COAL TOWNSHIP - Northumberland County is coming up on a key deadline in its Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) project: the creation of an authority.

By Oct. 16, the county must file articles of incorporation with the Secretary of the Commonwealth. The documentation must include the names and addresses of those appointed to the authority, and that's why the county has scheduled a public meeting for Oct. 15, when appointments will be made.

Commissioner Vinny Clausi discussed the deadline Thursday while addressing concerns the county is rushing the appointments.

He also said the number of authority members - five, which has also been questioned - was chosen as part of the master plan process at the recommendation of state agency experts and the AOAA project consultant.

Thursday evening at Brewser's SportsGrille in Coal Township, four applicants met with all three commissioners to apply for the authority posts. Clausi said the interviews were conducted at the same time in a discussion-type format.

No names were revealed Thursday, but Clausi said background checks will be done on the individuals before Oct. 15.

"On Oct. 15, I will submit five names to the board of commissioners who I think will be great assets to Northumberland County," Clausi said. "I hope that no one puts any one on this board that is political. If they do, it will be a failure."

Each name will be put up for a roll call vote on Oct. 15 and appointed to staggered terms, one to five years to start, on the board.

Five-member approach

Clausi said the project consultant originally argued for a three-member board, but that he and Kurt Masser, then a county commissioner and now state representative for the 107th district, argued for five instead.

Clausi believes making the board any larger or including a representative from each of the five municipalities where the park land is located, plus Shamokin because of its proximity, will only make the authority political. Shamokin leaders have said they want a seat on the board because of the impact the park will have on the city.

Clausi said he's watched the AOAA plan come together over the past four years and believes the county is on the right track. He dismissed criticism from fellow Commissioner Rick Shoch, who told Shamokin council members Wednesday night the board should have 11 to 15 members.

Clausi said having large numbers or attempting to satisfy geographic concerns will only cause problems.

"We need business brains, business expertise," he said. "We don't need another school board."

He said those who are willing to serve should be respected.

He said the county was told Thursday that virtually every municipal authority in the state has five members. That includes the county's own airport, general, housing and industrial development authorities, Clausi said.

Pat Mack, county planning and industrial development director, said a five-member board will offer "pure functionality."

"It's enough input, but you can make decisions" easier than with a larger group, he said. "It can function as a business."

Mack said the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), which has already awarded a $1.5 million grant to the county for the AOAA and supports the project, has said the number of authority members is a "county decision."

He said an executive director hired for the park would make day-to-day decisions.

The steering committee put together to develop the master plan has done its job, but Mack envisions some other committees forming to help the authority, such as a trails committee, event committee and other groups that address specific aspects of the park operation.

Clausi said the county already delayed the authority appointment process by 30 days at Shoch's request. If the county doesn't produce the articles of incorporation by the Oct. 16 deadline, the process, about 90 days total, will have to restart.

Clausi acknowledged the park project has created a lot of tension in the past few weeks, but said other unpopular decisions he's made in his nearly five years have helped the county. He cited the county budget, which dropped from $93 million to less than $70 million during his tenure.

"Maybe I don't always come across the right way," he said, "but in the end, I did the right thing."