Workin’ On A Coal Mine

It has a population of just 25,000 and it’s not easy to find on a map, but the old coal mining town of Hazleton, Pa., has big plans for its entertainment future. In five years, Hazleton expects to break ground – or, more accurately, fill ground – on a 12,000-capacity performing arts amphitheatre.

Hazleton Mayor Louis Barletta gave a presentation at a local elementary school May 10th to some 100 people that detailed redevelopment plans for 280 acres of spoiled mine land outside of town. The project includes a $45 million open air theatre, according to Wilkes-Barre’s Times-Leader.

Plans call for the huge stripping hole from the old mine to be backfilled with dredged material from the Delaware River, which locals worry might pose health risks.

The dredged material would include calcium, coal ash, sediment and water, but this presents no environmental risk, an official of the New York/New Jersey Clean Ocean and Short Trust assured the natives.

Though Barletta said a final total cost of the proposal isn’t known, the mayor told the assembled crowd the hope is to use as little tax money as possible.

“This is the largest environmental and economic development project in Hazelton’s history,” the Times-Leader quoted him saying. “I believe this project is desperately needed.”

The hope is to attract major chain retailers and restaurants, and Barletta compared the plan to development spurred by construction of the Wachovia Arena in Wilkes-Barre, about 30 miles away.

Plans also include a commuter rail line between downtown Hazleton and a convention center also planned for the site. Otherwise, Barletta considers the proposed site useless in its current state.

Public comment is being held back until a likely meeting in June, according to the newspaper. The mayor said he wants people to have time to “digest” the project.