Hunters ask for more access
By Mark Gilger
SUNBURY - In what may have been their final action before turning over decisions regarding the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) to a five-member authority that takes office in January, Northumberland County commissioners enacted an ordinance on a split vote Tuesday that enforces regulations outlined in a policy adopted last week by the commissioners.
The policy and ordinance formally in place, it ironically leaves David M. Kaleta, 54, of 146 E. Sunbury St., Shamokin - who sued the commissioners and county last month for banning him from the AOAA property and allegedly violating the Sunshine Act - as the lone individual with full access to the AOAA until the authorized hunting time begins next month.
That's because Northumberland County Judge Charles Saylor last month approved Kaleta's request for an injunction that stops the county from banning him from the property while his lawsuit proceeds.
However, Kaleta's access may be short-lived, too.
The commissioners, on the same 2-1 vote, with Stephen Bridy and Vinny Clausi approving and Richard Shoch opposed, authorized Attorney Robert Hanna of Harrisburg to file a motion in federal court to lift the injunction involving Kaleta so the same rules and regulations pertaining to others for the AOAA will apply to him as well.
Two weeks ago, Hanna filed a motion in federal court to dismiss Kaleta's suit with prejudice, claiming he doesn't state a viable First Amendment retaliation claim in the complaint and that Saylor erred by stating Bridy and Clausi violated the Sunshine Act by taking action to ban Kaleta from the property.
Shoch said the policy was put together too quickly and doesn't accommodate enough hunters and bikers. He also claimed too much power was given to the planning department in developing the rules and regulations.
As Shoch was finishing his comments, Clausi accused the commissioner of being a "troublemaker" for inviting people to the meeting to voice opposition to the AOAA rules.
The 6,500 acres of county-owned land that will make up the AOAA has been open to hunting for decades, but development of the off-highway vehicle park and a controversy over access to the property this fall has resulted in action on the new policy.
Hunting will be allowed, at no cost, on all AOAA land, but only between the middle of November and end of January.
The county planning department will be responsible for enforcing rules and regulations for the park until the authority takes over.
The ordinance states that any person violating the rules and regulations of the AOAA will be ordered to pay the county a fine of not more than $600 plus court costs for each violation, and/or face possible imprisonment of not more than 10 days.
Kaleta only one, for now
Prior to the ordinance being adopted, Kaleta and several others questioned the commissioners about hunting restrictions on AOAA property and other concerns.
Kaleta advised the commissioners to "take a step back" from the ordinance so other residents can use the land for hunting before the authority takes over operation of the property in January.
Kaleta's wife, Kathi, told the commissioners to put aside personal grudges and do what's right for the county. "We must unite the county instead of creating a wedge between people," she said.
She also said there are special days set aside by the state game commission for hunting, which would be prohibited under the policy for the AOAA.
Bridy responded, "We need this proposed ordinance so we aren't open to lawsuits that will hurt the taxpayers."
Patrick Bendas of Kulpmont, an avid hunter and ATV rider, said he is opposed to not allowing hunting until mid-November because it leaves out the fall turkey and archery deer seasons.
Richard Post of Shamokin told the commissioners they were "pushing for big money" while "pushing little people out" by developing the AOAA.
James Koharski of Coal Township asked if there are any activities planned for the AOAA before January. Pat Mack, county planning and industrial development director, said there are a few events planned.
Kallie Liendo of Coal Township said enforcement of the rules for the AOAA will be very difficult and could lead to taxes being increased if police patrols are utilized for added security.
Year round hunting?
Clausi, who repeatedly told citizens the policy and ordinance could change when the authority takes over, said there are plans in place for next year for approximately 500 acres of AOAA property to be set aside for hunting year-round. Although he didn't specify what area, Mack said after the meeting that he expects the 342-acre Alaska site near Excelsior to be included in that 500 acres.