From tolls to a burn ban, commissioners deal with extensive agenda

The Susquehanna County Courthouse was built in the Greek Revival style – one of the architectural styles prominent in the Montrose Historic District which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

From the proposed tolling on Interstate 81 to a countywide burn ban, and a step toward backing a proposed transload facility, the county commissioners covered a lot of territory during the March 10 meeting.

I-81 Bridge Tolling

The commissioners met with PennDOT on Friday, Feb. 26, to discuss plans to toll a portion of I-81 as a way to cover the construction costs of a bridge over the Susquehanna River, as well as paving nine-mile stretch of road from the state line to New Milford.

At the March 10 meeting, Commissioner Alan Hall called the implementation of tolls on the highway “basically a done deal.” He explained that Act 88 of 2012 provided the state with the power to implement tolls. It was also noted that, of the nine bridges identified for possible tolling, the Susquehanna County project is further along, with many of the pre-construction studies already completed.

Commissioner Judy Herschel said PennDOT will conduct a study to help determine how the change of traffic would impact the community.

On March 11, Sen. Lisa Baker (R-20) joined fellow state senators in introducing legislations to stop the proposed tolls following extensive feedback from constituents.

Senate Bill 382 would reform the Public-Private Transportation Partnership (P3) statute and void the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation’s (PennDOT) Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative.

“It is greatly troubling that Governor Wolf’s bridge tolling plan gives PennDOT the authority to further tax motorists and appropriate funds without legislative oversight,” Senator Baker said.  “The legislation that we have introduced in the Senate today is a way to stand up for the hardworking residents of our Commonwealth and come together to address the negative economic impacts of the pandemic, while forcing government to be accountable to taxpayers. We cannot ignore the fact that motorists are already feeling the pain of increased prices when filling their gas tanks, and that Pennsylvania already has a gas tax, which is dedicated to supporting our transportation infrastructure.”

On November 12, 2020, the P3 Board, under PennDOT’s jurisdiction, supported a proposal to impose user fees or tolls on major bridges throughout the interstate system.  This was the first time in the P3 Board’s history to consider a proposal with user fees.

The serious gaps in the P3 statute became clear when PennDOT finally announced the details of the proposal three months after the P3 Board meeting.  The P3 statute requires a detailed analysis prior to the meeting.

Senate Bill 382 will accomplish the following:

*Increases transparency by requiring PennDOT to publish a detailed analysis prior to the P3 Board’s voting meeting, and mandating PennDOT to distribute a copy of the P3 Board’s resolution, with or without a user fee, within 24 hours.

*Incorporates public input by creating a new 30-day public comment period prior to the P3 Board meeting.

*Creates checks and balances on the obscure P3 Board by clarifying any P3 project with a user fee shall be deemed disapproved unless the General Assembly approves.

*Voids the PennDOT Pathways Major Bridge P3 Initiative and requires reconsideration by the P3 Board following the new process outlined in Senate Bill 382.

Act 88 authorized the creation of the P3 Board to expedite transportation projects in Pennsylvania.  There are various P3s benefiting the Commonwealth’s transportation system, such as the construction of compressed natural gas fueling stations at transit agencies and the rapid replacement of 558 state-owned bridges.

The Senate Transportation Committee held a hearing on January 25 to examine the loopholes of this P3 Initiative.  The Committee expects to consider Senate Bill 382 this month.

Proposed Transload Facility

In a 2-1 vote, the commissioners designated the county’s economic development administrators, The Progress Authority, as the grantee for the state’s $2 million RACP award for the transload facility project put forth by North East Freight in Great Bend Twp.

Commissioners Elizabeth Arnold and Hall voted in favor of the approval, while Herschel registered the “no” vote.

In a statement, Herschel said that although creating jobs and attracting new business is a “huge priority,” she did not feel the county had been provided enough information to back the move.

The project – called the Keystone Multi Modal Terminal Project – involves initially transforming about 15 acres along Route 11 into a regional transload facility. The project includes site work, track and rail work and lighting.

At a meeting held March 8, Christopher Cawley, of Ashburn Advisors, outlined North East Freight’s RACP grant process. The company requested $4.8 million in project funding and received $2 million. He explained that it is a matching grant and the company would need to match the $2 million. Neither Susquehanna County or Great Bend Township would not be responsible for any of the project costs, he said. a

Agenda items

The following agenda items were approved at the meeting:

*moved up the Annual Assessment Appeal deadline from Sept. 1 to Aug. 1, in order to provide for an additional month to hold hearings;

*Marcellus Legacy Fund Mini Grant payment of $1,400 to the Endless Mountains Heritage Region for D&H Rail Trail wayfinding signage;

*exoneration of the Tax Claim Bureau for a total of three parcels located in Lathrop, Dimock and Apolacon townships;

*entered into a contract with Lackawanna-Susquehanna Office of Drug and Alcohol Programs and United Neighborhood Centers of NEPA for drug and alcohol treatment, prevention and services, effective through Sept. 30;

*entered into agreements with Trehab and the Susquehanna County Housing and Redevelopment Authority for administration of the Emergency Rental Relief program;

*acknowledge, with regret, the resignation/retirement of Diana Snow from the position of Enforcement Specialist/Court Liaison, effective April 30;

*approve a countywide burn ban, April 1 – May 1 (see page 2 for more information);

*contracts with Shadow Technologies for memory storage upgrade for the 911 call center at a cost of $4,608, and engineering services for $900; CAD hosting production and support services for one year at a cost of $1,144; web filer services and software for one year at a cost of $$6,949.25; and virtual server backup software, licensing and maintenance for one year at a cost of $3,370.53.

*contract with Esri Inc. for GIS software maintenance renewal, effective April 28 – April 27, 2022 at a cost of $10,896.71.

*contract with CCAP for web hosting, at a cost of $6,450;

*commitment to Susquehanna County Overdose Reduction Efforts (SCORE) between the Univ. of Pittsburgh, NEPA Community Health Care, Trehab, SCCTC, and the county jail for a three-year grant period.

Polling Place Change

The Board of Elections approved moving the polling place of Brooklyn Township from the Universalist Church to the Brooklyn Township Building, 5569 Main St., Brooklyn Twp.

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