Lebanon Valley Rail Trail officials informed the county commissioners they need about $3.2 million to construct 2.1 miles of the northernmost section of the trail in Union Township. 

To pay for the project, they plan to seek funding from two state agencies: $750,000 from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) supplying the remaining $2.45 million.

On Thursday, March 21, LVRT officials requested and received permission from the Lebanon County commissioners to reapply for the DCNR grant. (It was noted that a decision on PennDOT funding is expected to be announced shortly.)

“When we submitted last year, we didn’t have a firm commitment from PennDOT for the $2.45 million,” said LVRT board member Tom Kotay. “But now we are moments away from getting that approval. The two secretaries from PennDOT and DCNR have talked about this, so the approvals are in the works now and they were not last year at this time.” 

It was noted that a new cost estimate is currently being prepared, but that the $3.2 million figure is believed to be the expected amount of funding needed for the project. Kotay said if it exceeds that price tag, funding will have to come from other sources.

Kotay said the project is unique in one sense. 

“The unique thing with this project is that it is well into final design already, so we plan to go to construction next spring, spring of 2025, and have the project completed by the end of calendar year 2025,” Kotay said.

Read More: Lebanon Valley Rail Trail set for completion in 2027

The project will occur mainly on a former railroad bed from Pine Tree Road northward under Interstate 78 to a connection with Lickdale Road (state Route 1020) in Union Township.

“It’s actually an easy construction project because we’re just putting a surface on the rail bed for the most part, doing a bridge, doing a little bit of rehab for a structure or two, so it is a pretty straightforward project,” added Kotay.

LVRT president John Wengert said this section of the trail will rank high for its aesthetic value when completed. 

“I think I’ve said it before, but this section will be a scenic section – probably the most scenic section of the trail in my opinion having just walked it – and it will connect Jonestown to Swatara State Park,” said Wengert.

Read More: Rails to Trails celebrates new extensions, four miles of additional trail now open

As LVRT gets closer to completing the 25.7-mile long trail, its value in the eyes of state officials increases.

“DCNR also now calls the rail trail ‘a project of high value,’” said Kotay. “That means we’re close to the 25-plus miles of the trail being completed.”

It certainly also appears to be highly valued in the eyes of users – the number of which has grown tremendously this decade.

“We’re not blowing our horn here, but we estimate 350,000 annual users of the rail trail, it’s phenomenal,” said Kotay. “Since COVID, the use has just blown up, it’s huge. It’s thousands (of people) a day, sometimes.”

Wengert noted it will be the end of the trail, so to speak, at that location in the county once completed.

“We just had a meeting with the Bureau of State Parks about the other side of Lickdale Road, but right now our position is this will be the end of the LVRT at Lickdale Road,” said Wengert. “On the other side of Lickdale Road, state parks was the grantee of the easement, so they’re holding the easement. So I think we’ll stop our project at Lickdale Road and right across the street will become state park.”

Kotay said the DCNR application is due April 3, but he expects to file it in advance of that date. The commissioners agreed unanimously to submit a required resolution along with the grant application.

After the commissioners ended their meeting, they convened the county election board, of which all three sitting commissioners are members. 

The one action item during that meeting was approval of the primary ballot, which passed unanimously. 

Elections office director Sean Drasher also provided an update to the commissioners, which included all of the same information as reported by LebTown the previous day with one exception.

Read More: Lebanon County prepares to send mail-in ballots next week for April primary

Drasher told the commissioners that KNOWiNK staff was onsite and running Logic and Accuracy tests on the county’s electronic poll books. Voters sign in on e-poll books before voting at their polling location.

L&A testing is a series of pre-election steps intended to ensure that ballots, scanners, ballot marking devices, and any component of a county’s certified voting system are properly configured and in good working order prior to being used in an election. These steps must include every protocol that counties will use in the actual election.

Each county precinct will have e-poll books beginning with this election after the commissioners voted in January to purchase 125 units at a cost of $231,500. Costs to purchase the e-poll books were covered by state Election Integrity Grant funding.

The electronic books contain the same information as its paper counterpart: names, addresses and birth dates of registered voters. The electronic version also verifies a voter’s status, and any issues that may arise. A message would notify the poll worker if the voter had already received a mail-in ballot, if they are in the wrong polling place or if they need to provide identification. 

Drasher also re-emphasized to the media during his update that the county is not responsible for the delay in the sending of mail-in ballots, which should be mailed one day this week. 

In other county business, the commissioners voted to:

  • Approve the Lebanon County Area Agency on Aging’s four-year plan for 2024-28 to be submitted to the state Department of Aging. Department officials examined local demographic information, needs assessment data obtained from the master plan sessions that were completed countywide in September 2023, along with other community factors.
  • Accept the hazmat annual report from the Department of Emergency Services. The report will be filed with the state so that the county is eligible for state funding for hazmat incidents and other services provided through that department to county residents.   
  • Modify the 2019 and 2022 Community Development Block Grant program budgets. The following modifications were made: Transfer $20,000 of unspent 2019 funds with Mid Penn Legal Services to Volunteers in Medicine, and transfer 2022 Activity Homeowner Housing Rehabilitation totaling $215,000 to the Jonestown Market Street Improvements and fund it in that same amount. 
  • Permit advertising for bids for construction of a playground at John Wengert Park. 
  • Contract with Take Heart Counseling and Equine Assisted Therapy, based in Wernersville, for adult individuals whose lives have been impacted by trauma. The sessions initially will be available to individuals participating in Lebanon County’s Drug Court for those individuals to interact without riding them. Costs will be paid via funding in the Intermediate Punishment grant.
  • Approve first quarter invoices totaling $3.354,708 and second quarter invoices totaling $3.368,270 for fiscal year 2023-24 for Lebanon County Children and Youth.
  • Accept a hotel tax grant application from Lancaster Kennel Club’s Red Rose Classic dog show on May 11 at the expo center. The organization requested $4,912.50 of a projected cost of $14,426.55, which is 34 percent of the event’s projected budget. 
  • File a grant request through the Pennsylvania Counties Risk Pool as part of services offered by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania to its members. The grant requests $4,890 for the replacement of emergency lighting at the county’s Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention facility on Lehman Street.   
  • Appoint Jessica Kosoff to replace and fill the remaining five-year term on the board of the county’s redevelopment authority. The position became available after former director Amy Leonard resigned in February to become the board’s solicitor.
  • Issue a proclamation designating April as Pennsylvania 811 Safe Digging month. The proclamation encourages county residents to visit the Pennsylvania 811 website to learn more about safe digging.   
  • Exempt one individual from payment of real estate taxes under the disabled veterans program.
  • Transfer funding to Fulton Financial for three general obligation bonds. These moves were all from the general fund and include $172,509.87 for a 2016 bank loan, $26,524.98 for bond series 2017, and $669,949.45 for 2021 bank loan.
  • Provide a letter of support for Caring Cupboard, Palmyra, for funding the agency plans to pursue.
  • Approve the treasurer’s report, the minutes of their  March 7 meeting, and March 6 and March 13 workshops, and various personnel transactions. The March 13 workshop was an executive session to discuss personnel matters and was not open to the public.
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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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