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City eyes innovative parking garage

Hazleton and three other area communities received more than $8 million in state grants funded by revenue generated by Pennsylvania's gaming industry, it was announced Thursday.
Local legislators joined together to list the awards, which include $1.25 million for parking decks to be added to Hazleton's Church Street Station, the newly constructed intermodal transportation hub downtown.

The city previously received $4.8 million in state money to build additional decks. Now with $6 million on hand, the city is prepared to spend the money - but possibly not as initially proposed, according to Mayor Joseph Yannuzzi.

Yannuzzi, during an SSPTV News 13/Standard-Speaker mayoral candidate debate that aired live on the local channel Thursday night, announced that the city is considering shifting the money to a separate parking project.

With the $6 million, an innovative parking garage - one that uses robotics to park cars - could be built at the West Broad Street parking lot near Church Street Station and adjacent to CAN DO's corporate offices at 1 S. Church St., Yannuzzi said.

There are limitations at Church Street Station, where the construction of two additional decks would add only 40-some parking spaces while forcing transportation and other services at the facility to temporarily move out, Yannuzzi said. The adjacent parking garage, however, could accommodate 150 vehicles, he said.

"We would ask (the state) to get the venue changed, the scope of the work changed," the mayor said, noting the $6 million currently must be spent according to a three-year plan devised for the intermodal center.

Yannuzzi said the city had requested $3,287,500 for the parking project but will settle for $1.25 million.

"I'm glad we got the funding. We were hoping it was going to be more," the mayor said.

'A big help'

Meanwhile, three other local municipalities will receive $7 million in Commonwealth Financing Authority grants - also funded by state gaming revenue - to help pay for infrastructure projects.

The latest round of H2O grants announced Thursday includes $4 million to Butler Township for its wastewater treatment plant, $2.15 million to Foster Township for its East End Sewer Project and $889,000 to Freeland Borough Authority for a sewer collection and treatment facility upgrade.

"We're very excited," said Bill DeNunzio, Butler's wastewater superintendent. "This is fantastic, because we were very close on the budget. We're in shock."

Butler applied for more than $10 million a number of years ago and failed to get the funding for its $18 million plant expansion, said Township Manager Steve Hahn.

The township resubmitted for $8.9 million in this latest round and received $4 million, which was a welcome, and timely surprise, Hahn said.

Butler was preparing to float a $7.4 million bond issue for the project. Now, it will be able to cut that amount in half, DeNunzio said.

"We have this terrific plant and we have a little bit of money to pay for it," DeNunzio said. "That's going to help a lot. Up until now, we were paying for the entire plant."

The township needed to expand its plant due to capacity issues and nutrient discharge requirements, in addition to needing to upgrade old facilities, Hahn said.

He believes the grant will stabilize customers' sewer rates for the foreseeable future.

"It's a big help," Hahn said.

In nearby Foster Township, the news of a $2.15 million grant for the East End project was met with enthusiasm, as well. Supervisor Georgiann Eckrote credited the township's engineer, who applied for the grants for the $7 million project.

The township lowered its sewer rate from $70 to $55 a month in March to help its residents, and Eckrote believes the grant will allow the township to shave more off the bills. That decision will have to come after consultation among supervisors, the engineer and solicitor, she said.

Freeland's authority is working on a $13 million collection system and facility upgrade. Authority board Chairman John "Jack" Brogan was not available for comment Thursday, but authority personnel said they are very pleased with the $889,000 award.

State Sen. John Yudichak, D-14, Nanticoke, announced the awards Thursday and worked with state Sens. Lisa Baker and John P. Blake and state Reps. Karen Boback, Mike Carroll, Sid Michaels Kavulich, Gerald Mullery, Phyllis Mundy, Ed Pashinski and Tarah Toohil.

"These improvements are vital to protecting the environment, improving our water and sewer infrastructure, and creating jobs," Yudichak said in a press release. "It is getting harder and harder for local municipalities to tackle large infrastructure projects, and with the H2O program many of the projects simply would not get done."

The Commonwealth Financing Authority received applications from across the state. Eligible projects must be owned by a municipality or authority and include local matching funds.

H2O PA was created by Act 63 of 2008 to fund water and sewer projects, as well as stormwater and flood-control projects and high hazard dam repairs.

The funding is provided through an $800 million bond financed by 5 percent of gaming revenue deposited in the Pennsylvania Gaming and Economic Development and Tourism Fund.
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