5 named to AOAA board
SUNBURY - Five men who have been deeply involved in the development of the proposed Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) were appointed on a split vote Monday morning to staggered terms on a newly-formed authority that will operate and maintain the recreation park.
Patrick Mack, county planning and industrial development director; Michael Schwartz, a local bank official and chairman of the Zerbe Township Board of Supervisors; James Backes, director of operations for GDK Development Inc.; Barry Yorwarth, an outdoor enthusiast and federal prison employee, and David L. Crowl, a longtime contractor and state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) volunteer, were appointed to the authority, effective Jan. 1, 2013.
Mack, Schwartz, Backes, Yorwarth and Crowl will serve five, four, three, two and one-year terms, respectively, in accordance with the Pennsylvania Municipal Planning Code and Municipal Authority Act. The staggered terms were established to avoid having a high turnover on the board during the same year.
The five volunteer appointees are outdoorsmen and all but Schwartz serve on the steering committee for the AOAA.
The appointments were approved on a 2-1 vote by the Northumberland County commissioners during a special meeting that also included the adoption of a policy for the AOAA and a proposed ordinance that sets forth permitted usage of the AOAA property and fines to be imposed for improper use of the land.
2 to 1
Voting in favor of the appointments were Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy, who previously voiced their support for a five-member board. Commissioner Richard Shoch, who believes the formation of the authority was done too quickly without proper public input, cast the lone dissenting vote on the appointments, policy and ordinance.
Prior to the authority appointments, Shoch said he had nothing personal against any of the nominees, but objected to the selection process and size of the board.
He said, "I want to see the project move forward and succeed, and the authority will have my support."
Shoch said the policy for the AOAA was presented to him at 10:45 a.m. Monday, 15 minutes before the special meeting. He added, "I believe there is a need for more discussion. There is no waiver of liability during hunting season and no provision involving ATV riders being allowed on the property unless they are an organized group."
The commissioner said there is too much "rule making" given to the planning commission instead of the authority under the policy for the AOAA.
In referencing the master plan for the park, Clausi responded, "We have a $250,000 book for implementing policy for the AOAA. We've drug our feet long enough on this and should have had an authority adopted in 2011. I was elected to lead, not fight. It's time to move forward. No more mud slinging."
Shoch said he believes the county is losing out on a chance to generate revenue by not charging hunters to use the property.
Mack said the planning department and commissioners attempted to please hunters as best as possible when developing the policy.
Bridy said, "We are setting up the authority to protect taxpayers. The authority can make changes as they see fit. We've already been sued once over this."
Clausi once again challenged Shoch to be "part of the solution" rather than "part of the problem."
"These are good business people being appointed to the authority and I support every one of them," Clausi said. "We must stand behind them and support the park. It's the right thing to do."
Clausi promised to keep "politics" out of the authority.
Number of members is average
As for the controversy surrounding the number of authority members, Bridy said his research on the matter revealed that the average membership of the 71 authorities in the state is five. He said 8.6 percent of authority members in the state are government employees.
Mack said Rock Run Recreation Area, an off-road vehicle park covering more than 6,000 acres of property in Cambria and Clearfield counties in the western part of the state, has seven voting members on its 12 to 15-member board that operates the facility. But Mack noted Rock Run is owned by a recreation authority rather than the county.
Mack said he is hopeful construction of the AOAA park will begin next fall, but couldn't provide a target date for its official opening.
David F. Kaleta, 54, of Shamokin, who has sued the county for denying him access to the AOAA and violating the Sunshine Act, reserved comment about the authority appointments after the meeting.
With the appointment of the authority, county solicitor Frank Garrigan said the next step for the AOAA involves the articles of incorporation for the Northumberland County Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area, which must be submitted to Secretary of the Commonwealth Carol Aichele by today.
Garrigan, who said the articles of incorporation were mailed overnight to the state, identifies the three other municipal authorities in the county and their addresses - Northumberland County Authority, Northumberland County Industrial Development Authority and Redevelopment Authority of the County of Northumberland. The articles of incorporation also includes the names and addresses of the five AOAA authority members.
"When the authority members take office in January, they will adopt their own bylaws and policy for the AOAA, while using the county's policy as a template," Garrigan said. "The policy adopted today is only an interim policy. The authority members also will be responsible for issuing permits and waivers of liability for the AOAA. The county will lease the land to the authority and they will run the AOAA."
Garrigan comprised the articles of incorporation, while Mack developed the rules for the policy.
The solicitor said the authority members will serve as volunteers, but will receive lifetime passes to use the AOAA during regular operating hours as long as they comply with all the regulations for the park.
At the beginning of the special meeting, Coal Township resident Paul Leshinskie asked the commissioners who currently keeps track of the revenue and expenses generated by the AOAA.
Clausi said Mack, treasurer Kevin Gilroy and controller Tony Phillips assist in handling the revenue and expenses.
Clausi has repeatedly said that no taxpayer money will be spent on the AOAA.
County budget director Jeff McClintock said a separate revenue account has been established for the park, with cash being deposited into the general fund.
Bridy pointed out that no overtime expenses are incurred by county employees working on the AOAA because they are salaried workers.
Mack said separate time sheets are kept for work involving the AOAA.
Leshinskie, who supports the economic gains that could be generated by the park, said, "I believe the park shouldn't be run by a government entity. It should be run by a business entity."