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December 16, 2013

‘Gravel pit’ development

Sewage treatment plant project seen as trigger

MERCER COUNTY — More than 13 years after the county lost the chance to be home to Cabela’s sporting goods store, plans are in place to begin a $9.1 million project that will bring needed infrastructure improvements to the infamous “gravel pit,” an area at the interchange of Interstate 80 and Route 19 called “the No. 1 economic development site” the county has.

Work will begin in early 2014 to build a sewage treatment facility in that area, which will provide sewer systems to nearly 500 residents in East Lackawannock and Findley townships, while at the same time providing sewer service to the gravel pit, the lack of which has been a marketing stumbling block for years, according to county Commissioner Chairman John Lechner.

“We knew that without sewers and water and electricity at the interchange that development would be years down the road. It’s not a case of saying to developers “come and we will build it;” it’s a “build-it-and-then-they-will-come” kind of deal,” Lechner said.

The infrastructure at the interchange has been a hot-button topic for years and Lechner, who has been a county commissioner for nearly eight years, campaigned on the issue.

“I’ve said I would see to it that there were sewers at that interchange if I had to go down there with a shovel and dig them myself.”

He said he sees the county as being on the cusp of a huge economic boom, due in large part to the oil and gas industry expansion and also the development possibilities that sewers will provide.

Because the area has been mined, there had been discussion that the ground wasn’t firm enough to support large-scale development, Lechner said. However, he said he’s had discussions with engineers who explained the process of “dynamic compaction” to him, which involves using a crane to drop a huge weight on the ground, which firms the ground in a reverse cone fashion, he said.

“And it would then be absolutely perfect for light industry, or retail or warehousing. We have the greatest assets in this county and that is that we have three interstates. With the sewers and eventually water and electric at the interchange there is a very, very real possibility that we could have development similar to that at the I-79/208 interchange,” he said.

“I’m not saying we’d have another outlet mall necessarily, but certainly we could look at hotels, restaurants and so forth. Getting the sewers there is the most important first step. And it’s a lot more than we had there,” he said of possible development.

He also believes the oil and gas industry will be a boom for the county, but that it hasn’t started just yet.

“That boom will be here for years and years, once we get the pipelines to carry the product. We know the good stuff is down there. I see permit after permit, which is sent to us as a courtesy, crossing my desk. We know we’re getting fabulous results from the test wells,” he said.

“Mercer County is poised for the greatest economic boom we’ve ever seen, in my personal opinion. And we’ll need hotels, stores, housing, shopping and all the things that go along with that consumerism. I’m really thrilled to see that the sewers are becoming a reality. Now the key is to ensure sane and controlled growth.”

Dan Goncz, the engineer for the project, said the plant will be built in the northeast quadrant of the interchange, where the county owns 218 acres. Homeowners who will be getting sewer treatment options will be sent a letter in the next few months. Goncz said work is under way to design the plant and construction should finish in 2016.

“There’s definitely a real need. There are quite a number of malfunctioning sewer systems and it’s for the betterment of the watershed,” he said.

Funding for the project is coming through the Neshannock Creek Watershed Joint Municipal Authority, an organization formed in 2004 to help develop and protect areas along Neshannock Creek. The U.S. Department of Agriculture last week announced a $7 million combination loan and grant for the authority to begin its project.

Details about tap-in fees and other homeowner questions have not been worked out yet, Goncz said, but information will be given out as soon as it’s available.

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