Shamokin wants a seat on AOAA authority board
SHAMOKIN - If the City of Shamokin wants to share potential revenue created by the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), they would have to be willing to share potential losses, a county commissioner said Wednesday.
A letter signed by Mayor George Rozinskie Jr. asks that Northumberland County commissioners provide a permanent seat for a city representative on the newly created AOAA authority board.
The authority was created earlier this month and will be the decision-making body for the 6,500-acre county-owned property being developed for off-road vehicles and non-motorized activities alike. Appointments are expected before the year's end, and if the city has its way, council would be afforded voting power.
A successful recreation area with portions in the mountains just south of the city line would invigorate economic activity in Shamokin and its downtown, the letter states.
A substantial increase in visitors to the Shamokin area, however, would also put a greater burden on infrastructure and public services at a time when city finances remain on shaky ground, according to the letter.
"The City of Shamokin is a struggling community and is unable to pay for the increased costs placed upon the city services by the AOAA," the letter states.
"There has been no explanation by the county on revenue sharing or how the county will assist the city with increased costs of daily operations due (to) the opening of the AOAA," it says. "Therefore, we are requesting that a seat be reserved on the AOAA authority for the City of Shamokin so that we may have direct input to the operation of the park, and the associated impacts it will have on the City of Shamokin."
Steve Bridy, county commissioner, said he had read Rozinskie's letter and that he'd like to sit down with city officials and discuss the matter.
"If we're going to share revenue, we'd all need to share expenses and loses as well," Bridy said.
Chairman Vinny Clausi said the county's focus has to be on getting the park open and running, not to mention making it profitable. Any talk of revenue-sharing is far too early, he said, and he won't make any promises regarding money.
"That's out of the question," he said.
Large or small
The park acreage spreads across Coal, East Cameron, West Cameron, Mount Carmel and Zerbe townships. While no portion of the park rests inside city lines, it's a logical destination for park-goers seeking a restaurant, convenience store or more, Rozinskie's letter states.
None of the three county commissioners ruled out a seat at the table for Shamokin. Clausi said it would be considered, as did Bridy.
Rich Shoch said he fully supports Shamokin's bid to have a representative on the authority.
A seat may depend, at least in part, on how many positions the county commissioners create for the authority.
Clausi envisions a five-member authority, one with a strong track record in the private business sector. Bridy seems to be on the same page, having said five "is affable" but that he would consider seven positions.
Shoch has a much larger vision for the authority - the bigger, the better, it seems. He said he would like to see as many as 15 members on the voting board, with municipal representatives for both Shamokin and Coal Township, along with business leaders, hunting experts and off-road vehicle enthusiasts, among others.
"This project, in my opinion, is only going to be successful if you have representation and ideas from various stakeholders in the community," he said.
If the commissioners "handpick a small board," Shoch said "it's going to be jamming something down the community's throat. It's going to be viewed that way and it should be viewed that way."
Both Clausi and Bridy, in separate interviews, spoke of potential for a subcommittee of municipal representatives to make recommendations to the authority board but lacking any voting power.
"The subcommittee is one thing, but to have them on the actual authority board, that many members I think would become cumbersome and may hinder the project," Bridy said of the potential for multiple municipal representatives appointed to the authority.
While he believes both Shamokin and Coal Township should be represented on the authority, Shoch said further analysis on the direct impact on the other townships would be needed before he would make the same recommendation for them.
Rozinskie's letter levied criticism against the planning process for the AOAA, saying Shamokin was all but left out of the process, as were neighboring communities. That the city and other municipalities were not invited to the Sept. 11 meeting at which the authority was created is perceived by Rozinskie as a slight.
"This oversight continues to emphasize how little consideration has been given by the county to the impacted municipalities," the letter says.
"These issues are of the utmost concern to us due to the fact that it is the City of Shamokin taxpayers who will bear the burden for these associated increased costs of doing business. Considering these facts along with other potential issues such as dust and noise pollution from the park, the strain on our water resources as demonstrated by the recent Jeep Jamboree event, along with increased ATV and 4x4 traffic within the city limits, we feel these issues need to be properly addressed."
Discussion of an off-road vehicle park has been ongoing in the county the past several years. A steering committee for the project was created in 2010. Members of that 16-person body are under consideration for a spot on the authority board, Clausi and Bridy said earlier this month.
Having taken office in January, Shoch said he couldn't speak to the participation issue raised by the city. He did, however, say greater participation from municipal leaders, business leaders and hunting and off-road vehicle experts is necessary for the good of the project.
Clausi said he is "definitely concerned about the city," but that he has "to consider the county as a whole."
Pat Mack, county planning department director, said there were two municipal meetings held for concerns like Shamokin's.
"To say there could have been more involvement, sure, I think everybody could have been more involved," Mack said.
Mack said he's been torn about how large the authority should be, and still isn't settled on a number. However large or small it is, he said the members must be committed and must be ready for hands-on work.
Apart from making administrative decisions, the members will be sought to perform volunteer work, for example, cutting grass or parking cars at an event.
"This type of authority is not where you come in, make a decision and leave once a month," he said. "You work. ... I think the city fully understands that."
Of the city's letter, Mack said "They're seeing dollar signs, and that's great, I hope they do. I hope they all do. But what about losses? It's going to be a long time coming, but I hope we all see wins, we all see tourism dollars and we're one of those success stories people talk about."
Protest, town hall
Dave Kaleta has planned a protest at the AOAA entrance near Burnside at 10 a.m. today to bring attention to "how we residents don't have proper input and representation," "how events are being held before proper environmental studies are done" and "how laws are being ignored."
Kaleta sued Northumberland County and two of its commissioners last week after they banned him from accessing the AOAA property. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
Kaleta is also planning a town hall meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday at Shamokin Emergency Rescue Squad at the Rear of 511 Franklin St., Mill Square Complex, behind the police station.
Shoch is expected to speak. The event is open to the public.