First meeting of AOAA Authority brings 100 people
By Justin Strawser
SHAMOKIN - It's always been the intention of Northumberland County officials to address the nefarious deeds of illegal riders on the 6,500 acres of county-owned forest and coal lands in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships.
Now, according to newly elected Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) Authority Chairman James Backes, the authority that became legally official Tuesday night can create a better experience for everyone.
"Anything can happen right now, that's the thing we are trying to correct. That's why we formed an authority," Backes said.
The answer was directed to Dan Moran, of Excelsior, who was one of nearly 100 people to fill Room 203 in the Northumberland County Career and Arts Center Tuesday night for the first meeting of the authority.
Moran had asked what the authority was going to do about unscrupulous individuals spending all day "ripping" through the lands, littering beer bottles near his property and urinating in front of his house.
Backes assured him there would be buffer zones to curb the noise and there would be no vehicles crossing within Excelsior or any other town.
Furthermore, he said, the authority does not condone drinking alcohol on the property or littering of any kind, which is the type of activity they are charged with correcting.
Backes, in another concern addressed by Angelo Ballerino, of Coal Township, said the authority members would likely be hiring their own security for the park.
Ballerino said it's a burden on the local police stations to have to patrol the land, and asked who had provided security during the events in 2012.
Backes said the organizations who sponsored the events paid for the security.
The meeting, which lasted approximately 55 minutes, had every chair filled in the room with other individuals leaning against the walls or listening from outside the doorway.
The majority of the meeting was highlighted by positive words and praises from various organizations, such as representatives from Jeep Jamboree USA, Northumberland County Conservation District, Valley Forge Trail Riders, Anthracite Trail Riders, and private citizens, who offered their assistance.
Northumberland County Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy also praised the board. Commissioner Rick Shoch, who was present at the meeting, made no public comment.
Even Dave Kaleta, who has a long history with county officials of disagreeing over the development and management of the park, welcomed the new board and said he was willing to help them with any conservation issues.
"It is time to come together and make it the best park," he said.
Who's on board
The authority consists of Barry Yorwarth, an outdoor enthusiast and federal prison employee; Patrick Mack, county planning and industrial development director; Michael Schwartz, a local bank official and chairman of the Zerbe Township Board of Supervisors; Backes, director of operations for GDK Development Inc., and David L. Crowl, a longtime contractor and state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) volunteer.
As part of becoming an official decision-making entity, the board members appointed Backes as their chairman, Mack as their vice chairman, Schwartz as their treasurer and Crowell as their secretary.
The board unanimously approved the hiring of Atty. Frank Garrigan at $110 an hour for solicitor duties. Garrigan also serves as the county solicitor.
Crowell was appointed to chair the conservation and trail development committee, Yorwarth was appointed to chair the operations, facility management and personnel committee; Mack was appointed to chair the marketing, events, grants and fundraising committee; and Swartz was appointed to chair the safety, security rules and regulations committee.
The board will be seeking volunteers from the public who are well versed in any of the categories to serve on the committees, which will offer recommendations for authority issues.
The board recognized the county commissioners, state Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107), state Sen. John Gordner (R-27), local municipalities, previous county commissioners, county planning department grants manager Kathy Jeremiah, FNB Bank for donating the chairs and AJ's of Mansfield and CanAm.
In other business, the board approved:
- A $1 lease agreement with Northumberland County for 6,596.6 acres of land designated to be used as the AOAA for the next 50 years for recreation use only.
- A $1 lease agreement with the county to use Room 203 at the center until a building is in place on the AOAA land.
- The acceptance of a check for $5,881.60, which was presented by Clausi, to be transferred to the authority from the county. The money is made up of donations from private citizens and group organizations.
Following the adjournment of the meeting, Backes said he thought it was a success.
"A lot of people in the community offered a lot of support. It was well organized. There were good ideas and good comments. We're moving in the right direction," he said.