This proposal under review is very concerning to this former Kent County resident. Eighteen years ago I left Chestertown to move to the beautiful Lehigh Valley in Southeastern Pennsylvania. I enjoyed the Valley’s rolling farm fields, historic buildings, sparkling creeks and rivers. I loved driving through the countryside then, but no more.
In the years since, the Valley has been overrun with enormous flat roofed warehouses. In the 1970’s Bethlehem, where we live, was facing economic catastrophe Bethlehem Steel closed its factories leaving thousands unemployed. Through the creativity and dedication of its citizens, the Valley has survived and grown. A few years later, though, when the warehouse developers came calling, the government was easily swayed by the promise of good jobs, a growing tax base that guaranteed increased prosperity and clean energy. Now we can see that none of these promises has really come true.
Instead, highways, the local and connector roads are crawling with trucks; they are now crumbling and dangerous. The jobs don’t provide a living wage and housing becomes unaffordable for these employees. Union protection for those holding “unskilled” jobs is poor. Bad things keep happening. For example, a local newspaper reported recently that an Amazon warehouse saved money on their HVAC systems by leaving out air conditioning. The out-of-state company realized that it was cheaper to negotiate a contract to keep an ambulance on site during the summer. When the overheated workers collapsed, they were simply carted off to the emergency room. Unbelievable.
As is so often the case, development breeds on itself. Even the bad stuff. Now, while new warehouses are going up, newly constructed ones are empty, with enormous signs advertising availability. Warehouses are becoming more and more automated, eliminating those promised good jobs. In the meantime, the Valley is experiencing a shortage of affordable housing. So much for the jobs, the economical development, the support for families. To be fair, something is increasing: pollution from all of those diesel truck, according to a study released last month. Run-off from all of those flat roofs and parking lots is growing too.
So what can Kent County learn from the Lehigh Valley? These facilities have little to offer the local economy or quality of life. In spite of the promises you are hearing, I encourage you to send them down the road and focus on what makes Kent County and its resources thrive. If you decide to accept them, please place strict restrictions on them. Find out what they precisely mean about their L.E.E.D. claims; insist that they power themselves with roof-mounted solar panels; keep the 45 foot height limit.