Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Op-Ed: Existing Commercial Sites vs. Greenfields - Preserving The Environment And Economic Growth

By Mike Molesevich, Environmental Consultant

Economic development, growth, and jobs do not have to conflict with environmental preservation and averting climate change.
In the past, development officials tried to attract large manufacturers with tax breaks, subsidies, and grants to create jobs, but forgot about the most important jobs – the ones that are already here.
Like business retention, vacant buildings and brownfields must be given priority for new activity and job creation, instead of sacrificing farmland, meadows, forests (greenfields).  
No more tax dollars should subsidize paving over and building on greenfields while vacant buildings and old industrial sites are vacant nearby.
The PA Land Recycling and Remediation Standards Act established a process to remediate environmental contamination and eliminate environmental liability for owners and buyers of industrial and commercial properties.
Old industrial sites and vacant buildings are a resource that should not be wasted.
Economic development should always go first to existing developed areas that have already been built upon and impacted.  
The former PA House furniture factory now contains the Giant Supermarket and other smaller retailers in Lewisburg.
The former TRW and Metso sites in Danville are seeing new life and business activity.
The Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area near Shamokin used the coal-mined impacted lands for off-road four-wheelers and motorized vehicles.  
Thousands of acres of coal-mined scarred land await development - before greenfields.
Non-traditional areas of economic activity and jobs must be considered to minimize environmental impacts.  The preservation of natural habitat must be a priority to save native plants upon which birds, bees and butterflies depend.  
Recreation, tourism, bicycling, fishing, hunting, kayaking and our forest and great outdoors attract many and are drivers of economic activity that rely on unspoiled land, natural habitats, and clean waterways.  
The “unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley” brought about 1,600 bicyclists to the area in October 2019 along with their purchases of meals, lodging, and supplies.  And they were quiet.
The Lewisburg to Mifflinburg Rail Trail was criticized as wasteful spending during construction and now it is a major destination for many visitors and residents.  Real estate ads now include, “short distance to rail trail”. 
Our rolling hills, farms, forests, meadows, creeks and river are treasures that make this area unique and must be protected and preserved from development, sprawl and encroachment more than ever.  
Our greenfields and forests are worth protecting for its own value, but now it needs even more protection as climate change looms more dangerous.
Loss of habitat and climate change are leading causes to decrease in wildlife.  Many species need large remote tracts of land to survive. Hunters prefer larger tracts and anglers need clean sediment free watersheds to feed local waterways.
Big-box retail stores and malls are under market pressure from internet retail sales.  Vacant malls are increasing. New uses must fill empty big boxes and the acres of asphalt that surround them.  
The Family Practice Center, a physician-owned medical services business in central PA, should be commended for its purchase and reuse of the vacant former Sears building for a clinic at the Susquehanna Valley Mall.   Others should follow this model; economic development agencies should support it. 
Subdividing large existing under-utilized parking lots for smaller retail and service businesses also makes sense.  Plaza 15 Plaza, north of Lewisburg, is where several businesses (Starbucks, Chipotle, Verizon etc.) located within a parking lot that was vacant several years ago.
Build and grow within developed areas and infrastructure to protect our rural countryside.
Historic preservation is an economic driver when visitors come to see historic buildings with unique architecture.  
Most efficient buildings already exist in areas supported by present infrastructure.
Let’s not demolish one more historic building for another parking lot. 
Give financial support to local historic organizations and become a member.  
Buy a vacant historic home or commercial building and give it new life.  Preserve a piece of history and save cornfields for corn. Grow hemp.
Enticing new companies from afar is perilous when economic conditions decline and important decisions are made in distant boardrooms by people who have no connection to our area.
Hold elected all officials accountable on making wise economic decisions with our environment and climate in mind.
Support local businesses, restaurants, colleges, institutions and community organizations.
Get involved, volunteer, run for municipal office, fill a vacant position on that planning commission, clean up a park, start a bee and butterfly garden with plants native to PA.
Do something.

Mike Molesevich is an environmental consultant who inspects and remediates industrial and commercial properties, and was a former mayor of Lewisburg. He can be contacted by sending email to: mike@menviro.com
[Posted: February 11, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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