There is a light at the end of the tunnel for the former Bethlehem Steel site. The public heard plans Tuesday evening at St. Anthony's Church in Lackawanna.
"We can look back with pride and say we did it as a community," said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. "We waited for people to come and save us. No one was going to save us, so we had to do it ourselves."
That son and grandson of a steel plant worker explained why the county pushed to get a lot done this year, using its own cash and money from Albany and Washington, and how much more will be done in the new year.
"For too long, too many people said the project was too big to take on, that it just couldn't get done, and we basically said, 'The heck with it. That's not true. We know we can get it done,'" Poloncarz said. "It's going to take a lot of hard work, rolling up the sleeves and money to make a difference, and that's what we've been able to do through the investment that we've done in Erie County, with our partners in the Erie County Legislature, as well as New York State."
Albany has put around $30 million into the project and there will be more. A major sign of change will come soon when state Department of Transportation approves a railroad grade crossing between new railroad tracks put in on the site and the extension of Dona Street across much of the land owned by the county. Planners said the new street and the new rail lines are important to economic development on the property.
Plans includes an extension of the Shoreline bike trail, which already runs to the newly installed Dona Street, across the Bethlehem site, as well as a new plant for TMP Technologies, which will have around 100 workers within a very few years.
Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte said daily commuters are already seeing changes.
"Given the role that it played in the collective psyche of the region over the course of an entire generation, it is important to take note of the change," Whyte said, "and tens of thousands of commuters drive by that Bethlehem Steel property every day, twice a day, coming in from the Southtowns, and to see the bike path there, know the recreational opportunities, know the future prospects for job and employment opportunities."
Those commuters have watched as the old steel plant fence disappeared, as the bike trail was installed and much of the rail network moved away from Route 5, deeper into the vast site. The land is being altered for light industrial plants along the highway, medium farther back, with plenty of land much farther back toward where windmills tower over the landscape and solar cells pump out electricity.
Anwar Al-Kalai said city residents can't be forgotten while this goes on.
"That it's very important to the residents of the City of Lackawanna, whatever plans they put in place, they need to also remember the residents," Al-Kalai said. "They need an outlet. They need a place to go. They need to be able to enjoy the waterfront that they have. It's important to have commercial properties and manufacturing and all this kind of stuff, but also having a family life and a place to go and enjoy time with your family."
Planners said the waterfront along the steel plant site isn't much as a beach because it is too rocky, but Woodlawn Beach isn't far away.