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Lobbyists Court Lower Pottsgrove

Where help is needed.

Where help is needed.

A special “window of opportunity” to capture federal funds for highway improvements opens only once every few years, a lobbyist’s representatives told Lower Pottstgrove (PA) Township officials last night (Sept. 17, 2008). To make the most of the next chance to secure money for fixing the Sanatoga interchange at Route 422, the township was advised to move quickly.

Members of Lower Pottsgrove’s Board of Commissioners did not take formal action on a presentation by Delta Development Group Inc., a Mechanicsburg PA-based government lobbying firm that helps municipalities win state and federal dollars to meet their needs. But they asked Delta to submit a proposal outlining what the firm would do for the township, over what period of time, and at what cost.

“We’d like to get a quote in writing,” said board President Bruce Foltz. “We’re talking taxpayers’ money here.”

Delta’s fees are an expense commissioners say they must explore.

Evening walkers at Philadelphia Premium Outlets, Limerick PA.

Evening walkers at Philadelphia Premium Outlets, Limerick PA.

Dozens of acres of vacant land, prime for commercial and residential development, surround the four-lane limited-access highway as it crosses the border between Limerick and Lower Pottsgrove townships. One huge project, the Philadelphia Premium Outlets center just southeast of Sanatoga, opened there late last year. More are expected. Some builders have already floated plans, others are still quietly buying up property.

Engineers fear bottlenecks in every direction if traffic isn’t properly channeled. Neither township has the money needed – estimates currently run up to $25 million – to complete future construction envisioned for the interchange. Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation (PennDOT), meeting with the townships late last month, said its own budget was limited.

Turning to Washington seems the remaining choice, so last month Limerick became a Delta client. It is paying the firm $240,000 over two years for lobbying expertise. Delta representatives hinted Lower Pottsgrove would be charged about the same amount. For either or both, the federal pot of gold Delta hopes to target is the Transportation Equity Act.

Passed in 1998, the act assists municipalities in paying for regional transportation improvements. Its current funding, $286 billion being disbursed through 2009, helped foot the bill for intersection changes now under way further east on Route 422 at Route 29. Delta expects the next funding round, about $450 billion, will be available in 2010.

“That’s a window of opportunity that opens and closes that you want to take advantage of,” Delta Senior Vice President Anthony Seitz told the board. “Candidly,” he said, “we really like what we see here. We feel very strongly going into it about what we can achieve.”

Would Limerick’s contract with Delta create conflicting interests if Lower Pottsgrove also comes aboard?, township Solicitor R. Kurtz Holloway asked. No, Seitz responded. In fact, he added, it could boost the cause.

“This set of improvements benefits both municipalities,” Seitz noted. It would find sympathetic ears and advocacy with two Congressmen; Limerick is in Pennsylvania’s 6th District, Lower Pottsgrove is in the 15th. Some costs might even be reduced, Seitz speculated, if his firm is “working jointly” with the townships.

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