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Montour Preserve ownership to change, other measures taken in agreement

PHOTO PROVIDED This picture shows Lake Chillisquaque at the Montour Preserve.

An agreement signed this week between an advocacy group and an energy company aims to preserve the natural beauty of the Montour Preserve.

In the deal, Talen Energy agreed to hand over the 165-acre Lake Chillisquaque and the rest of the preserve to a yet-undecided group chosen by the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper Association in response to alleged groundwater pollution from an ash dump next to Talen’s coal-fired power plant, not quite 2 miles south of the lake.

Talen Energy maintains no pollution occurred — however, it agreed to a series of measures out of court that the Riverkeeper Association hopes will improve groundwater in the surrounding area.

Some of those measures include phasing out coal-fired energy, halting the use of the disposal basin near the preserve and handing over the preserve.

The preserve, which includes the outdoor recreational area around Lake Chillisquaque, is currently maintained by the Montour Area Recreation Commission, to which Talen Energy leases the land the preserve is on.

The Montour Area Recreation Commission, a governmental commission, cannot legally own the land; it must be leased to the commission by another entity which owns it, according to Bob Stoudt, the commission’s director.

“It is our desire to remain involved to ensure the preserve is protected in perpetuity,” Stoudt said. “We will continue to stay actively involved, but by point of law we cannot own it.”

Stoudt said the most probable solution is that a government entity will take ownership of the land. That could mean Anthony Township or Montour County could own it, or even mean the Montour Preserve could become state land under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

However, Stoudt emphasized that many of the conversations surrounding the preserve are ongoing and it is too early to say what will come of further talks.

“In theory we can then continue to operate the preserve on their behalf, but a different entity has to own it,” Stoudt said. “Those are discussions that they need to continue to have.”

In addition to handing over the preserve to another group, Talen has committed to stop burning coal at the Montour Power Plant, and to stop disposing of coal ash and wastewater into the adjacent disposal basin by Dec. 31, 2025. The company intends to drain the pit by October of 2028.

Additionally, Talen will donate $1 million to the future owners of the Montour Preserve to give it a head-start on maintaining the area as well as give $200,000 to the Riverkeeper Association for clean water programs.

According to the Riverkeeper Association, the money will be used to sample streams near the waste sites as well as drinking water wells to detect contamination and protect the community from it.

Talen Energy also said it would partner with another company to build a 1,000-acre solar farm nearby, according to the Riverkeeper Association.

John Zaktansky, the Middle Susquehanna Riverkeeper, said the agreement will lead to improved water quality in the region.

“It will also preserve an incredibly valuable environmental, educational and recreational community asset ­Lake Chillisquaque and the surrounding land, called the Montour Preserve ­and protect it for future generations,” Zaktansky said.

“We don’t have a position on whether pollution did or did not occur, but we appreciate the Riverkeeper’s efforts to protect the groundwater sources in northern Montour County,” Stoudt said.

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