall foliage season, the bout of bad publicity was blamed for keeping many tourists away.
Gilette stated, “This is not how our region would like to be portrayed. The Pocono Mountains are known internationally for our beauty, recreation, tourism and quality of life. This tragic event happened in the start of our fall foliage season, and had a negative impact on the entire season.”
The vast majority of their businesses are small and family owned. Businesses had to take extra security measures, a cost for which they were not prepared.
Hotels and resorts did not report a significant monetary loss. “In fact, those who had cancellations from recreational visitors augmented those losses with law enforcement and media involved with the manhunt,” she said.
Numerous small businesses relying heavily on the fishing season found themselves with little or no work. Hundreds of hunting and fishing clubs were affected.
Tourist attractions experienced the greatest financial impact. Gillette noted that Costa’s Family Fun Park (on Route 6, less than a mile from where Eric Frein’s Jeep was found) had a 57% net loss in comparison to the same weeks in September and October of 2013.
Keen Lake Camping & Cottage Resort, although located near Waymart, Wayne Countym nearly 45 minutes from the area of the manhunt, reported that occupancy was down 19% in the month of September 2014. Many guests, not familiar with the area, assumed they were better off staying away. Guests who travel Route 402 to reach the Northern Poconos, were unnerved by the police presence in the area.
Dozens of gated communities had to pay for extra security.
The most significant reported economic impact, however, was to the Pocono Film Commission. Gillette said that they had a lost a film production that was scheduled to be filmed in the State Game Lands and the Delaware State Forest on Route 390 in Pike County. The project scheduled in the Game Lands had a $3 - $5 million filming budget. Local businesses that would have benefited lost an estimated $500,000 in income.
Numerous businesses provided meals to the law enforcement during the manhunt. The American Red Cross coordinated the donations and delivery, and were never turned away.
Lake Region IGA donated meals and food totaling over $6,000. Overboard Restaurant, Ehrhardt’s Resort and The Boathouse Restaurant each provided meals on several occasions for 300 people.
“Fortunately, as we often do, we banded together in support of our local law enforcement and in prayer for the families of State Trooper, Cpl. Bryon Dickson and Alex Douglass,” Gillette stated.
Most businesses did not want to submit information to the Chamber, she said, adding that while their were financially impacted, the emotional toll was far greater.
Christopher Barrett, Executive Director, Pocono Mountains Visitors Bureau (PMVB) said they asked their 500+ members for data concerning the impact of the manhunt on their businesses.
Lodging reservations especially were cancelled short of the guest stay. When queried, the guests cited the manhunt and concern for their personal safety as well as their families.
School groups cancelled educational trips out of safety concerns.
The time of year that the manhunt took place was one of the most active for the Poconos as a destination.
Many retail restaurants noted that business slacked off as much as 30% compared to previous years.
Many businesses reported a general “lack of momentum” ending the year in a negative light.
“The last point is the one which is mots disconcerting,” Barrett stated. “What will be the long term damage to the Pocono Mountains, or the Pocono brand? When one thinks of the Poconos it elicits a feeling of peace, calm and safety. The enjoyment of nature and getting away from it all is key. Pike and Wayne counties are some of the [most] beautiful counties in the United States.”
“We will continue to position our wonderful and truly American band positively and aggressively,” he said. On behalf of the PMVB, he suggested that in the future, consider adding someone from the affected destination marketing organization as a liaison in these situations. This would serve as a positive conduit for communications to the local tourism industry, which employs over 38,000 residents. Secondly, he said, they can help relay up to date and accurate information to their guests and assist law enforcement in any way they can.
Pike County Chamber
Jody Welsh, President, Pike County Chamber of Commerce, submitted written remarks. They also reached out to their membership for data, but heard back from only a few.
A business in Milford Borough reported their hotel reservations and dinner reservations were cancelled. There was also a noticeable decline in every day diners.
Another business, in Greeley, stated that they had organizations cancel events, costing the business over $35,000 in revenue. Some of it was recovered by insurance.
Both Wallenpaupack and East Stroudsburg school districts lost days of school and cancelled athletic events.
Cabins in hunting lands were not reserved. “Hunting season is one last time for the businesses to generate revenue before the winter season arrives,” Welsh said.
Senator Randy Vulakovich (R-38th), Committee Chairman, shared at the conclusion of the hearing that hearing from the economic development/business and school leaders clearly show how they feel about this community and the respect and love they have for the State Police. He and the other legislators expressed thanks for the extensive feedback.
A retired policeman of 27 years, Senator Vulakovich added, “I want to thank my brothers of the State Police- the ordeal you went through. It is a sad day when one of your people go down. What really scares us, when we realize the people… see our vulnerability. … We want to bring it back up, so they know that we will do our job, and it’s a sacrifice we all make. And we all realize that when we put our gear on and go out on the road”
The Senator he hoped it was clear to the media about all the unintended consequences of a tragic situation like this, that people really do care and try to do the best they can do.