AOAA LAND STILL OPEN
SUNBURY - Northumberland County commissioners did not take action Tuesday on restricting access to public land proposed for the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) or set any policies regarding the property.
But that didn't prevent some 50 people attending the jam-packed meeting from voicing their displeasure over the commissioners' handling of the controversial recreation park, including the recent decision, since overturned by the court, to ban David F. Kaleta, of Shamokin, from the property.
The chaotic 2 1/2-hour meeting wasn't short on theatrics.
It included approval of a special meeting at 11 a.m. Oct. 15 to present a policy for the AOAA, an ordinance to determine who can use the property and fines for improper usage. Also, appointments to an authority that will govern the AOAA are expected to be made at the meeting.
Commissioner Richard Shoch made a motion to rescind action taken by the board at the Sept. 11 meeting to file articles of incorporation for the authority, but it failed to pass for lack of a second.
Meanwhile, pending action on Oct. 15, all citizens, including hunters, are allowed on the land designated for the AOAA. There was concern by some that commissioners would ban everyone at Tuesday's meeting because of Kaleta's case and the recent discovery of a spiked board on the property.
Tension that had subsided between Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Shoch flared again Tuesday. They exchanged verbal jabs after Shoch recommended the commissioners wait until their next regular meeting, Oct. 23, to take action on items pertaining to the AOAA.
At one point, Clausi called Shoch a "hypocrite" and "liar," which drew boos from the audience, some of whom referred to Clausi as a tyrant and disrespectful.
At times, the meeting got out of control as citizens rose from their seats, went to the podium and started talking without identifying themselves.
"We just can't slap this together quickly because it's something we will have to live with for a very long time," Shoch said. "I believe reasonable restrictions and certain parameters need to be in place for the AOAA to protect the safety of the public."
Shoch's remarks aggravated Clausi, who quickly responded, "We've been working for four years on this (AOAA) and spent $250,000 on the master plan. I'm not going to play politics here."
Shoch, who is an attorney, opposed Clausi's previous recommendation of establishing a five-member authority.
"We need to get more input from the community and select a cross-section of representatives from municipalities that will be affected by the AOAA," something that can't be done by Oct. 15, he said.
Clausi said Shoch tries to "block" everything good in the county. After rattling off some of his accomplishments during his nearly five years in office, Clausi told Shoch, "Your record is political corruption. I won't play politics anymore. I will do what's best for the taxpayers."
Several times during his outbursts, Clausi's face became very red as he came within inches of Shoch.
"I believe in the AOAA and what it can do for the community," Shoch said. "But I also have concerns about it. We need to talk with one another and not try to cram this down other people's throats. This will be a divisive issue for the next 30 years if we don't keep an open dialogue with the public."
Shoch admitted he has hunted with Kaleta, who supported him in his election as county commissioner. He said Clausi knew he and Kaleta were acquaintances in January.
Commissioner Stephen Bridy also accused Shoch of lying. "This must end. I won't work here to defend lies," he said.
Asked by Clausi what he brings to the table, Shoch replied, "Two ears and an open mind."
The first citizen to speak at Tuesday's meeting was Kaleta's wife, Kathi. Her husband filed a lawsuit against the county, Clausi and Bridy for their ban, and was granted an injunction last week by Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor that allows him to be on the property while his lawsuit proceeds.
"You are a baby about stuff, so I will be too," Mrs. Kaleta said. "I'm embarrassed to live in Northumberland County. It is the laughingstock of the state."
Her comments drew loud applause from the crowd.
Carmen Campbell, of Sunbury, who often attends commissioners' said, "You guys got to learn to get along or you won't do us any good."
David Kaleta, who told the court at a 3 ½ hour injunction hearing last week that he suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic Lyme disease and other ailments, asked the commissioners for an apology for the ban, news of which was delivered to Kaleta in a Sept. 10 letter issued by county planning and industrial development director Pat Mack. His request for an apology was never recognized.
Upon being told by Bridy that the Northumberland County Conservation District has approximately 20 members on its board, Kaleta suggested the AOAA authority have more than five members.
Clausi, promptly responded, "You aren't going to tell us how many people will be on the board."
Later in the meeting, Shamokin City Clerk Steve Bartos told the commissioners the authority should have more than five members and contain proper representation from the communities it will affect, in accordance with state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) guidelines.
Clausi, who questioned Kaleta about his disability and motives for operating the former Habitat for Wildlife (HFW) Inc., said at one point, "We're wrong no matter what we do."
Kaleta claimed five miles of new trails were cut for the AOAA, which he said violated state game commission laws. But Mack said the county received approval from the game commission to cut the trails.
Bill Knapick, of Coal Township, said hundreds of trees were cut to create new trails. He said he filed a complaint with Coal Township police about a week ago and was told to discuss the issue with the commissioners since the incidents occurred on county-owned land. He said police previously arrested a man for removing timber from the property and should be able to charge whoever is responsible for cutting down the trees.
Clausi said he wasn't aware of any other trees being cut down, but assured Knapick the matter will be investigated.
Bridy addressed the feeling that the county was opposed to hunting on AOAA land.
"We aren't against hunters. Hunting won't be limited," he said.
Mike Straub, of Trevorton Road, who also said he was against new trails being created, was annoyed when Clausi made a sarcastic remark while he was talking. "The way you talk to people is ridiculous," Straub said.
Straub's father, Allen Straub, of Shamokin, a former miner, warned the commissioners that there are thousands of old mine tunnels on the land designed for the AOAA.
Richard Post, of Shamokin, who supports the AOAA, added, "I don't think you have any idea what's involved in something like this. You need to establish controls."
Kaleta's friend and former HFW member Bill Weingart, of Mount Carmel, told Clausi, "You are sending the wrong message to the public. Remember who you work for."
Meetings on the road
Theresa Bettleyon, who is originally from Tennessee but now resides in Northumberland County, suggested holding a few county meetings in the evening. "It would be nice once in awhile for more people to see you guys argue. You need to be more respectful. You are here for the public."
Earlier in the meeting, the commissioners approved a subsidiary motion by Bridy on a 2-1 vote to determine the cost of conducting public meetings in the evening at different venues.
Clausi, who cast the lone dissenting vote, added, "It's not fair for the department heads to have to go to meetings at night and it would be costly. We did it once at Shamokin Area High School and it was a disaster because we didn't have the right equipment to tape the meeting."
Bridy added, "On the surface, it's a good idea. But it could open us up to numerous lawsuits and it could become political."