County to research contaminated sites
EPA awarded funds to assess properties with potential for redevelopment.
Lackawanna County’s economic development team identified the first two contaminated sites in Scranton and Carbondale that could eventually return to productive uses through an EPA program, with more on the way.
The federal agency awarded a $500,000 grant to Lackawanna County, Lackawanna County Redevelopment Authority and Scranton last year to inventory and conduct environmental assessments on dormant brownfield sites.
Officials envision finding new uses for old coal ash piles, mine-fill sites, factories, dry cleaners and gas stations to have potential to eliminate blight, return vacant properties to the tax rolls and create jobs.
“We want to pick the properties that have the best possibility for redevelopment,” Economic Development Director George Kelly said.
The grant funds roughly 22 preliminary assessments of properties during which staff will research the history of the sites, 10 follow-up
assessments by engineers to better understand contamination issues and creation of nine remediation plans.
Mr. Kelly intends to use the remediation plans to get more funding from the EPA to solve the contamination problems at the sites, freeing the properties from the burdens that so far have kept developers away.
The first two sites selected for the first phase of assessments are a vacant lot that used to house a dry cleaner at 248-256 Wyoming Ave. in downtown Scranton and a property owned by Little Nikki’s at the Ben Mar that the Greater Carbondale YMCA would like to acquire.
New Jersey-based RSM Properties has owned the Scranton lot for several years but hasn’t been able to develop it because of remnants from the dry-cleaning business, Mr. Kelly said.
“That’s a prime location,” added Brenda Sacco, deputy director of operations and finance for the Lackawanna County Department of Planning and Economic Development. “If you look at Penn Avenue now, you have all of those restaurants that are moving in. It shows that people are moving back from just the central location of Courthouse Square.”
Meanwhile, the Greater Carbondale YMCA is interested in partnering with other agencies and organizations to create a park on a 3-acre site Ben Mar owns, Executive Director Steve Durkin said.
Day camp youths currently have to walk about a mile to the west-side field, which Mr. Durkin said is tough on some children, particularly those with special needs.
Once there are no environmental concerns from old coal waste and the YMCA raises enough money to buy the property, Mr. Durkin envisions a park someday including a playground; a splash pad; tennis, basketball and pickleball courts; and a playing field.
Other early potential targets for assessments include the former Montage Foods that was once a factory at 881 Providence Road in Scranton and the former Hawk Oil Co. at 101 N. Abington Road in Clarks Green.
The Montage Foods property was donated to Lackawanna College about three years ago, with some consideration toward using it as a parking area. College officials also considered using the building for the school of petroleum and natural gas at one point.
But the new administration since determined it isn’t within the institution’s footprint and doesn’t mesh with the long-term strategy, college President Mark Volk said.
Some ideas he suggested include selling the property to a developer or a neighboring business for expansion, or perhaps working out a deal with the Scranton School District, since the building is a neighbor to Valor Field at Scranton Memorial Stadium.
“We’re looking at options,” Mr. Volk said. “Everything is on the table, whether that means a trade or a sale.”