Killer Tax Breaks for Destroying Wildlife

Lots of fish and wildlife habitat has been hammered across northeastern Pennsylvania.

And even the most casual of visitors to the region might wonder why more hasn’t been done to save the scrappy leftovers.

It’s a great question, well deserving of an answer from the top bananas that pull the region’s economic strings.

After all, there’s more to life than a shopping sortie to the Arena Hub in Wilkes-Barre. Or a trek to motorboat haven at Lake Wallenpaupack (an artificial lake in the Poconos). Or a pilgrimage to Cabela’s, the destination “attraction” near Reading.

Some folks (quite a few, actually, given the elbow-to-elbow crowd I saw out at Lake Frances in Nescopeck State Park on the trout opener) actually value a more quiet, sun-in-the-face outdoors experience. Like those who founded the new organization Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.

Backcountry in the Hazleton area?

No, but we do have lots of attractions like the one that just popped up southwest of the city.

It joins the list of the region’s other attractions, like “destination” Big Box stores, the ones conveniently located within shouting distance of the I-81 exit taxpayers picked up the tab for in the 1990s.

Yes neighbors, Humboldt Industrial Park is our newest attraction.

And the state Department of Transportation folks have made it official, posting a sign alongside I-81 just north of the Route 924 interchange that identifies the park of concrete, steel, plastic and asphalt as a place worthy of the ordinary tourist’s attention.

How times change.

As recently as a decade ago, only theme parks in the Disney mold qualified for such billing. I don’t know what might attract sportsmen to Humboldt, though. Cartoon mascots notwithstanding, I’ve yet to see a giant oversized mouse with big black ears out there.

Besides, nearly all of the fine wild turkey, grouse and songbird habitat that once blanketed the high, rocky ground on the Humboldt ridge is gone. Developers and tax breaks took care of it.

Now, as just about everyone, including the county commissioners, knows by now, ADM (Archer Daniels Midland) is coming to our newest attraction west of I-81.
You may remember this big, struggling outfit. It’s the one whose revenues for fiscal year 2005 barely squeezed past the $1 billion mark, reaching only a paltry $1.04B by year’s end.

Let me repeat that. $1.04 billion.

Once upon a time, taxpayers were getting ripped off by the poverty-stricken owners of pro sports franchises – the ones who vowed to leave town at midnight unless local folks forked over gazillions to build them new stadiums with revenue-producing luxury skyboxes.

But the taxpayers caught on to the scam, telling the big shots to go ahead and skip town – and take their locker rooms with them.

But when it comes to wildlife-wrecking industrial development, no tax break seems too big.

ADM’s “net earnings for the quarter ended Dec. 31, 2005 increased 17 percent to $368 million [or] $0.56 per share from $314 million [or] $0.48 per share [in 2004].”

That’s from the company’s Web site. There are, of course, lots of other interesting and important financial data worth perusing at

The alleged “improvements” in the tax-break packages our leaders worked out for ADM are basically smoke and mirrors.

The size of the new cocoa processing plant: 500,000 square feet, or big enough to shelter a couple of B-52s and their ground maintenance crews with plenty of room left for the squadron commander.

Its footprint will include a fleet of trucks coming and going at all hours, lurching onto taxpayer-built roadways patrolled by taxpayer-paid police and maintained by taxpayer-funded highway maintenance people.

In the weeks following the much-ballyhooed announcement in 2006 that ADM was “considering” coming to Hazleton, I heard from a few people who know the real value of a forest.

But most area sportsmen kept quiet.

Most, apparently, are fine and dandy with massive habitat fragmentation and massive habitat destruction, as well as roads, power lines, fertilizer, road salt, all-terrain vehicles, sewage, dogs, cats, traffic, and all suburban blights that eliminate fish and wildlife and ruin wild country.

ADM has given lots of big-time cash over the years to politicians of all stripes. ADM was surely just being nice. They didn’t expect anything in return.

Hazle Township, in welcoming ADM to town, agreed not to seek property taxes from the corporation for a decade, attaching a few minor strings to the tax-break package.

The county commissioners offered a similar deal.

And the beat goes on. As one historical figure noted, “[The] best thing that ever happened to government is that people don’t think.”

ALAN GREGORY bears witness to the destruction of fish and wildlife habitat from Hazleton, Pa., where he pens columns for the local daily newspaper and