100 WVIA Way
Pittston, PA 18640

Phone: 570-826-6144
Fax: 570-655-1180

Copyright © 2024 WVIA, all rights reserved. WVIA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Residents fight ‘greedy’ Poconos warehouse expansion

College student Marian Bangurah speaks out against the proposed Moyer warehouse project in Blakeslee at a Department of Environmental Protection hearing on June 20.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
College student Marian Bangurah speaks out against the proposed Moyer warehouse project in Blakeslee at a Department of Environmental Protection hearing on June 20.

College student Marian Bangurah is scared for her niece and nephew.

Her parents came from West Africa to Monroe County for its natural beauty. She said it reminded them of home. But she fears environmental degradation will steal that beauty from her niece and nephew. The forests in her family’s backyard in Tunkhannock Township are being clear cut for warehouses and truck terminals.

“And now that sanctity of this area is under threat. Our quality of life is under threat,” Bangurah said. “And the fact that we have to fight to preserve clean water, [private] wells and even the possible quality of our food is a ridiculous reality that we are now subjected to.”

Developer David Moyer is deforesting 100 acres in Blakeslee to build two warehouses, a truck stop, restaurants, stores and a pharmacy. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) held its second public hearing on June 20 to determine whether to issue Moyer a stormwater permit for the project. Without that permit, Moyer cannot start construction.

Environmentalists and local officials teamed up to fight the Moyer project at the DEP hearing on June 20. Lynn Kelly (left), Beth
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Environmentalists and local officials teamed up to fight the Moyer project at the DEP hearing on June 20. Lynn Kelly, Beth Hurley and Brigitte Meyer have spoken at several hearings and meetings about overdevelopment throughout the Poconos. From left to right: Lynn Kelly, Coolbaugh Township, supervisor; Beth Hurley, LOVE Kidder Township, founder; and Brigitte Meyer, PennFuture, staff attorney.

Citizens groups and environmentalists unite from across the region

State Representative Maureen Madden (D - Monroe) told residents to keep fighting warehouse expansion at the Moyer DEP hearing on June 20.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
State Rep. Maureen Madden (D - Monroe) told residents at the Moyer DEP hearing on June 20 to keep fighting warehouse expansion.

Residents say projects like Moyer’s are destroying the Poconos. Activists, state representatives and local officials from across the region criticized what they call rampant overdevelopment.

Beth Hurley, founder of LOVE Kidder Township, a warehouse protest organization from Carbon County, spoke about citizens groups' collective fight against developers like Moyer.

“Working with members of interested parties in Coolbaugh, Kidder, Pocono, Jackson and in Tunkhannock townships, we have nearly 10 million square feet of warehouse coming to us. Some of it has already been built, some of it has been permitted and some is in the permitting stage,” said Hurley.

The Poconos is a valuable tourist attraction. But besides its natural beauty, it’s home to 80 percent of the state’s exceptional value streams. That’s the DEP’s highest stream classification.

Moyer’s project is planned on Mud Pond Run, an exceptional value stream that feeds into Tunkhannock Creek before hitting the Lehigh River.

Hurley said developers like Moyer are “overlooking the cumulative effect” these projects will have on the Lehigh River and downstream communities. She added American Rivers, a national water advocacy group, listed the Lehigh as the nation’s seventh most endangered river in 2023.

Hope Christman, the Democratic nominee for PA House District 176, said overdevelopment will turn the Poconos into a "cancer cluster." She spoke at the DEP hearing for the Blakeslee Moyer project on June 20.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Hope Christman, the Democratic nominee for PA House District 176 said overdevelopment will turn the Poconos into a "cancer cluster." She spoke at the DEP hearing for the Blakeslee Moyer project on June 20.

The group’s reasoning? Poorly planned development.

American Waters wrote in its 2023 report, “large-scale warehouse and distribution center development threatens the Lehigh River by converting critical forest and wetlands to hard surfaces – roofs and parking lots.”

Residents at the meeting said they fear developers are coming to the Poconos after using up available land in downstream communities. Several residents said the region will become the next Lehigh Valley, pockmarked by warehouses.

But activist Geoff Rogalsky said the danger is far greater. Damage to Mud Pond Run and its surrounding exceptional value waterways could be irreversible. He spoke on behalf of the Tobyhanna Creek/Tunkhannock Creek Watershed Association.

“Our watershed association has realized through hard experience that once water resources are allowed to be degraded, restoration is often challenging or impossible and involves expense that no one is willing to pay,” Rogalsky said.

He added his association designated Tunkhannock Creek as an exceptional value stream with the DEP in 2005 to “proactively protect” it from overdevelopment.

The township is going broke

Resident Jennifer Innaco has lived in the township for 15 years. She criticized township leadership for allowing the project to progress to the permitting stage.

“Our township page ironically boasts that we were named one of the ‘Top 40 Last Great Places’ by the Nature Conservancy…Our township officials are pushing forward projects that threaten everything that resulted in it being named one of the last great places,” Innaco said.

She said if the DEP does not stop the project, the agency will be responsible for the Poconos’ extinction.

No current township supervisors were present at the hearing.

Former chairman of Tunkhannock Township Francis DePiano spoke in favor of the Moyer warehouse at the June 20 Department of Environmental Protection hearing.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Former chairman of Tunkhannock Township Francis DePiano spoke in favor of the Moyer warehouse at the June 20 Department of Environmental Protection hearing.

However, former chairman Francis DePiano spoke in support of the project. He said it’s the township’s last hope. Seventy percent of the township is green space or open space wetlands that cannot be developed. Stakeholders including the Bethlehem Water Authority, PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the PA Game Commission pay the township a combined total of $7,900 in land taxes per year.

The township needs Moyer’s money, he said.

DePiano scolded environmental organizations that spoke at the meeting but do not provide the township revenue.

“Yet the ones who contribute the least always have the most to say. This township lacks retail businesses. There are little more than 20 businesses in the township at last count,” said DePiano. “Any developer wanting to bring in business into the township comes in knowing we offer no…abatements. We could not and would not be able to afford to give any tax breaks.”

Despite the township’s financial need, several speakers argued Moyer has already broken township rules by clearcutting forests on the property.

Shelly DePaul, representing the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, which is not affiliated with the Delaware Tribe of Indians, was escorted out of the meeting by a police officer for speaking out of turn.
Isabela Weiss | WVIA News | Report for America
Shelly DePaul, representing the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, which is not affiliated with the Delaware Tribe of Indians, was escorted out of the meeting by a police officer for speaking out of turn. Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Colleen Connolly, shown standing at the table, had DePaul removed from the Moyer warehouse hearing on June 20.

Brigitte Meyer, an attorney with PennFuture, an environmental nonprofit, asked the DEP to use extra scrutiny when reviewing Moyer’s proposal.

“The applicant has not received or even applied for local land use approval for this project," Meyer said. "While land use approval is not the department’s purview, it should nevertheless keep in mind that no government entity has reviewed, much less approved, construction of the numerous proposed uses at this location.”

Shelly DePaul, representing the Lenape Nation of Pennsylvania, which is not affiliated with the Delaware Tribe of Indians, said she’s tired of needing to defend the Poconos from massive corporations and developments.

“There’s only one word to define what we fight. Greed,” said DePaul.

The Department of Environmental Protection said a comment and response document to residents' statements will be available in a few weeks.

Isabela Weiss is a storyteller turned reporter from Athens, GA. She is WVIA News's Rural Government Reporter and a Report for America corps member. Weiss lives in Wilkes-Barre with her fabulous cats, Boo and Lorelai.

You can email Isabella at isabelaweiss@wvia.org