River Pointe Logistics project draws criticism from planners and public
| May 23, 2023
The proposed River Pointe Logistics project near the Delaware River, with its immense building footprints and projected traffic, drew rebukes on Tuesday as being overwhelming for the Slate Belt region in Pennsylvania and with having many critical infrastructure questions still unaddressed.
Criticism of the project, a planned industrial park of a dozen buildings totaling nearly 6 million square feet spread across 800 acres, came after a staff review and presentation at the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission.
Christopher R. Amato, the commission’s vice chairman, noted that the application materials measured three feet high and that the staff’s presentation took 40 minutes – an indication of the project’s sheer sprawl and complexity.
Key among the questions raised by the commission’s staff and members of the public:
Given that workers will likely be commuting from places like Monroe County, Pa., and Warren County, N.J., how could local roads accommodate an estimated 15,475 passenger car trips and 3,015 truck trips in a typical weekday once the project reaches full buildout? What plans did the developer have for water and sewer treatment? What sort of pedestrian access would be created at the site?
The project would be developed in Upper Mount Bethel Township, a small borough with a population of less than 10,000 people, but it would have huge impacts on nearby municipalities, like Portland, Pa.
The president of the Portland Borough Council, Stephanie Steele, said the project would be “very, very overwhelming” for the neighboring locality but it would not reap any of the economic benefits.
Heather Fischer, Portland’s mayor, said communications about the project have been circuitous at best. “Every time there seems be to a question, there seems be a misdirection to something else,” she said.
Delaware Currents contacted a press representative for the project about the remarks made at the meeting. A representative was not immediately available to comment.
Project of enormous magnitude
The project is so mammoth that planners have cast it in sweeping terms, describing it as “the largest in the Lehigh Valley in decades and possibly ever.” At full buildout, the overall development could represent an investment of well over $1 billion.
Three-quarters of the project would be a mix of manufacturing, services and warehousing, and the remainder is expected to be so-called high-cube fulfillment center warehousing, which tend to have taller buildings to accommodate the storage and retrieval of goods for shipment.
The plan for RPL comes amid an enormous explosion of warehouses and distribution centers throughout the Delaware River watershed, particularly in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
Delaware Currents has previously reported that nearly 90 million square feet of warehouse space has been approved, proposed or built since 2021 in the parts of the 14 counties that make up the watershed in New Jersey.
Further, the expansive construction of warehouses in the Lehigh Valley has been linked to the degradation of overall water quality, leading to the Lehigh River being named by an environmental group as one of the most endangered rivers in the country.
Critics say warehouses, with their immense building footprints and parking lots, create acres of impervious surfaces that contribute to increased contaminated runoff, as well as increased noise, air and water pollution.
Traffic concerns raised about RPL
Judith Henkel of Upper Mount Bethel Township said the area is known for its natural features and federal designations, including the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. She raised concerns about “our sense of place” and asked what natural features will be left once the development is completed.
And Amato, the commission’s vice chairman, said, “Upper Mount Bethel Township has a duty to its citizens to foster responsible development, not irresponsible development,” He added, “Please don’t cheapen us.”
Charles Cole, an engineer who lives in Upper Mount Bethel Township, described the project as one of the largest he’s ever seen. Citing the projected car and truck traffic, he said, “To me, that is insanity doing something like this,” adding, “Maybe it’s time to hit the pause button on this project.”
Planners did not mince words in raising concerns about transportation safety and congestion.
They wrote: “These concerns are significant threats to the public health, safety and general welfare. If not addressed as the land development progresses, these threats will ultimately increase the burden to Township, Commonwealth, State of New Jersey, Federal Government, County, surrounding municipalities and others in the form of road and bridge upgrades and improvements, safety enhancements and transit needs.”
Staff members said numerous issues remained outstanding, not the least of which was a low-clearance railroad overpass on River Road that would be unable to accommodate tractor-trailers.
“Trucks get caught underneath or scrape the overpass multiple times per year, especially when road repaving reduces the amount of clearance underneath,” planners wrote in their review.
They noted that the area is “severely prone” to flooding because of the roadway’s proximity to the Delaware River and changing weather patterns as a result of climate change, therefore lowering the roadway to address the clearance was not recommended.
Planners also noted that because of the project’s proximity to the Delaware River, a comprehensive environmental impact study may be required by the Northampton County Conservation District, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and/or the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.