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Slate Belt regional authority makes deal with developer to buy former coal plant as objection mounts

Portland Generating Station

Developer Lou Pektor met with the Bangor Area Commercial and Industrial Development Authority in May 2021 to discuss working together to purchase the former coal plant at the Portland Generating Station on River Road in Upper Mount Bethel Township.

A real estate developer isn’t eligible to seek government grants to tear down a power plant and make the land suitable for development.

So a local industrial development authority, or IDA, has agreed to purchase the property from the developer to seek the funding and then sell it back.

The Bangor Area Commercial and Industrial Development Authority voted last month to approve a redevelopment agreement and loan agreement with River Pointe East regarding the Portland Generating Station on River Road in Upper Mount Bethel Township.

The plan is for the IDA to purchase 160 acres of the 192-acre power plant property with money loaned by River Pointe.

The IDA would then seek government grants to help tear down the coal plant and prepare the land for development. The IDA would be able to seek government grants for potentially hazardous brownfield cleanups that a private developer could not obtain.

River Pointe has indicated it would provide $10 million of insurance against cleanup efforts.

River Pointe principal Lou Pektor has previously said his company would cover any costs over that amount.

The power plant property is ideal to attract commercial development since it has a railway line running through it, according to Pektor.

Coal-fired boilers at the plant were shut down in 2014 under a court agreement with then owner NRG Energy due to environmental issues.

There is an active fuel-burning plant on the site at 5027 River Road. GenOn Energy’s website lists the plant as one of its active locations.

Several people spoke at Monday’s Upper Mount Bethel Township supervisors meeting expressed grave concerns about the deal.

Township resident Charles Cole said he believes it is unethical to use an IDA to get government money for a private developer.

The IDA is taking an unnecessary financial and environmental risk in getting involved without fully knowing what conditions exist at the plant.

The power plant is across the street from River Pointe’s 725-acre property, which is beginning to be developed for up to 6 million square feet of buildings.

Hundreds of citizens attended multiple meeting last year expressing their disapproval of the massive development, which will bring traffic and congestion to local roads.

Cole said adding more development to the area will only exacerbate potential problems.

“People may ask if it is a good thing to clean up a brownfield,” Cole said. “The answer is yes and no. It depends on what you are going to get at the end of the cleanup.”

Seven Slate Belt municipalities appoint members to the IDA board. The June 22 vote was 6-0. Bangor’s representative James Kresge was absent for the vote.

Approval votes came from Jeff Manzi for Upper Mount Bethel Township; Rich Grucela for Lower Mount Bethel Township; Mark Schiavone for Washington Township; Laura McClain for East Bangor; Joe Angelini for Roseto; and Jack Bellis for Portland.

John Best is a freelance contributor to lehighvalleylive.com. Find lehighvalleylive.com on Facebook.