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2017-03-24 / Community (County Spotlight)

Major infrastructure projects bring economic growth to the Susquehanna Valley

Spotlight on Snyder, Union, Northumberland
By Spencer Myers

Garrett Garrett Located in the heart of Central Pennsylvania, Snyder, Union and Northumberland counties, sometimes called the SUN area, has shared an infrastructure problem with a lot of rural Pennsylvania communities that have found themselves centrally located, but not connected.

Four major projects in the SUN area are solving that issue: the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway, the Panda Hummel Power Station and the Sunbury Pipeline.

Pennsylvania Business Central spoke with Bob Garrett, who has been president and CEO of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce (GSVCC) for almost three years, about the status of each project and how it is leveraging the area’s location and natural resources into economic growth.

Before entering his current role, Garrett worked with PennDOT as a professional engineer for over 20 years, was a graphic arts instructor at the SUN Area Vocational School and served as a captain in the United States Marine Corps.

PBC: The Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) just received funding through SEDA-COG. Could you speak towards that expansion and the AOAA’s importance to the area?

Garrett: Late last year, the [GSVCC] assimilated with the former Brush Valley Chamber of Commerce. The Brush Valley Chamber represented the area of eastern Northumberland County that most people would know as the coal region so we’ve been working very diligently to pick up members there and pick up the good work Brush Valley had previously done. We firmly believe that anthracite coal is not only in our nation’s history, but it’s also in our future. We just have to think about it in new and different ways. One of those new and different ways is the [AOAA].

A rendering of the proposed CSVT bridge over the West Branch Susquehanna River. 
Photo courtesy of Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce A rendering of the proposed CSVT bridge over the West Branch Susquehanna River. Photo courtesy of Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce What this is, is a series of old mining operations where the coal petered out and what was left was several thousand acres of land, which is particularly of interest to folks who like to ride around in four- wheel drive and off-road vehicles and motorcycles. A couple of entrepreneurs with the support of the county government and others have put together the [AOAA], which is just teeming with activity on the weekends and during the week with all sorts of Jeep rallies and Hummer off-road events, etc.

It’s become a regional destination and we suspect it will become a national destination. Basically, if you are an off-road enthusiast, it is Disney World, Disney Land and Universal Studios all wrapped up into one.

PBC: In your president’s message on the chamber website, you mention three projects that all seem to have been successful. The plans have worked out for the Hummel Station power plant, the pipeline and the thruway. Could you update us on all three projects?

The Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway

Garrett: For about 40 years or so, the local folks have advocated for what is now known as the Central Susquehanna Valley Thruway. I personally gave testimony on the need for the extension in 1983. So I’ve personally been involved for 34 years, but there were people before me.

We advocated to anyone who would listen; from the President of the United States to the PennDOT county manager, for the deed for this thruway to be built. About two and a half years ago it was announced by PennDOT that the money had been lined up and the thruway would be built. So far, two major sections of that project are under construction. First and foremost is the huge Susquehanna River bridge that’s under construction.

The other piece is the northern section which is past working on the structure work, right-of-way acquisition and ground preparation. The next piece that will go to bid, which we should be hearing about fairly soon, is just south of Winfield. The southern section is in its final design stage. They’ve actually hit a wrinkle in this section with the former ash dams from the power plant when it was a coal burning plant. They’re going to have to do a little bit of redesign to get around those dams. PennDOT has the best minds in the state working on this so they’ll figure it out.

The Panda Hummel Station Power Plant

The next project that you mentioned is what we now know as the Hummel Station Power Plant. That is a natural gas power plant. They call it Panda Hummel because the funding is from the Panda Energy fund out of Dallas, Texas. You hear the name Panda and you think “oh, is that coming from China?” but, as it turns out, panda bears just happen to be the owner’s wife’s favorite animal, so he named his company after them.

If you go down to the Lebanon-15 in the Shamokin Dam area and look over, you can see eight different cranes all moving at one time. It’s a pretty exciting project. It’s just about 50 percent complete. So like the Phoenix rising out of the ashes, the new power plant is a much more efficient station than the former coal burning plant that was there.

We’ve heard some talk about a second power station down there and we’ll see how that goes. Panda and the folks behind it assured us that they are dotting their i’s and crossing their t’s and there will be a formal announcement on an actual second power plant coming in there.

What’s interesting is the existing Panda Hummel power plant is already the largest coal-burning to natural gas station in the nation. If you put another power station in there, then it will be the largest conversion in the world. We’re really thrilled about that.

Sunbury Pipeline

The third project is completed and that is the Sunbury Pipeline. That is a 35-mile 20-inch wide pipeline that starts up in Lycoming County in the Lairdsville area and brought natural gas in anticipation of the Hummel Station Power Plant. That project is done and gas is flowing through it.

I like to describe this area as one concentric circle outside of the Marcellus Shale area. So we have plenty of Marcellus shale and gas and oil exploration activity in our area, we just don’t have the actual poles sticking out of the ground. What this does is connect domestic energy and brings it down into the power station.

Until that pipeline was built, this area was gas starved. We had natural gas in places like Lewisburg. For example Bucknell, Evangelical Hospital, Geisinger Medical Center all used natural gas. The problem is there wasn’t enough natural gas that we could talk about expanding its use. Now with this pipeline. We can talk about it and are working very closely with UGI and our partners to look into expanding gas into other commercial and residential uses. I’m happy to say that the headquarters of the [GSVCC] was able to hook into natural gas.

So far, although it hasn’t been that harsh of a winter, we have already seen significant energy savings from doing that.

Those three projects together account for about 3,000 jobs. About 1,500 direct and indirect jobs are from the thruway over its seven-year construction. The power plant is about 900 jobs and they are going to be at full compliment coming up this month or next month. The pipeline is completed now, but that was about 250 jobs. They tried to do as much of their hiring as they could locally. We worked very closely with the different local vocational schools so that as many people as possible could go directly from their schools to the projects.

Some folks would say “yeah, but they’re temporary construction jobs right?” I’ve made a pretty good life out of temporary construction jobs and others can too. These are very good family-sustaining jobs and we are thrilled that these companies have made this kind of investment in our valley. .

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