TREVORTON - The potential for economic development spurred by the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) helped get Zerbe Township "over the hump" in receiving approval for $4 million to build a new sewage treatment plant.

State Sen. John Gordner, R-27, said the PENNVEST board's approval on Tuesday for the combination of grant money and a low-cost loan was done with the AOAA in mind.

Zerbe's application included mention of the off-highway vehicle park and the expectation that the visitors it will draw could lead to construction of restaurants and motels in the region, including in Zerbe Township.

"Part of the reason they got the funding is that there is a pretty good expectation there will be economic development" related to the AOAA, Gordner said Thursday.

The more basic issue, however, is that of the environment. A press release from state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-107, and Gordner's offices about the project said the township's current wastewater treatment plant is 48 years old and includes "hydraulic overloads," which occur when too much water enters the septic system at one time. The new plant will eliminate the overloads and bring the township "into environmental compliance," the release said.

Michael Schwartz, chairman of the Zerbe Township Board of Supervisors, was happy to hear the latest news that will finally allow them to build the new plant.

"The third time's the charm, they say," Schwartz said. "We've applied twice before and were rejected, but now we are set to go."

Schwartz said the breakdown of the funding will be $2.9 million in a low-cost loan, and $1.1 million in grant money. More than likely, residents and businesses will see a rate increase to help pay back the loan.

"We are going over that with our engineers, but it must be understood that we were mandated by the state and the Chesapeake Bay Commission to build this plant. It has to be done," Schwartz said.

The AOAA is being developed on 6,500 acres of Northumberland County-owned forest and abandoned coal lands in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships. Group events are being held there on a regular basis this year while the newly created AOAA Authority board slowly brings formality to the project after several years of planning. There are not yet any regular hours for the park, and the activity that takes place must be approved through the authority.

Construction of a welcome center is set to begin this year at the main trailhead along Route 125 just south of Shamokin, but consideration for a second main entrance at the western end of the park off Route 2044 (Gap Road) just south of Trevorton in Zerbe Township is part of the master plant.

"We would like to put in that second entrance, but the land for it is on Reading Anthracite property, and we want to work with them on this project," Schwartz said.

Zerbe Township is already a hot-bed of ATV and motorcycle riding on Reading Anthracite-owned property, especially Coal Hill at the west end of Trevorton. The riding on Coal Hill, however, which is close to the village, has led to complaints about dust, noise and dirty streets, and a Reading Anthracite security manager who attended the March meeting said it is considering ending its practice of selling permits to allow people to ride on company-owned property. The Pottsville-based company has also indicated it wants to work with the county on AOAA development.

Because of that, Schwartz said he has heard rumors about restaurants and a motel coming to Zerbe Township, and the new plant could provide more hookups to make such plans a reality.

Be ready

Meanwhile, Gordner said the PENNVEST approval is another indication of support from Harrisburg for the AOAA.

"There's a 100 percent buy-in from the state - DCNR most specifically - to this project," he said.

Richard D. Allan, secretary of DCNR (state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources), toured the AOAA property with Gordner and local officials in November. Allan said the county had developed a good business model and that the park would be a "tourist destination."

Gordner said that with every successful event at the AOAA, that confidence builds. And the involvement at the park thus far has produced "everything we've talked about," including riders eating and getting supplies locally, and also needing replacement parts for their machines while in town, such as the guy who "cracked something" on the day Allan, Gordner and others took their ride, he said.

"There are folks with resources coming to this park who are willing to spend money locally," he said.

Zerbe couldn't have capitalized on the opportunity for "new motels and restaurants," as it was referenced in the Gordner-Masser release, without the sewer upgrade.

"Now, when the project is complete, they will be (ready)," he said.

"It's a step-by-step-by-step-by-step process," Gordner said about the AOAA project.

He complimented county planning director and AOAA Authority board member Pat Mack and his team on the work they've done to sell the AOAA to the regional and national groups that are visiting.

This Sunday, ATVingPa.com will be guest at the AOAA for a group ride involving 70 registrants. Last Sunday, 30 vehicles from the North Jersey Jeep Club were at the park, and a number of other events are planned this summer.

Other grants

Masser and Gordner also announced that Cooper Township, Montour County, was awarded $3.85 million in PENNVEST funding to construct more than nine miles of sanitary sewer collection lines, which will eliminate a series of on-lot septic system malfunctions.

Also Tuesday, Gordner and Lynda Schlegel Culver, R-108, announced that Sunbury was awarded a low-interest $3 million loan through PENNVEST for a total upgrade of its 53-year-old wastewaster treatment plant.

PENNVEST is an independent state agency that provides financial assistance to upgrade sewer, water, storm water and drinking water projects throughout the Commonwealth.