EASTON, Pa. – Northampton County will receive $3.4 million from the state this year to save farmland and, in turn, fend off warehouse development, County Executive Lamont McClure said Thursday.
The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture has allocated that sum to the county to preserve open space, McClure announced at county council's virtual meeting.
McClure has said the best way to prevent warehouses from being built on land is to own the land or pay to ensure that it remains undeveloped.
"You know what farm preservation does," he said Thursday. "It fights warehouse proliferation and the ever-increasing truck traffic."
The Lehigh Valley Planning Commission has warned that "high cube" automated warehouses that exceed 100 feet in height and employ more robots than people are the next wave in the logistics industry.
Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center funding
Earlier, during a committee meeting, council heard from Julia Kocis, director of the Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center, which is based in Lehigh County and provides information to law enforcement.
When Northampton County District Attorney Terence Houck sought $100,000 in December 2020 to pay a share of the RIIC's expenses, some councilmembers balked before agreeing to his request. In turn, they asked for Kocis to review the RIIC's operations with them.
The RIIC, developed by Lehigh County District Attorney James Martin, provides police with information on crime and gang activity in the region.
"They're spread out across both counties," Kocis said of criminal gangs. Gangs operate not just in Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton, but throughout the Lehigh Valley, she added.
That includes the Borough of Nazareth, Police Chief Randall Miller said.
"We have two known Latin Kings in an apartment complex in the borough," Miller said, citing information about gangs provided by the RIIC. The Nazareth police confer with the regional center on almost every investigation, he noted.
Houck said the RIIC helps identify drug packets and link them to dealers, aiding the prosecution of cases when drug sales lead to deaths.
Council President Lori Vargo Heffner questioned the county's RIIC contribution earlier, based on questions about how the center is funded. Kocis told her Thursday that federal, state and private grants have helped pay for equipment. The center is based in downtown Allentown.
During the regular meeting, council heard about a plan to spend $2.4 million on Northampton County Prison renovations. Construction could begin later this year.
Council wrapped up the day by proclaiming April as "Pennsylvania 811 Safe Digging Month." Contractors and homeowners wielding shovels should dial 811 before digging, they advised, to find out if excavation may damage utility lines.
Council's next meeting will be on March 4 at 6:30 p.m.