SHAMOKIN - The mayor is asking the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) for help in the city's effort to have representation on the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) authority, while at the same time blaming the state agency in part for creating controversy about the park.

In a three-page letter to DCNR Secretary Richard J. Allan dated Oct. 5, George Rozinskie Jr. said Northumberland County Commissioners Vinny 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, state Sen. John Gordner (R-27) 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.

Authority meeting is on

DCNR last December 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, Commissioner Vinny 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. He said leaders in Shamokin, which has struggled financially in recent years, haven't shown an ability to manage money.

"This is a unique board," he said. "They will not just be there to vote. They will work (toward the park's success)."

A representative from DCNR could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.

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. When the grant was awarded last year, Gordner said it was indicative of the agency's support. "Secretary Allan and his staff are fully committed to this project," he said at the time. "They're very excited about it."

Earlier this year, Lauren S. Imgrund, director of DCNR's Bureau of Recreation and Conservation, responding to complaints about trail-cutting on park land, said the agency recognizes the "many challenges" in such a large project, but that DCNR believes the AOAA is a "viable and positive project."

Not 'handled' correctly

Rozinskie, who was assisted by city clerk Steve Bartos in composing the letter to DCNR, said in an interview Wednesday that the other four members of city council received copies of the letter and that they have voiced support for the city having proper representation on the authority.

The mayor believes Clausi has acted like a "dictator" in pushing the project.

"I just don't think it's right the way he is handling the AOAA and the authority," he said.

In the letter, the mayor says the creation of the AOAA is running counter to one of DCNR's five strategic goals, to "foster sustainable communities and working landscapes."

He wrote that he has heard from "many" citizens who have voiced trepidation regarding the authority being formed without municipal representation. Questioned further, the mayor said Wednesday he couldn't approximate how many such complaints he has received.

The mayor's letter says the city is only one voice among nine community stakeholders. While the park land is physically located in Coal, East Cameron, Mount Carmel, West Cameron and Zerbe townships, Shamokin is affected by its close proximity, city officials have argued. The other three municipalities Rozinskie said he was referencing are Mount Carmel, Marion Heights and Kulpmont.

Rozinskie wrote that while DCNR has demonstrated a willingness to assist the Lower Anthracite Region by providing funding and guidance for the AOAA, "this park has now become a divisive issue brought about by DCNR's own good will," a reference to the large grant.

"What was meant to do good has now done harm, dividing an entire region," he wrote. "The road to hell is paved with good intentions. DCNR is squarely in the middle of this road."

Bartos said Wednesday that DCNR's expectations call for multi-municipal cooperation, "and the commissioners are clearly alienating anyone who is questioning their approach."

He said only Commissioner Richard Shoch has responded to the city's request for a meeting.

Authority details

The county has noted that formation of an AOAA authority was spelled out in the master plan. A 10-page section of the 300-plus-page plan says the county and authority "must recognize that this facility must function primarily as a business" and that those business operations will be completely separate from county functions. An executive director would oversee the daily operation of the park.

Details about the authority, including the 10-step process necessary to create one in Pennsylvania, was spelled out in the master plan.

Clausi has said that virtually every municipal authority in the state has just five members. That includes the county's own airport, general, housing and industrial development authorities, he said.