By Rob Scott
The Daily Item
SHAMOKIN — Water company Aqua Pennsylvania has put a 1,900-acre piece of land in Coal Township up for sale, a move that has a local environmental group concerned about the site's future.
The company has owned the Trout Run site, located east of Shamokin Area Community Hospital, for several years, according to spokeswoman Donna Alston. However, Aqua Pennsylvania no longer has any need for it.
The land was placed on the market several weeks ago, with an asking price of $5 million. So far, it hasn't had any offers, she said.
But Jere Snyder, a member of the Brush Valley Preservation Association, is concerned the site could be developed, jeopardizing many of its natural resources.
During the early 1990s through 2000, the federal Bureau of Prisons was looking at the land as a potential site for a federal prison, due in part to its proximity to a state prison.
At the time, a number of agencies — including the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency — expressed concern over the possibility of the site's development.
According to Mr. Snyder, a report issued by DCNR several years ago stated, "Development of this site will impact undisturbed land that contains valuable resources."
And another put out by the EPA said, "The proposed project has the potential to result in significant environmental impact."
Talk of a federal prison has since died down, but with the site now for sale, Mr. Snyder said he is worried about what could happen to it.
He went before Northumberland County commissioners two weeks ago to express his concerns and get their opinions on what they would like to see done with the property.
"Philosophically, I'm very respective of owner's rights," Commissioner Frank Sawicki said. "As far as the use of this land, the county can advise, but Coal Township has jurisdiction."
Commissioner Sam Deitrick acknowledged Trout Run is a "great conservation area," although he said he would still support the creation of a federal prison there.
"I don't think it will come up again," he said.
Ms. Alston also mentioned the water company sold approximately 6,600 acres of land adjacent to Trout Run to the state in 2003 and donated another 2,300.
"I think (the sale of Trout Run) is an opportunity to have the best of both worlds," she said. "It's ... an opportunity to have land developed, which could have a positive economic benefit."
Commissioner Kurt Masser expressed similar feelings, saying, "It doesn't have to be mutually exclusive. I don't see why it couldn't be in unison."
Coal Township Commissioner George Zalar said he could see both sides of the debate, but said the area is in need of development.
"Since I've been in office, I've always been an advocate of development. But I'm also a strong supporter of what Brush Valley has done," he said. "I was very excited when they talked about putting a prison there. Those were good, family-sustaining jobs."
Ultimately, "it up to what the owner wants to do," he said.
Mr. Snyder said there are a number of other locations in the county better suited for economic development than Trout Run.
"We have an industrial park at the east end of the county, one in Paxinos. All of these sites have the infrastructure already in place," he said. "We have plenty of places for job creation. We don't need to use Trout Run."
He would prefer to see the land, which includes a 10-acre lake, converted to a state park.
Daniel Devlin, director of DCNR's Bureau of Forestry, said the state has looked and is looking into the possibility of purchasing the site.
"It's certainly on our radar," he said. "We'd love to see it kept intact ... That area there has been worked over hard by strip mining."
Mr. Devlin wasn't sure whether the area could be converted into a state park.
"Our idea would probably be to add it onto the state forest system," he said. The state-owned 10,000 acres adjacent to Trout Run are part of the state forest system.
He said a number of conservation groups and foundations the state worked with during its previous land deal with Aqua Pennsylvania are in the process of initiating discussions with the company for Trout Run.
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