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Pennsylvania DCNR Land Scandal Gets Worse As PennVest Dissembles

natural gas boats - Tom Shepstone ReportsTom Shepstone
Shepstone Management Company, Inc.


Pennsylvania DCNR is making a lot of phony claims and using PennVest dollars intended for water and sewer projects to grab land for a wilderness preserve.

The DCNR land grab scandal I wrote about here a few weeks ago, is getting worse. As I noted then, this poorly executed scam to ripoff the taxpayers offers a perfect demonstration of the special interests behind the type of fractivism funded by the Rockefellers and the William Penn Foundation.

They aim to create wilderness playgrounds for the enjoyment of the rich and famous, while profiting handsomely. Pennsylvania DCNR, in fact, is precisely following the model established by the Rockefeller family’s Open Space Institute, which used Empire State Development money intended for economic development to fund a wilderness land grab in New York.

People are starting to notice the DCNR deal, though. They’re asking questions and the answers aren’t good.


The truth about why smug well-connected Cindy Dunn wants this bad deal so badly is, as I explained earlier:

…found in the talk about a “conservation gap” and a “land bridge.” She’s determined to make a Northwest PA wilderness on the backs of taxpayers and residents of that county and its neighbors for the sale of those many wealthy visitors who want a wilderness experience uncluttered by real people and their enterprises; people who have to get their hands dirty making a living and don’t have the luxury of trips from Philly or Pittsburgh for weekend hikes. They know there’s little or no money in selling organic granola bars to those folks.

Cindy Dunn, before she was DCNR Secretary, was the Executive Director of PennFuture, an anti-gas, anti-development group doing the bidding of Pennsylvania’s elites. PennFuture, in fact, is primarily funded by the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation. They are the same benefactors behind fractivist shill StateImpactPa, the Clean Air Council, the Delaware Povertykeeper a/k/a Riverkeeper, et al. PennFuture’s agenda is Cindy’s agenda. She’s an arm of the Heinz and Haas families. The latter, in fact, acting as the William Penn Foundation, is in business with the Rockefeller’s Open Space Institute to grab land in the Delaware River Basin.

It’s always the same people and it’s always the same game; using the taxpayers to finance the land grabs so the supposed “development rights” can be sold back to the state at a profit. Those profits pay the huge salaries at the non-profits involved in the deals, while leaving the land available for wilderness playground activities not to be disturbed by economic activities such as gas drilling (and, later, timbering, no doubt).

They justify breaking open the taxpayer piggy bank for sewer and water projects in this case on the basis of 50 jobs, which is clearly an OTTWAG (“over-the-top-wild-assed-guess”. Assuming its real, though, it amounts to over $1,000,000 of taxpayer money per job. Compare that to the $13,000 per job cost of these state grants. Or, the $36,000 per job for this $290 million in state loans.

Using the latter as an appropriate criteria (it roughly matches HUD Section 108 community development loan requirements of $35,000 per job), this PennVest loan of $50 million plus should have generated almost 1,400 jobs, not 50. It’s not about the jobs; it’s about the wilderness Cindy Dunn and her erstwhile wealthy PennFuture patrons want.

Among those patrons is a proxy group for the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation. It’s the Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, headed by R. John Dawes. He also serves as Chair of the Rockefeller-connected Environmental Integrity Project (which is fighting the Shell Cracker) and the FracTracker Alliance (funded by the Heinz Endowments and the William Penn Foundation). He has influence across the entire spectrum of big green fractivist funders. He and Cindy Dunn jointly signed a letter opposing oil and gas development on state land, in fact. They’re kindred spirits.


R. John Dawes

Cindy Dunn also absolutely loves the guy for his work on abandoned mine drainage, as this PennFuture article by her and about him demonstrates. That’s odd, isn’t it? One of the other phony excuses used for this PennVest giveaway of more than $50 million 1% loan money intended for water and sewer projects is that it will include a relative pittance of $500,000 to be invested in an acid mine drainage project, even though Pennsylvania already has a program for this, which is funded by gas drilling. Why not just use that?

Perhaps the answer is to be found in this intro by R. John Dawes to a “Breeds of Cattle” publication where he offers the following (emphasis added):

It was through conservation practices implemented here on the farm and the notoriety of the breeding program that I was asked to participate in a year-long visioning session (1993) for the Heinz Endowments Environment Program. Following the death of Senator John Heinz in 1991, his widow, Teresa Heinz Kerry (This Moment on Earth) contacted environmental leaders from different disciplines—Amory Lovins (Rocky Mountain Institute), transportation; Bill McDonough, architecture and design; Paul Hawken (The Ecology of Commerce and Blessed Unrest), environmental enterprise; David Orr (Ecological Literacy), environmental education; John Oliver, The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and subsequently Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; Patrick Noonan, The Conservation Fund and others; to provide guidelines for the newly-formed Heinz Endowments Environment Program.

This is how both PennFuture and the Heinz Endowments program of opposition to development of any kind in Pennsylvania were born. Both R. John Dawes and The Conservation Fund, which finessed this PennVest land grab, were integrally involved. They worked for Teresa to set up the whole apparatus of the job-killing, wilderness playground creating, aristocratic land grabbing machine that is the legacy of the Heinz Endowments and William Penn Foundation.


Heinz Endowments offices

Pennsylvania, though, is not New York, where graft and back-room gentry class deals are the order of the day. The Open Space Institute template can’t be implemented as easily here. We still have some politicians with principles. They’re noticing what is an erupting scandal. Senator Scott Hutchinson, for example, has written to Brion Johnson, PennVest’s Executive Director, asking him to scrap the taxpayer giveaway (emphasis added):

I am writing to formally request that you put an immediate end to the two loan transactions totaling approximately $5O million involving Lyme Timber in rural Northwest PA. I believe that there are serious policy concerns regarding making PENNVEST loans at very low interest rates available to a private company to assist them in purchasing vast acreage in Pennsylvania, as well as potential legal questions that cloud these transactions. ln addition to the numerous points raised at last week’s House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee Hearing, I was shocked to read in The Derrick newspaper this morning that although it was stated by PENNVEST that local County Planning Commissions (including Venango County where I live) had been contacted about the Lyme Timber Project, most say they were never contacted at all, let alone had they expressed support. How misleading!

Since the actual funds have not been transferred out to Lyme Timber and the settlements have not been finalized, I believe it is time to nix this proposal, and reject further deals of similar projects. Basing these transactions on a premise that this “protects those areas from being over developed” shows how out of touch somebody is to think Pennsylvania’s Northern Tier is somehow threatened with overdeveloprnent. Corporate welfare for out of state companies should not override the need for sewer and water infrastructure projects for our poor Pennsylvania communities. lf PENNVEST has excess funds, I would rather that our communities can have more favorable terms for their expensive sewer and water infrastructure projects.

Senator Hutchinson has always been a stand-up guy, even when he was a Western Pennsylvania House member commenting on DRBC regulations eight years ago. Still, this is an unusually frank letter for a State Senator to be sending a state agency from whom he can be expected to want some favorable attention for future projects in his district. He’s telling PennVest he sees what is potentially a scandal and he wants it stopped.


Hutchinson has every right to be upset with what The Derrick newspaper back home exposed (article is behind a paywall but well worth paying for). It turns out officials from several counties, supposedly behind the project according to Brion Johnson of PennVest, knew nothing of it until others told them, for example. Some were, in reality, directly opposed. That was Falsehood No. 1.

Falsehood No. 2 is the idea, pushed by Brian Johnson, that the land involved, which is clearly undevelopable due any number of environmental constraints, was somehow threatened with “over development” when, in fact, DCNR simply wants a land bridge. The area, in truth, is threatened by a loss of population and being overtaken by forests; anything but “over development,” which is the phony excuse for the land grab.

Falsehood No. 3 is the idea this is all about promoting timbering for purposes of economic development, as if DCNR was acting under “marching orders” from Governor Tom Wolf. It is not. Not only is $50 million an outrageous price for creating 50 jobs, but the real economic activity to be generated is not in the timber, but in the harvesting of future DCNR money for the purchase of conservation easements from Lyme Timber.

PennVest is investing slightly over $800 per acre in taxpayer loans with Lyme so it can later sell the development rights, such as they are, back to the state. My own research for another government agency in 2014 suggests the typical price of forestland that year in those counties was $1,870 per acre. So why is Lyme paying roughly $2,350 per acre? Well, one reason could be that it hopes to sell those development rights back to Pennsylvania for a minimum of the $480 per acre and, very likely, much more. This will be the case if it can secure favorable appraisals, which is how the Open Space Institute does it.

There are other falsehoods as well, the ludicrous claim of transparency by all, being the most obvious, but the way the land grab works is really at the heart of this scandal. If this deal is allowed to be completed it will send Pennsylvania down the New York road of corruption. It will lead communities needing help with real infrastructure to have to go to other higher-priced sources of money. It will delay real water and sewer progress (which is happening despite PennVest’s claim it’s funding everything proposed). It will further empower Pennsylvania’s elite “haves” who want no more development and only desire to create playgrounds for themselves while getting richer doing it.

There’s also this from The Derrick expose; Lyme says it’s already purchased the property with all rights in place, with no help from PennVest. This is why Brion Johnson is so desperate to conclude the deal. He’s made a commitment to what is apparently a refinancing of a purchase. The deal, in other words, appears to have been promised before the purchase was made. Johnson, therefore, knows his agency could be sued by Lyme for damages if his agency doesn’t now follow through on the loans.

This is the situation this orchestrated double-dip raid on taxpayers has produced for the sake of making a wilderness playground and feathering the nest of “conservation” leaders. It’s a mess and ought to be cleaned up now, before it gets worse, by squelching this land grab and making sure it can’t happen again.

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One thought on “Pennsylvania DCNR Land Scandal Gets Worse As PennVest Dissembles

  1. Hard to fault Cindy Dunn for anything, as was it not her who claimed at Bucknell University that the state should be pushing the development of Natural gas because Natural Gas is a RENEWABLE ENERGY SOURCE???? DUH!!!

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