SUNBURY - Northumberland County commissioners took the first step Tuesday toward officially establishing the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) by passing a resolution to create an authority that will be responsible for managing and operating it.

Voting to approve the resolution on behalf of the county planning department were Commissioners Rick Shoch, Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy. A public hearing regarding the formation of the authority was held prior to the vote, but no citizens from the crowd of about 30 at the meeting offered comment.

No appointments were made to the five-member authority, which will take 60 to 90 days to establish.

The commissioners chose to have the county own and operate the AOAA rather than own the property and have another organization manage and operate the facility, or lease or sell the property to a private company that would own and operate it as an off-highway vehicle facility.

"This (authority) needs to happen to manage the facility," said planning department director Pat Mack, who, along with grants manager Kathy Jeremiah, have spearheaded efforts to develop the AOAA. "Now, we have to complete the process by establishing bylaws and finding dedicated volunteers who are willing to serve on the authority. The members must have their heart in the project and the region, and be willing to put in a lot of hours. But they also must have the proper credentials to serve on the authority."

"This is a step in the right direction," Shoch said. "Now, we have to file the articles of incorporation with the Secretary of the Commonwealth and take other steps toward officially creating the authority."

Shoch, who said he believes the AOAA will boost the local economy, would like to a see a "cross-section of competing interests" serve on the board, including a business owner or chamber of commerce representative, environmentalists, hunters and ATV riders.

"I think everyone should have a voice at the table," said Shoch, who has been understanding of those who say the AOAA plan too severely limits acreage for hunting.

Shoch said members of the 16-member AOAA steering committee could be considered as authority members.

"This is the start of moving the AOAA project forward," Clausi said. "We plan on having the authority operational by the spring. It's a win-win situation for business people in the county."

Clausi said he would like to see at least one member from the AOAA steering committee serve on the authority.

"The entire area will benefit from the AOAA," Bridy said. "This will transform the area into a cleaner, environmentally friendly area."

The county has hosted several high-profile events at the 6,500-acre AOAA property, including a Jeep USA event this summer that sold out in 15 hours and involved more than 200 people and 109 vehicles from 18 states.

While the authority marks an important step in its formation, what the county needs most to fully develop the AOAA is more funding, which it continues to pursue through government and private sources. The two biggest chunks it has received thus far is $1.5 million from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and $1.3 million from the federal Office of Surface Mining and state Department of Environmental Protection.

While the AOAA project has received the blessing of a number of state agencies, there are still numerous locals who oppose the park because they believe it takes away off-road riding that they enjoyed for free for decades. Others have expressed concern about the county being involved in the off-highway vehicle business, while commissioners have said the county chose to take this route because it wants to maintain control of the land should the opportunity arise to further develop the anthracite coal that is present there. The park acreage spreads across Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships.

The authority will operate as a Pennsylvania authority and establish its own bylaws and methods of conducting business. It will have fiduciary responsibility for all functions and activities and manage and operate all recreational facilities, programs, activities and portions of the AOAA property.

The authority can contract for, purchase or otherwise acquire, sell or otherwise dispose of materials, supplies, equipment, services or anything else related to its operation. It can establish and charge fees for goods or services, and utilize those fees for its conduct of business.

The authority can apply for, secure, acquire, receive, administer and dispense funds from municipal, state, federal, private or other sources.

It will have authority to borrow money, but not commit any property of the county as collateral for such loans.

The authority will have exclusive rights to make decisions regarding the use of its own monies and other assets and can develop the AOAA in accordance with the established master site plan approved by the county.

In other business:

The commissioners announced Wells Fargo has been hired as an investment manager and trustee for the pension fund for the county retirees, a move recommended by Bridy, who claims the county will save $151,200 in annual fees and an additional $30,000 in trust fees.

"Wells Fargo is certainly a reputable banking association and we will be able to lower the fee structure with them," Shoch said. "This move will allow us to get a better return and investment and possibly enable us to grant a COLA (cost-of-living adjustment) raise to the retirees for the first time in seven years."

Bridy said PFM Asset Management was the county's former investment manager, while M&T Bank was the trustee for the pension fund.

Shoch said the county retirement board, which met Tuesday morning, made the decision to hire Wells Fargo.

The board adopted a resolution to enter into an agreement with Financial Marketing Concepts Inc. for a Coast2Coast Rx discount prescription card at no cost to the county or its residents. The company will pay a royalty to the county based on the use of the card.

Bridy said pet care also will be covered under the agreement.

He said the county could generate between $2,000 and $3,000 per month in revenue from the discount prescription card.

The commissioners awarded a $303,037 contract to Lycoming Supply Inc. to repair two county covered bridges.

Budget director Jeff McClintock reported the county paid back a $3 million Tax Revenue Anticipation Note at the end of August.