Luzerne County Council set to vote on loan guarantee that would fund replacement of Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge
Under agreements that could pass Tuesday, Luzerne County Council would guarantee a new $55 million infrastructure loan if all the money was used to address county-owned roads and bridges, including replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge over the Susquehanna River, the documents say.
An estimated $40 million is needed to replace the span connecting Nanticoke and Plymouth Township, which was downgraded to a 15-tonne weight limit in 2020 due to issues discovered during an inspection. The county has no funds set aside to cover these expenses, and officials said it would take at least a decade, possibly much longer, for the bridge to receive federal and state funding allocations based on the large number of infrastructure requests.
“Due to the current condition of the bridge, county staff are concerned that the next inspection may result in lower weight limits and/or future closure,” the administration’s report said.
For context, the loan is possible because new state legislation customized just for the county redirects $3 million per year for 25 years from the casino’s Local Sharing Account (LSA) to create an infrastructure fund.
The way it is set up, the County Redevelopment Authority must borrow to create the fund and then pay off the debt using the annual $3 million LSA allotment.
However, the county is involved because financial institutions want assurances that the county would repay the debt if the Mohegan Sun Pocono Casino in Plains Township unexpectedly closes down the road.
The legislation leaves it to the county redevelopment authority to recommend which projects should be funded, with final award approval by the Commonwealth Finance Authority – a state entity that already approves other LSA awards that do not are not part of this special program.
Originally, municipalities would have been invited to apply for infrastructure funding.
But some county council members have said they would be more willing to provide a loan guarantee if they were confident that county-owned projects are funded, prompting the revised deals now before the council.
Although the Commonwealth Finance Authority has the final say, officials said the state authority would rely heavily on recommendations from the county authority.
The county council appoints the five citizens to serve on the redevelopment authority’s board, with the seats currently held by Nina DeCosmo, Scott Linde, John Pekarovsky, Stephen E. Phillips and Mark Rabo.
Two resolutions are on the agenda for Tuesday’s council.
The first is a memorandum of understanding between the county and the redevelopment authority to ensure the reconstruction of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge and guarantee the county of the debt if necessary.
In this agreement, the authority undertakes to accept and approve the county’s application for LSA funding to rebuild the bridge and to submit this application to the Commonwealth Funding Authority for approval.
The Council in turn agrees to proceed with the issuance of an ordinance to secure the loan and submit the necessary documentation to the state Department of Community and Economic Development, as required by law.
It says the proceeds from the bond will fund the design, acquisition, construction and equipping of the reconstruction of the bridge. Any funds remaining after the bridge is completed will be applied to public infrastructure projects approved by the county and the authority.
The county’s second resolution formally requests the $54.9 million LSA grant from the County Redevelopment Authority and the Commonwealth Funding Authority to fund work on the bridge and other county-owned infrastructure.
“Luzerne County is responsible for maintaining more than 100 miles of roads and 300 bridges that connect communities and commerce throughout Luzerne County,” the diary reads.
State Sen. John Yudichak, I-Swoyersville, had appeared remotely before the council in May to personally seek its support, saying proceeding without a county guarantee would likely double the cost of funding and cut the funding amount in half. available for infrastructure projects.
He also fears that a board rejection could cause state lawmakers to reconsider how the $3 million is allocated and “seriously call into question whether the program will be received by Luzerne County.”
While Yudichak sees the replacement of the Nanticoke/West Nanticoke Bridge as a necessity for economic development, he said the primary concern is maintaining a safe river crossing in that area for the public.
Contacted last week, Yudichak said he was grateful for the due diligence done by the council, redevelopment authority and administration, noting that new county executive Randy Robertson has been “engaged at a level intense”.
Yudichak described the package as a “historic partnership” to address county infrastructure maintenance that has been deferred for decades.
County officials have long complained that their infrastructure has been excluded from LSA prices, he said.
“This uses these gaming funds as they should be for projects of regional value – projects that transcend a single municipality and benefit the county and region from a public safety and economic development perspective,” said said Yudichak.
He’s confident the $3 million is solid, as casino credits for county projects average $12 million a year. The rest of the funds would continue to flow to municipalities for various community purposes, such as the purchase of municipal equipment and vehicles, officials said.
Tuesday’s council meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the county courthouse on River Street in Wilkes-Barre. Instructions for attending the meeting remotely are posted in the online board meetings section of luzernecounty.org.
The redevelopment authority is due to meet the next day and will vote on the deals if they are accepted by council.
Contact Jennifer Learn-Andes at 570-991-6388 or on Twitter @TLJenLearnAndes.