As it nears sale of a 330-acre site in Nanticoke and Hanover Township, the nonprofit Earth Conservancy is shifting much of its focus on another one of its mine-scarred holdings — a 2,200-acre swath known as the Bliss/Truesdale site.
Located primarily in Hanover and Newport townships, the Bliss/Truesdale project will create a mix of residential, industrial and public open space after it is cleaned up, said Earth Conservancy Executive Director Mike Dziak. Between 400 and 500 acres must be reclaimed, he said.
“That’s the next big area for us to do work,” he said.
Final negotiations are underway for Earth Conservancy to sell the 330-acre tract to Missouri-based NorthPoint Development, which brought online pet-supply retailer Chewy.com to Hanover Township, Dziak said.
Known as “Hanover 9,” this partially wooded land runs along Route 29 on the east side and will connect to the new South Valley Parkway that is under construction. It is also accessible from Kosciuszko Street near the Lexington Village residential development and across from Luzerne County Community College, maps show.
Brent Miles, NorthPoint’s economic development vice president, has said his company plans to construct three buildings over three years with the following square footage: 1.3 million, 307,000 and 507,000.
He provided a low estimate of 1,300 to 1,500 new jobs at the site but said it could be 2,000 to 3,000.
The company must invest millions of dollars to grade the land and add utilities, sewer, water and roads, Miles has said.
In a recent interview, Miles said his company has been submitting development plans and expects zoning approval to wrap up soon, which would allow a groundbreaking in several weeks.
Miles plans to start with construction of two buildings that should be completed in early 2019.
“This will be a busy summer for us,” he said.
NorthPoint’s Chewy.com project also is on land that was once owned by Earth Conservancy. The nonprofit had borrowed $9 million to fill deep mine pits and contour the terrain, eliminating an eyesore and readying the spot for development.
This 172-acre tract — NorthPoint is calling it the Hanover Ridge Trade Center — also houses two new buildings that will soon be occupied by athletic apparel maker Adidas and Patagonia Inc., an environmentally conscious American company that sells outdoor clothing, Miles said.
Visible from busy Interstate 81, the buildings at this complex have generated lots of positive feedback, Miles said.
“There’s something about those buildings where they sit. When you come into the valley and see those buildings, they really pop,” he said.
Miles said he intends to impress area residents and officials by putting the new 330-acre site back into productive use.
“The elected officials saw the work we did at Hanover Ridge, and it’s been a big success. Hopefully we can emulate some of that at the new park at Hanover 9,” Miles said, describing the Wyoming Valley as his “second home” and one of his favorite development areas of many he oversees throughout the country.
Earth Conservancy recently received $2.5 million in abandoned mine reclamation funding to complete the third phase of cleaning up and prepping the site, which involves additional reclamation and some infrastructure and utility connections.
The second phase, which should be completed this summer, will reclaim a more than 30-acre, mine-scarred section to create a building pad, Dziak said.
“Getting utilities in and bringing the roadway in from the new South Valley Parkway will entice developers to come in and develop this land,” he said.
A master plan on the more than 2,000 acres should be completed this spring to help market the site and guide the nonprofit on how the tract should be carved out, he said.
Dziak expects approximately 1,000 acres from the Alden area to Sugar Notch will be preserved for public use.
“We also have nice, pretty areas for residential development, especially in Sugar Notch, but we’d need to get infrastructure in there in a cost efficient way,” he said.
While it may take years, he is confident the project will materialize because he believes development interest in this area is the highest since his organization acquired 16,000 acres of former Blue Coal land in the early 1990s.
An improved economy, the elimination of many unsightly mining remains and the area’s proximity to major highways are some reasons for the change, he said.
“A number of years ago it was very bad, and we had nobody knocking on the door. Now we have a lot of interest,” Dziak said.
His nonprofit has sold or donated more than half of its holdings for residential and commercial development or to be kept as green space.
More than 2,000 acres was reclaimed, and another 2,000 must be cleaned up before it can be used for new development or recreation, he has said.
The effort to preserve pristine land and address environmental hazards and repurpose mine land for new uses is helping to transform the region, he said.
“This is a great opportunity for the area to both grow and clean up the mess,” Dziak said.
Reach Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.