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Authority says it may sell reservoir site to nature group

| Wednesday, May 9, 2012, 2:45 a.m.

The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County disclosed Thursday that it's considering selling its 1,600-acre reservoir property in Fayette County, possibly to a nonprofit nature organization.

Bill Davis, of the Mountain Creek Watershed Association, attended the authority board meeting and asked for a trail-access agreement, similar to an agreement between the authority and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which has lapsed.

Davis said the group wants to lead young people on nature walks through a gorge on the property. With the help of grants, he believes his organization eventually might construct a bridge across the Youghiogheny River to connect with the Yough River Trail.

"We basically want to be able to go on there without getting into any trouble," he said.

Authority Solicitor Ken Burkley said he couldn't recommend a binding long-term lease because the authority is exploring the idea of selling the property.

While a long-term lease would be necessary to secure grants, Burkley said a short-term solution could be worked out to allow the group access while the sale issue is decided.

At that point, Davis said his group had applied for funding as the potential purchasing organization.

Burkley said the authority had been contacted by more than one group interested in buying the property, but he refused to identify them.

However, he said the authority would reserve the property's water rights, even though the reservoir has not been drawn down for some time.

The authority also proposed a $29.6 million budget for the 2005-06 fiscal year, with water rates holding steady.

The authority's fiscal year starts in March. The budget, with revenues projected at $44.5 million, is scheduled to be adopted next month.

Finally, the board reached a tentative agreement with Grubb & Ellis Co. to market the authority's headquarters property.

While final financial details must be worked out, Burkley said he believes that Grubb & Ellis would help the authority to get the best-selling price available, potentially by having competitors bid against one another.

The authority reached a tentative agreement with New Stanton earlier this year to purchase property for a new headquarters.

The existing building, at the intersection of South Greengate Road and Route 30, became a hot property with the current development of a Super Wal-Mart on the opposite side of Route 30.

Chris Kerr, the authority's executive director, said the new property would be better for the authority because workers would be able to get to the job site more quickly instead of waiting in Route 30 traffic.

Burkley said the acquisition of the New Stanton property appears to be proceeding smoothly.

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