Conservationists close to deal for
new Penn. state park
The Associated Press
ERIE, Pa. - Conservationists may be close to securing
the last tract of undeveloped and unprotected Lake Erie
shoreline in Pennsylvania with the goal of getting the
first state park designation in decades.
The land in Girard and Springfield townships has been
owned by utility companies that had hoped to build an
electric power plant. The plant never materialized, but
plans for the plant shielded the 530-acre "Soho"
site from further development.
Larry Schweiger, president of the Western Pennsylvania
Conservancy which is leading negotiations, said a deal
may be reached with Reliant Energy before year's end.
"This site holds a stand of old growth forests with
trees that have largely been there since civilization
first came to the region and it is very unique,"
Schweiger said. "This is a site that is very ecologically
and archeologically significant."
Along with several endangered plant species, Schweiger
said the area was populated by the Erie tribe and evidence
of them still exists.
If the conservancy is able to acquire the land, it would
transfer the property to the state Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources for use as a state park, possibly
within 18 months, Schweiger said.
The transfer could occur sooner, almost immediately,
if financing is completed, department spokeswoman Gretchen
Negotiations with Reliant are ongoing and terms of the
deal were not available.
As late as last week, questions about whether a state
park is the best use for the property were being raised.
The head of the leading development agency in Erie County
sent a letter to Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary
Michael DiBerardinis, asking that the loss of property
for industrial use be taken into consideration.
Jacob Rouch asked that the acquisition be put on hold
for further public discussion.
A number of people involved in the acquisition were taken
aback by Rouch's stance and said public hearings regarding
the site were held as early as 1998.
"There has been a dramatic change in the economic
development scene since 1998," Rouch said. "I
appreciate where their environmental concerns come from,
but I'm paid to look out for Erie County's economic development
Rouch took part in a conference call Friday with Conservation
and Natural Resources Deputy Secretary Richard Sprenkle
and said he is satisfied with the process in acquiring
the land, but said issues remain.
There is little chance, however, that talks on the acquisition
would be delayed, said Leslie, the department spokeswoman.
"Given the overwhelming support for the project
and the seller's desire to conclude the deal by the end
of the month, we see no reason to postpone this project,"
she said. "This is no ordinary property."
The site is unique because it has 90-foot bluffs overlooking
Lake Erie, wetlands, dunes, mature forests and property
adjacent to the mouth of Elk Creek, one of the best shallow
steelhead fishing waters in the country, Leslie said.