Blue Mountain Ski Resort: PennEast pipeline key to its expansion plans

February 24, 2016

The Morning Call

LOWER TOWAMENSING – An outdoor water park proposed for Blue Mountain Ski Resort would result in $30 million in local construction, 22 full-time and 692 part-time jobs, but it all depends on the PennEast pipeline, says a letter resort officials submitted Tuesday in favor of the natural gas project.

“The PennEast Pipeline is vital to our expansion,” Blue Mountain officials wrote in their letter submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, which included new statistics about the number of jobs the water park would create.

The commission is responsible for approving PennEast’s proposed 114-mile natural gas pipeline that would span from Wilkes Barre to Mercer County, N.J.

Blue Mountain officials hope the park will be open by 2018. It’s construction is to coincide with construction of the pipeline, which PennEast hopes will receive approval this year and be operational by the end of 2017.

Summit Splash water park would rely on a natural gas powered plant installed at the top of Blue Mountain. The plant is projected to reduce Blue Mountain’s electric bill by an estimated 25 percent.

In addition, the power plant would produce heat as a byproduct of generating electricity. This will allow Blue Mountain to heat several outdoor “hot springs” proposed as part of Summit Splash for free.

Barbara Green, president of Blue Mountain, said on Tuesday evening that she sees the pipeline, not only as a way to improve her business, but also as a “catalyst to create jobs” and improve the local economy.

“To grow revenue (and hire additional employees, increase wages, pay more taxes, etc.), we are pursuing a new spa/ hot springs/ water park that will further make us a year-round attraction,” Blue Mountain’s letter says.

Blue Mountain received a $500,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority in 2014 to go toward construction of the small power plant, which would be the size of about two tractor-trailers.

The power plant would cost between $4 million to $6 million to construct, but those costs would be offset by the overall reduction to Blue Mountain’s electric bill.

The ski resort was previously in discussions with UGI Utilities about connecting to an existing gas line at the base of the mountain, but that would have required Blue Mountain to install nearly two miles of its own pipe in order to connect.

Green estimates that would have added an additional $1.5 million in construction costs to the already $30 million water park project.

“Before PennEast Pipeline, we would have needed over two miles of pipe, including crossing a stream and building a regulator station, which is a lot of construction cost and environmental disruption for one customer,” says Blue Mountain’s letter. “By tapping into PennEast, we will get gas from a pipeline that serves many customers, reducing our costs and additional environmental disruption.”

The decision to connect with Blue Mountain, however, required PennEast to re-route a portion of its pipeline, which resulted in 2.5 miles of pipe moved into Lehigh Township.

Blue Mountain received the necessary permit to construct the water park from Lower Towamensing Township in 2013, Green said. The permit is good until 2018.

Blue Mountain officials soon will submit updated plans for the project to the township, Green said. Construction of the park would coincide with construction of the pipeline, which PennEast hopes will be operational by late 2017.

In addition to the park, Blue Mountain is also planning Vista Lodge Residence Club, a four-star condominium resort hotel, which would be the ski area’s first on-site lodging accommodation.

That project will cost between $20 million to $30 million and will create an additional 60 full-time jobs in addition to the 20 full-time and nearly 700 part-time jobs that will be created by the water park. Construction on the condominiums are to start in 2017 and be completed by the end of 2018.

by Christina Tatu of the Morning Call