Governor’s panel backs Raystown plan critics
Advisory council expresses concerns about development proposal at lake
Anti-development groups continue to speak out against a proposal to build on a pristine portion of Raystown Lake shoreline as a public comment deadline approaches.
And now, it seems they have the support of an advisory council to the governor.
“It’s very encouraging,” said George Conrad, who heads the Coalition to Protect Hawn’s Peninsula.
On Friday, Conrad spoke about a letter from Gov. Tom Wolf’s Advisory Council for Hunting, Fishing and Conservation published earlier this month. The letter pointed out concerns with proposed development of an area known as Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula.
Those concerns did not sit well with Janet Chambers of Beacon Marketing Solutions, who locally represents the prospective developer, Texas-based Lancer Resources LP.
“Why are people in Harrisburg weighing in on a project that has economic impact in Huntingdon County?” Chambers asked, pointing out that development has been supported by local government and economic leaders.
Lancer Resources LP proposed an $89 million large-scale resort to be constructed on private land atop nearby Terrace Mountain.
The 220-room resort would offer “high-end” lodging unlike what is available currently near the lake, Chambers said, pointing out that it also would feature a spa, restaurant and bar.
The resort was planned with an adjacent public recreation area and marina to be constructed on public land at Hawn’s Bridge Peninsula with room for 150 boats.
Marina development was later denied by Army Corps of Engineers officials, which manages the 8,300-acre lake and its surrounding 2,100 acres of land.
The denial was the result of the lake’s master plan, which governs what types of development are allowed on corps-managed land by weighing factors like environmental and recreational impacts.
Corps officials said master plans have a life span of 15 to 25 years, and the existing plan was created in 1994.
An update is required by a 2016 Congressional mandate, and Lancer officials have hope that revisions could make changes that allow marina development, Chambers said.
But the update process allows members of the public to submit comments to planning officials, and many development opponents, including the Coalition to Protect Hawn’s Peninsula, have taken the opportunity.
“We exist because we worry that, if there is development, it is going to degrade Raystown Lake,” Conrad said, revealing that his group has attended fairs, written letters and engaged recreation organizations in a number of surrounding counties in an attempt to garner support. “This is more than just a local issue.”
Earlier this month, many of Conrad’s concerns were echoed by Wolf’s advisory council, which submitted a letter to corps officials, asking for renewed commitment to environmental stewardship as master plan revisions continue.
The council is comprised of 20 experts who weigh in on issues that include outdoor recreation and environmental preservation, as well as hunting, fishing and trapping.
In the letter, they urged officials to consider the lake’s long-term success, which they claim relies on maintaining Raystown’s “natural beauty.”
The lake’s surrounding wilderness is an abundant wildlife habitat, housing hundreds of animals — birds, mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians, advisory council members wrote.
“Increased brick and mortar development chips away at the fundamental reason people visit the lake,” the letter reads. “Further human encroachment will deplete the primary natural assets Raystown offers to the region.”
Then it references the proposed Hawn’s Peninsula development directly.
Through the letter, council members asked corps officials to disallow resort construction, which “would not blend with the natural surroundings and instead would present a manmade intrusion inconsistent with the existing largely pristine viewshed.”
Concerns were not limited to on-land habitats, as the council also pointed out expected threats to waterways.
“There is already too much recreational pressure on the lake, and … the planned marina would increase boat traffic in the area that is prime striped bass territory,” the letter reads.
The same views were shared by Laura Jackson, vice president and conservation chair of the Juniata Valley Audubon Society. Jackson said her group’s leadership has urged its about 340 members to submit comments to back the position against development.
On Friday, she said she was grateful that the governor’s advisory council did the same.
“I hope it carries a lot of weight,” she said.
At the same time, Chambers pointed out that not all comments have been against development. In fact, local economic leaders and government officials have supported the resort and marina for their expected tax revenue and injection of tourist dollars into the surrounding community.
Chambers provided a half dozen letters to back her claim. They were signed by Juniata Township supervisors, Juniata College officials, state Sen. John H. Eichelberger Jr., R-Blair, and U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., among others.
“We are surprised at the small group of people against this project, who have criticized bringing 300 jobs to Huntingdon County,” she said.
The deadline to submit master plan comments to the Army Corps of Engineers is Sept. 30.
The comments, in combination with a number of additional studies, will be used to craft the master plan update, Army Corps Raystown Operations Manager Nicholas Krupa said.
“We are looking forward to the next stage,” he said.
Krupa said about 1.5 million people visit the lake each year, often traveling from urban areas like Harrisburg, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The planning process is expected to last into 2020, but that timeline could be extended if necessary.
Mirror Staff Writer Sean Sauro is at 946-7535.