Sale of unused Luzerne County rail for scrap postponed

By Jennifer Learn-Andes - | April 18th, 2017 5:57 pm

Luzerne County Redevelopment Authority board members once again held off on selling 8.11 miles of unused steel rail from its train tracks that would have generated $286,500 in revenue, opting to further research the ramifications.

County Councilman Rick Williams has warned the underlying land could revert back to the original property owners if the rail line is removed, causing the loss of an asset and stifling a future goal to bring passenger train service from New York City to Scranton and then Wilkes-Barre.

Following a closed-door executive session to discuss the proposed sale Tuesday, the board publicly voted to perform more due diligence to make an informed decision.

The authority will notify Knoxville, Tennessee-based Keystone Rail Recovery, which offered the highest price to buy the scrap — that a decision may not be made for a month or two, members said. The company may not be required to honor its offer after 60 days, and the board already tabled the matter once during its last monthly meeting in March, an authority representative said.

Title searches of all the bits and pieces of land taken when the track was built many years ago would be necessary to determine if the authority would lose its claim, said authority Solicitor Garry Taroli. The board did not authorize title searches because they would cost an estimated tens of thousands of dollars, he said.

Instead, the board will research whether any rails-to-trails organizations would be interested in taking over the routes if the rail line is removed, Taroli said. The authority would not risk losing ownership if the land is converted to public trails, he said.

Authority management had pursued the proposal to sell the rail for scrap after some sections of rail were removed by thieves. The authority owns 55 miles of track.

The scattered stretches proposed for removal are in the Dupont area from Suscon Road to Tariff Road, along Murray Street through the Forty Fort and Kingston areas, near the Bridon America plant in Exeter to Sixth Street in Wyoming and in Lackawanna County from Route 502 to Montage Mountain Road.

In other business Tuesday, board members said they have no progress to report on the disbursement of approximately $3 million left from an expired tax-break program that funded infrastructure improvements on Highland Park Boulevard and Mundy and Coal streets.

The county, Wilkes-Barre Area School District and Wilkes-Barre Township sacrificed property tax revenue from new development along Highland Park and at the Arena Hub Plaza to fund the work.

The authority, which oversaw the program, is awaiting an agreement from the three taxing bodies on how the leftover pot should be disbursed. Wilkes-Barre did not give up tax revenue for the infrastructure, but some city officials have maintained remaining funding should be reserved to help fund an estimated $12 million project to further extend Coal Street and level a railroad embankment between Scott and Market streets in the city.

Pedri said Tuesday he is still working with all involved entities, but it’s unclear if he will present a recommendation at next week’s county council meeting.

“I’m still unraveling this and hope to have some resolution soon,” Pedri said.

Jim Raffa points out an area where train tracks have been stolen. 3/30/2017 Aimee Dilger|Times Leader Raffa points out an area where train tracks have been stolen. 3/30/2017 Aimee Dilger|Times Leader

By Jennifer Learn-Andes

For other local news stories, click here.

Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.