HARRISBURG – A resolution calling for a thorough audit of more than 100 nonpoint source management transactions authorized by the Pennsylvania Infrastructure Investment Authority (PENNVEST) has been unanimously approved in the state House, said Rep. Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint), prime sponsor of the measure.
House Resolution 948 was introduced in response to concerns raised about the agency’s approval of two low-interest loans totaling nearly $51 million for a New Hampshire-based company to purchase more than 60,000 acres of private forest land in Cameron, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, McKean and Potter counties.
“As elected officials, we have a responsibility to make sure state dollars are spent appropriately, and this audit would help us do that,” Causer said. “PENNVEST was created to help our municipalities pay for infrastructure maintenance or upgrades, which is vastly different from loaning funds to a private company to purchase land.
“We need to determine if these transactions are legal and whether they are appropriate,” he added.
Rep. Causer speaks on the House floor about his PENNVEST audit resolution:
The resolution requests the auditor general conduct a financial audit of all nonpoint source program projects approved by the PENNVEST board of directors and submit a report of the audit to the House of Representatives upon completion. While more than 100 such transactions have been approved by PENNVEST, the $51 million in loans to Lyme Timber Company to purchase private land is the first of its kind in the Commonwealth.
The Lyme Timber transactions were approved by PENNVEST at meetings last fall and in January, with the funding being loaned at an interest rate of just 1 percent. As part of the transactions, Lyme Timber will complete a small acid mine drainage project on the property at a cost of about $700,000. The company also agreed to place approximately 9,400 acres of the land into a permanent working forest conservation easement.
As chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee, Causer called a public meeting at the state Capitol in March to gather more information about the transactions from officials with the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and PENNVEST, as well as concerned land owners and timber operators. Despite the meeting, many questions remain, which prompted Causer to call for the audit.