View Full Version : PA article on racetrack by AT

06-15-2004, 09:53
Interesting article on the proposed racing track near the AT in PA.

Blue Mountain blues ** Opponents fear driving course would disturb residents, wildlife, hikers

By Christian Berg
June 13, 2004
The Allentown Morning Call (javascript:NewWindow( 'FIISrcDetails','?from=article&ids=xall');void(0);)

Frank and Marion O'Donnell moved to the Blue Mountain nearly 30 years ago for peace, quiet and farming.
The couple's 30-acre property in Eldred Township, Monroe County, is surrounded by a lush forest that is home to animals such as deer, black bear, wild turkeys, songbirds and foxes. The 5,802-acre State Game Lands 168 is nearby, and a portion of the Appalachian Trail traverses the Blue Mountain's summit not far from their back door.

"It's so quiet here in the evening, you can hear the bugs flying," Marion O'Donnell said.

The O'Donnells, both 67, worry the solitude they have enjoyed for three decades could soon end if township supervisors approve plans for the Alpine Motorsports Club, a $20 million, 360-acre mountainside resort that includes a 2.8-mile road course for high-end sports cars such as Corvettes, Porsches and Ferraris.

The project was proposed in June 2001 by Reading developer Richard Muller Jr., president of Alpine Rose Resorts Inc. After three years of township hearings and legal challenges, the resort is moving closer to reality. It has already gotten preliminary approval, and Eldred Township supervisors are scheduled to make a final decision on Muller's development by July 9.

"We've invested three years of time and over $2 million in a fine project that will not adversely affect the community," Muller said. "It's a place for people who have a passion for driving and a love of great cars."

According to the resort's Web site, the mountainside driving track will offer "the ambiance of the Austrian Tyrol, the atmosphere of a traditional European road course, and the challenge of a mountain pass in a magnificent and breathtaking setting."

Alpine Motorsports Club would also feature garages, a car wash and self-service fuel station. In addition, there would be recreational facilities such as a welcome center; clubhouse with library, movie theater and game room; tennis, volleyball and basketball courts; outdoor swimming pool; gardens; picnic area, and a 2-mile fitness trail.

The club would have between 800 and 1,200 dues-paying members, although Muller declined to say what membership fees will be.

Numerous noise and pollution concerns expressed by local residents and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club are unfounded, Muller said. "I can't change their minds," he said. "All I can do is abide by the rules and regulations."

The O'Donnells were so worried about noise and other impacts from the resort that in late 2001 they founded the non-profit Blue Mountain Preservation Association. Today, the group has about 300 members, including some from as far away as California, Alaska and Hawaii.

"They are all environmental people who just feel this is the wrong place for a racetrack," Marion O'Donnell said.

One of the O'Donnells' biggest concerns is noise. Alpine Motorsports Club would sit right next to their property, and they said a portion of the track would be only about 100 feet away.

"They maintain that we won't hear it," Frank O'Donnell said. "I can hear a car going down the road 360 feet away, and I'm not going to hear 25 cars racing 90 feet from my window?"

The noise concern is shared by the Appalachian Trail Conference, a non-profit organization that manages and maintains the 2,171-mile Appalachian Trail, which stretches from Maine to Georgia.

At its closest point, the proposed road course at Alpine Motorsports Club would be about a half-mile away from the trail. Brian King, public affairs director for the Appalachian Trail Conference, said the group conducted sound studies that indicate the resort would have a serious impact.

"Our concern is primarily the sound that's going to travel up the ridge line and be quite a bit louder than they say it's going to be," King said. "The Appalachian Trail is a remote, scenic, backcountry trail, and it's just going to degrade all that."

Muller said the Blue Mountain Preservation Association and Appalachian Trail Conference are exaggerating the noise issue and based their sound tests on unmuffled, professional race cars. No unmuffled cars will be allowed at Alpine Motorsports, and more than $1.5 million will be spent on sound-dampening walls and earthen berms, said Muller, who signed an agreement with the township to limit noise to five decibels over the ambient, or existing, sound level.

"We've done a lot of scientific testing and we've done field studies," Muller said. "Before we invest $20 million, you would think we would feel confident that we could maintain that agreement."

Last fall, after Eldred Township supervisors granted preliminary approval to Muller's plans, the Blue Mountain Preservation Association and Appalachian Trail Conference appealed the decision to Monroe County Court. A judge upheld the approval in February, and the groups have appealed to Commonwealth Court. No hearing date has been set.

King said supervisors should have rejected Alpine Motorsports Club based on the Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail Act. The law, passed in 1978, gives municipalities a duty to "preserve the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the trail and to conserve and maintain it as a public natural resource."

This argument was repeated by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources in a brief filed as part of the lawsuit against the resort.

"In passing the Appalachian Trail Act, the legislature elevated the Eldred Township supervisors to the position of trustees of the public natural resource, which is the Appalachian Trail," the brief states. "The supervisors' duty, and now the duty of this court, is to preserve and conserve the trail for the benefit of all the people."

In addition to noise concerns, the Blue Mountain Preservation Association has brought up numerous environmental issues regarding the club's impact on wildlife.

One such topic is the Aquashicola Creek, a trout stream that runs along the base of the Blue Mountain, only a few hundred feet downhill from the proposed resort. Frank O'Donnell is concerned that sewage, fuel and other chemicals stored at the facility will contaminate the creek.

"Where there's gasoline and oil, there's going to be an accident," he said. "All that is going to run down into the creek."

Opponents are also concerned about the development's impact on the forest and animals living there. Muller, however, said he has already gotten state and federal clearance on studies that show the resort will not harm endangered bog turtles, Indiana bats or timber rattlesnakes. He also said only about 150 acres of the 360-acre site will be disturbed during construction.

"It's not like we're going in and clear-cutting it," Muller said. "A lot of trees will remain, and a lot of the trees that will be removed will be replaced."

So far, the Blue Mountain Preservation Association has spent about $87,000 in its fight against the resort. The O'Donnells said they hope to keep the organization active after the dispute is settled.

"People are definitely interested in keeping the area presentable and saving this mountain," Marion O'Donnell said. "It belongs to the people."

Although organized opposition to the Alpine Motorsports Club has cost Muller a lot of time and money, he is not bitter over the process.

"We have had a tremendous amount of scrutiny of our plans, [and] what that has ultimately done is make this project better and more sensitive to neighbors and the environment," he said.

For example, Muller said the number of vehicles that will be allowed on the driving course at one time has been cut in half from 50 to 25 as a result of residents' concerns. He also said the sound-dampening walls and berms were also added to address noise complaints.

Despite those concessions, Muller has no intention of abandoning his plan so close to the finish line.

"If it truly is what they say it is-- if I was polluting the Aquashicola Creek, if I was going to install a faulty sewage treatment system -- then my approvals would have been denied every step of the way," he said.

"We're going to succeed, and hopefully, we'll prove to the community that it is what we say it is. And if we don't, I know we'll have our hands full."

For more information about the Blue Mountain Preservation Association, visit www.bluemtpreservation.org. For more information about the Alpine Motorsports Club, visit www.alpinesignature.com.