The best places to live, work, and visit are those places that are willing to uphold their standards in the face of pressure to allow lowest common denominator development… Successful communities understand that when they say no to development that is contrary to the long-term health of their community, they will almost always get better development in its place. ~Ed McMahon, Conservation Fund
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Update 6/3/2013: Alpine Motorsports property now owned by Pennsylvania Game Commission
Kurt Bresswein | The Express-Times By Kurt Bresswein | The Express-Times on June 03, 2013 at 6:00 AM, updated June 03, 2013 at 7:54 AM
Land eyed for a pricey playground for sports-car enthusiasts is instead protected in perpetuity, and the public can get a guided tour of the acreage next month.
Lower Macungie Township-based Wildlands Conservancy Inc. on May 20 closed on the $3.8 million purchase of 354 acres along the Blue Mountain in Eldred Township, Monroe County, where developers long envisioned building the Alpine Motorsports club.
The conservancy that day transferred the property to the Pennsylvania Game Commission for use as state game lands. Set near other protected properties, the purchase helps to protect natural resources near the mountain's Kittatinny Ridge, home to the Appalachian Trail.
A guided hike July 13 at the land along Upper Smith Gap Road offers a look at the sloping property that would have been paved, in part, into a 28-turn track with a milelong straightway.
“It’s a very important property from an ecological perspective, from a connectivity perspective,” the nonprofit conservancy’s president, Christopher Kocher, said Thursday. “The property extends from the floodplain of the Aquashicola Creek literally to the summit of the north side of the Blue Mountain.
“You don’t get many properties with that type of diversity in them.”
Funding for the purchase included a $400,000 grant from Monroe County that Kocher described as very critical, private donations and funding from the Lehigh Gap Nature Center, Audubon PA, Blue Mountain Preservation Association and trustees of the $21 million settlement of damage caused to Lehigh Gap by zinc smelting in Palmerton, Pa.
Deed restrictions stipulated by the funding sources protect the property as open space and natural habitat, Kocher said.
“It’s safe to say that this property will be left in its natural state forever,” he said.
The idea for the motorsports club dates back two decades. Developer Dick Muller, of Hanover Township, Northampton County, said he invested at least 25,000 hours without compensation in trying to see it through to fruition since 2001.
In 2010, he said he gave up what was once 100 percent ownership to the family of Paul Matinho. Matinho said he had started out as an investor then took control of the project after issuing a mortgage on the property that Muller’s group failed to repay.
Financial problems surrounding the proposal grew, as did the cost of everything from asphalt to satisfying environmental regulations, Matinho said.
“We were unsuccessful in finding construction financing to build the facility,” he said Friday from his Newark office. “The cost of it over the years escalated tremendously” to about $40 million.
By keeping the land public, Matinho said, the county, township and local schools lose out on taxes that would have risen from about $17,000 or $18,000 now to the neighborhood of $150,000 annually, not including sales and payroll taxes and other economic benefits.
Project costs also included legal fees for battling opponents for years in court. “We won all of the court cases,” Muller said, “but the project, I guess in a sense, just ran out of fuel.”
Wildlands Conservancy Inc. is offering a guided hike, about 2 miles long, 10 a.m. July 13 of the Upper Smith Gap Road property in Eldred Township, Monroe County, formerly planned as the Alpine Motorsports club.
To register, call the Lower Macungie Township nonprofit at 610-965-4397, ext. 112.
Alpine Motorsports sale was years in the making Racetrack's owners were selling memberships while negotiating land deal
By Chris Reber Pocono Record Writer May 31, 2013 12:00 AM
The sale of the Alpine Motorsports Park property in Eldred Township came as a surprise to many. In the months leading up to the sale, park owners were still offering memberships and fighting preservationists in court.
But while the project's owners forged ahead with the project, they were also negotiating to sell the property to a group of preservation organizations led by the Trustees of the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site.
The state Game Commission last month announced that it had successfully acquired the 353.77-acre parcel near Lower Smith Gap in Eldred Township.
"They did not give up on the track until we demonstrated that we had the intention of closing on the property," said Kathleen Patnode, a superfund trustee representing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
The property, which would have become a private road course racetrack for exotic cars, will now be integrated into the adjacent state game lands.
The acquisition marks the end of four years of negotiation to acquire the property, started by The Trustees of the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site, and eventually including a long list of local preservation organizations brought together by the Wildlands Conservancy of Emmaus.
"This ranks with the top acquisitions in our history in terms of preventing environmental degradation," said Christopher Kocher, president of the Wildlands Conservancy.
The trustees oversee $22 million from a settlement with the former New Jersey Zinc Company, whose zinc smelting plants caused metal contamination along the Kittatinny Ridge and the Lehigh River in Palmerton, destroying bird and fish habitats.
That money is intended to promote and preserve wildlife habitats similar to the ones destroyed around Palmerton, Patnode said.
"(The Alpine property) has habitat traits, like the type of vegetation and slope, that was lost at Palmerton," Patnode said.
The Alpine tract was near the top of the list. The site combines highland forest that is used by migratory birds, wetlands and the Aquashicola Creek, all habitats that were affected in Palmerton. It was also adjacent to 1,300 acres given to the trustees as part of the zinc settlement.
They first approached owner Richard Muller in 2009. When investors Antonio and Paul Matinho purchased the property in 2010, the trustees again tried to purchase the property, Patnode said. Both
sides hired appraisers but couldn't agree on a price.
The trustees agreed to put up about $2.2 million, but said a partner would have to take on any additional cost.
The Wildlands Conservancy, led by Kocher, contacted a number of local groups, including the Game Commission, Monroe County, the Audubon Society, The Lehigh Gap and local opposition group Blue Mountain Preservation Association, totaling about $1.6 million.
It was not until 2013, right around the time Alpine won its final appeal, that the funding came together. The parties agreed on a $3.8 million purchase price, higher than the trustees had appraised the property, but still lower than the Matinho's asking price, Patnode said.
The trustees also recently funded the purchase of another 90-acre parcel in Ross Township. That site will become part of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge.
The trustees had been negotiating with the owner of that property for more than a year, eventually coming to an agreement, but he died before the deal closed, Patnode said. They completed the deal with his estate, also located along the Kittatinny Ridge.
The parcel brings the Cherry Valley Refuge up to 270 acres.
"It fits well within our goals of protecting endangered species, migratory birds, promoting hunting, and wildlife observation," preserve Manager Mike Horne said.
PRESS RELEASE: MAY 24, 2013
Restoration Effort Moving Forward with Land Acquisitions as Part of $21 Million Palmerton Zinc Natural Resource Damages Settlement
Palmerton, PA - State and Federal environmental officials announced today that two land purchases have been made to benefit the wildlife, people and landscape of the Kittatinny Ridge.
The two purchases are the Moreton and Alpine Motorsports tracts east of Palmerton in the Aquashicola Creek watershed. Funds for these purchases came from the Palmerton Zinc Natural Resource Damages Settlement, the Pennsylvania Game Commission, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Monroe County Open Space Program, Audubon PA, Blue Mountain Preservation Association, Lehigh Gap Nature Center and Hawk Mountain Sanctuary with the land acquisition expertise of the Wildlands Conservancy.
The 90-acre Moreton property is in the upper Aquashicola Creek and on the north slope of the Kittatinny Ridge. This acquisition will become part of the Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge to protect migratory bird and coldwater fish habitat in compensation for habitat injured at the Superfund site.
“The acquisition of the former Moreton property is a crucial step in our land protection and habitat restoration efforts at the fledgling Cherry Valley National Wildlife Refuge - one that would not have been realized without the support of the settlement funds,” according to Michael Horne, refuge manager.
The property includes a segment of Aquashicola Creek bounded by more than 15 acres of floodplain wetlands, a tributary to the creek, forested upland and former pasture. The property is home to the federally endangered bog turtle. It will also provide recreational opportunities including bird watching, nature walking, fishing and hunting.
The Alpine Motorsport tract is 354 acres with upland, streams and wetlands within the Aquashicola Creek watershed. The former owner planned to develop the property as an auto sport driving facility with hotel and restaurant facilities, but the property is now under PA Game Commission ownership as part of State Game Lands 168.
“It will be managed to protect and enhance fish and wildlife habitat damaged at Palmerton Zinc, while providing recreational opportunities such as bird watching, nature photography, hiking,hunting and fishing,” said William A. Capouillez, director of the PA Game Commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Habitat Management.
Christopher Kocher, President of Wildlands Conservancy, considers the Alpine acquisition “one of the most significant conservation deals in our land trust’s history.”
“This is a seminal project which not only conserved critical bird migratory and nesting habitat, but also eliminated a dire threat which would have destroyed the Kittatinny Ridge Important Bird Area,” said Phil Wallis of Audubon PA.
"Protection of this property advances Blue Mountain Preservation Association's mission to preserve and protect the unique forest ecosystem of the Blue Mountain and the Aquashicola high quality trout stream which were threatened by the planned development," according to Frank O'Donnell, association president
"The Kittatinny Ridge is very important ecologically and this was a great day for conservation in Pennsylvania,” added Dan Kunkle of the Lehigh Gap Nature Center.
“The acquisition of the Alpine Property brought together numerous agencies with the same goal and it is these partnerships that have been key to the success of our award winning Open Space Program," said Christine Dettore on behalf of the Monroe County Commissioners.
Protecting these properties meshes well with other wider conservation initiatives within the area surrounding Palmerton.They are located near the National Park Service AppalachianTrail and other parts of Pennsylvania Game Commission SGL168, and they are adjacent to several permanent easements under the Natural Resources Conservation Service Wetland ReserveProgram in the Aquashicola Creek drainage. Collectively, these public lands protect the outstanding natural resources of the Kittatinny Ridge while providing abundant recreational opportunities.
“The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is extremely pleased that the Palmerton trustees and conservation partners joined in a unique coalition to acquire the Alpine and Moreton properties, which have high resource and public use values for the area surrounding Palmerton.”
The Palmerton Zinc Natural Resource Damages Trustee Council includes the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration,Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Pennsylvania Game Commission, and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. In 2009, the trustees received a $21 million settlement from the responsible parties for damages to natural resources at the Palmerton Zinc Superfund Site.
The trustees worked with citizen, community and environmental groups, local and regional officials, and state and federal agencies to identify restoration project ideas and finalized the restoration plan in April 2011. A copy of the final restoration plan and environmental assessment is available at the Palmerton Area Library at 402 Delaware Avenue Palmerton, PA and online at http://www.fws.gov/contaminants/restorationplans/Palmerton/Palmerton.cfm.
Projects that have already been funded include a feasibility study for increasing fish passage on the Lehigh River, boating access improvements at Walnutport and Treichler’s Bridge, and enhanced website and signage for the Lehigh River Water Trail. Additional projects, including other land acquisitions and fish passage projects, are under consideration.
Update: 3/16/2013 Blue Mountain Preservation sponsors Earth Day Clean Up
Saturday April 6th at 8am
Join blue Mountain Preservation Association in their annual Earth Day Clean Up. Last year volunteers picked up 30 bags of recyclables, 20 bags of garbage and two tires.
Meet us at the intersection of Chestnut Ridge and Upper Smith Gap Road, on the bridge 8AM on April 6th. Vests bags and gloves will be provided. All volunteers will receive an Earth Day T-Shirt and water-bottle provided by member Todd Kluska, owner of Serene Scene Landscaping.
If you can't make it on the 6th, but would still like to help, the Aquashicola Pohopoco Watershed Conservancy will be holding their clean up on Saturday, April 20th at 9 am.
“We have become great because of the lavish use of our resources ... But the time has come to inquire seriously what will happen when our forests are gone, when the coal, the iron, the oil and the gas are exhausted.” — Theodore Roosevelt
If a development plan has enough profit potential to be developed without TIF, then there seems little reason that a local government should give up many years of future property tax revenues to pay for a portion of the development.
Living with NJ Motorsports Park
This short video will give you an idea of what the Smith Gap area of Eldred Township can expect once Alpine Motorsports is up and running.
Life for the residents of the Smith Gap area will never be the same!
Update: March 8, 2013
Alpine Rose still on track
Friday, March 8, 2013
By LINDA KOEHLER email@example.com
Paul Matinho said Wednesday night that they plan to move forward with the project just as soon as they have all their finances together. "We're close," he said.
When asked if they were counting on the Tax Increment Funding loan they applied for through the Pocono Mountains Economic Development Corporation last year, Paul Matinho said, "It would be nice to have, but if we don't get it, it won't affect us from moving forward."
TIF is a public financing method that is used for subsidizing redevelopment, infrastructure and other community-improvement projects. The amount of the loan would be somewhere between $10-15 million for the infrastructure, which would not include the cost of the buildings or the track.
Tax-increment financing poses big risks in Pennsylvania
By Jeremy Boren PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
“It's a financing tool, and it's appropriate for certain kinds of projects, but it's not the only financing tool for all projects,” she said.
Money backed by public subsidies can be lost if the developer pulls out — as in Longvue's case — or can fail to generate enough tax revenue to cover principal and interest on loans, as in the case of two TIF deals that built The Mall at Robinson. (read the entire article)
Update: January 25th 2013
The letter to the editor and photos of Archibald Mountain Fallsare a perfect example of the environmental destruction that takes place even though "BEST MANAGEMENT PRACTICES"are used!
to read the article and see the photos click on Archibald Mountain Falls.
For those of you not familiar with the Susquehanna Roseland Powerline please watch this video by the Delaware RiverKeepers
UPDATE: JANUARY 21, 2013 from the Morning Call
Groundbreaking set for Route 33 interchange
Construction of a $40 million Route 33 interchange long sought by Charles Chrin Companies and Northampton County will formally begin Jan. 31, according to the company.
Most of the tax revenue over the next 20 years will go toward paying for the development. Easton Area School District, Palmer Township and Northampton County agreed to a tax incremental financing zone, ceding the majority of new tax dollars now in exchange for greater payoffs in two decades. read the entire article
UPDATE: JANUARY 18, 2013
"Protecting Public Education from Tax Giveaways to Corporations"
This study aims to help education advocates protect public schools and public services from the effects of certain types of economic development subsidies. These subsidies—which state and local governments often dispense in response to corporate lobbying for a good “business climate”— include cutting companies’ property taxes and granting long-term diversions of certain districts’ property taxes to corporations undertaking investments in those districts (the latter is called tax increment financing, TIF)
Entire article can be found on our News & Information page
UPDATE: JANUARY 16TH 2013
"KALAHARI WANTS TO DEFER 24.6 MILLION IN TAX PAYMENTS"
"Right now the property pays $8,931 in school taxes, Hogan said. If the TIF is granted, the school district will collect that amount through the life of the project." in other words the amount of tax available to the school district remains static.... no increase due to increased property value
"A TIF can be requested for up to 20 years. However, the increase in taxes that comes with an improved property is put into a fund property owners can use to pay for infrastructure improvements." without the TIF increases in property taxes would go to the school district and other taxing bodies....
Pleasant Valley School District is being faced with decreased enrollment, closure and sale of existing schools, can they afford to finance a racetrack for wealthy automobile enthusiasts by foregoing future tax revenue?
*UPDATE* PLEASANT VALLEY SCHOOL BOARD MEETING HIGHLIGHTS
January 14th, 2013
The Pleasant Valley School Board headed by District Superintendent Dr. Doug Arnold held their 'Buildings and Grounds' meeting on Monday January 14th, 2013 at the Administration Building located at The Pleasant Valley Middle School on Rt. 115 in Brodheadsville. The following is a recap of what was discussed:
Perhaps a district first, the Alpine Rose Auto Club proposed for Eldred Township has requested a committee to consider their eligibility for the Tax Incremented Financing (TIF Zone) Program. The program allows a company to defer a portion of it's school and property taxes which would then be used to help offset infrastructure cost. Although unique to Pleasant Valley School District, Pocono Mountain School District has been faced with these requests in the past, most recently by Kalahari Waterpark.
Polk Elementary School enrollment is declining and the board discussed the possibility of closing the school, perhaps even as early as next school year. If the school is closed, students would attend the larger 'Pleasant Valley Elementary School' which is 1.2 miles away.
The board discussed the possibility of selling Eldred Elementary School in Kunkletown which closed after the 2009-2010 school year, citing districts in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area that have also sold buildings no longer in use.
Preliminary discussions were held regarding a Soup Kitchen at either Chestnuthill Elementary or John C. Mills. The height of discussion revolved around when the kitchen would operate and security.
Mr. Chris Fisher discussed security of all the buildings in great detail with fellow board members. Pleasant Valley School District already has nearly 100% of the security measures in place that were suggested by the Pennsylvania School Board Association following last months tragedy in Connecticut. Additional security measures are being implemented regularly. Immediate plans include a substantial camera upgrade and additional armed security.
Oct. 6, 2012
TIF: What if it's not about money, what if it's about your home?
News Update: Eldred Township car club opponents denounce tax incentive read article
From the Sharon Pa, Herald : Director, officials must justify TIF..........
“If it’s just a way of enriching the developer, you’ve got to think about whether you want to do it,”
"A city runs the risk when it undertakes a TIF project since the basis for commercial activity increases is an estimate,” the report said. “If the activity does not occur, the city will have no recourse but to fall back on its general funds.”
“The developer wants them to feel desperate,” she said. “The developer doesn’t want the public involved. They don’t want the public to know about TIFs.” read the article
Oct. 4, 2012
News Update:Eldred sports car resort seeks tax incentive, encounters opposition read the article