Sen. Gordner, DCNR: It's up to Northumberland County
State Sen. John Gordner (R-27) of Berwick believes the authority that operates and maintains the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) should be comprised of outdoor enthusiasts, marketing or tourism officials and people in the business profession capable of sustaining the park for many years.
Although he doesn't have a preference on how many people should be appointed to the authority, the senator stated, "In my opinion, it's up to the county to put together the authority. My advice is to choose people involved in outdoor activities like the ones already held at the park, individuals with marketing or tourism experience and people who have business experience. First and foremost, we need to have a park that becomes fully operational and sustainable over the long haul."
Gordner said there could be a need for advisory boards to assist the authority and county commissioners with the development of the AOAA. "I don't have a set municipality representation for the authority, but I believe the advisory councils should be set up with municipality representation," he said.
The senator said the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) fully supports the AOAA and doesn't believe controversy surrounding the park will affect the project in terms of securing funding in the future.
"From a state and DCNR perspective, I don't think the controversy will have any impact," he said. "I have a good relationship with DCNR Secretary Richard J. Allan and other DCNR officials and I know they are committed to the project. They see nothing but great things for the park."
Gordner said Allan plans to visit the AOAA in early November.
The senator concluded, "I'm very happy with the events that have been held at the park and the outreach by county officials to the different groups and organizations that participated in the activities. I hope that continues."
A county issue
A spokeswoman for DCNR said the appointment of the AOAA authority is a county issue.
Chris Novak, DCNR press secretary, said, "The AOAA is a county matter. There was fairly robust participation by the public in the planning process of the park, but the issues must be dealt with at the county level."
She reserved comment when asked if DCNR believes a five-member AOAA authority proposed by Northumberland County Commissioner Vinny Clausi would be sufficient and if the agency thinks municipalities that will be affected by the AOAA have been left out of the process of forming an authority that will operate and maintain the park.
Shamokin Mayor George Rozinskie Jr. is asking DCNR for help in the city's effort to have representation on the AOAA authority, while at the same time blaming the state agency in part for creating controversy about the park.
Novak said DCNR plans to respond to Rozinskie's concerns in the near future.
Letters from mayor
In a three-page letter to DCNR Secretary Richard J. Allan dated Oct. 5, Rozinskie said county Commissioners Clausi and Stephen Bridy are ignoring municipal representation while they "push blindly forward" to create a "hand-picked" five-member board. Such actions are "very distressing, clearly showing the lack of oversight by the commonwealth."
The mayor, who had sent a letter to the county on Sept. 12 requesting a seat on the authority, says there has been no response from the board majority, and therefore is asking DCNR to intervene in arranging a meeting. It would involve city council, the commissioners, Gordner and state Rep. Kurt Masser (R-107), Rozinskie suggests.
If that can't be arranged, the city's "only alternative would be to proceed with legal actions," he wrote.
DCNR has worked closely with the county on development of the park and its 300-plus page master plan, which was adopted by resolution in December. Last December, the state agency awarded a $1.5 million grant for the AOAA, an off-road and recreational park being developed on 6,500 acres of county-owned forest and coal lands.
Despite the city's objections, Clausi said Monday's special meeting at which five authority members will be named is on schedule. The county has a deadline the next day to file articles of incorporation with the state as part of the authority formation process.
"We need to appoint those who are capable of running the park and managing money," Clausi said Wednesday, reiterating earlier statements that the county wants business people with expertise related to the park's varied functions, not merely geographical representation, on the board, and that keeping the number of members at five will help it make decisions separate of politics.