Shoch pleased with civil discussion at gathering
SHAMOKIN - Northumberland County Commissioner Rick Shoch was pleased with the outcome of his town hall meeting Thursday concerning the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA), even though, by his own admission, nothing was accomplished.
"I know, quite possibly, that we didn't solve anything here tonight, but it is good to get the dialogue open about this project, and hopefully, we can keep that dialogue open and not be so divisive on the issue," he said.
Shoch stood for more than two hours in front of 30 people inside the Shamokin Emergency Squad meeting room, trying to answer their questions and listening to their concerns about the planned 6,500-acre AOAA.
Most of the public's opinions concerned certain aspects of the plan, including hunters' access and a "booby trap" recently found on one of the trails.
Shoch said that while word of the gathering was posted on both pro- and anti-AOAA Facebook pages, he was for the AOAA. He quickly added his stance doesn't mean he doesn't understand the public's concerns.
"The important thing is that we are talking about it and address each other's concerns. If we listen to one another, we can do this park right," Shoch told the crowd. "The dialogue, I think, has reached a boiling point and some people are trying to impose their will on what they think is right, and that attitude is not going to help."
Shoch discussed the county's consideration to temporarily put hunting at the AOAA on hold, starting this weekend, after a wooden plank with spikes was found in a puddle on the site six weeks ago. The decision was to be discussed at a meeting Monday, but the meeting was canceled because the agenda was not made known to the commissioners at least 24 hours in advance.
Officials might not have had a quorum for the meeting anyway, Shoch said; Clausi is away on vacation and Shoch chose not to attend the meeting out of protest, he said. Shoch noted he received his agenda 20 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start.
"My colleagues wanted to call a special illegal meeting to shut down access for a safety issue," Shoch told the crowd. "If there really was a clear and present danger when that trap was found, they didn't need a special meeting six weeks later to address it. They could just say they are shutting down the access to address the safety concern."
Shoch asked attendees to raise their hands if they think putting a booby trap on AOAA land is a good idea. No one raised their hands.
"The Hummer Club was just out there and that could have caused some damage, sure, but what about the little child riding his motorbike who hits that, has an accident and breaks his neck? There's no place for that," Shoch said.
When one person asked how the county can guarantee safety while the AOAA is shut down, attorney Timothy Bowers said it is impossible to do so.
"When we asked them in testimony how much time it could take to make the area safe, the answer came back, 'Forever,'" Bowers said.
Bowers, Kymberley Best, attorneys for local conservationist David Kaleta, of Shamokin, and Shoch urged those at Thursday's meeting to also attend the county commissioner's meeting in Sunbury Tuesday. One of the main topics of that meeting will be hunters' access to the land during the fast approaching seasons.
"We have been informed that the Pennsylvania Game Commission will be there to enforce the no-trespassing signs," Best said. "On Tuesday, they are going to pass a resolution to restrict access further. It's important that everyone who has concerns to come to Tuesday's meeting, and I've reserved a front row seat, to make their voices heard."
"You've seen in the papers about how the other commissioners listen to me, but I will be voicing my concerns at the meeting, and I hope you all do the same," Shoch said, "There is a thinking about such issues is that people yell and scream for a meeting or two, and then go away. That can't happen with this."
One person asked if hunters would be arrested if they go on the property to hunt on Saturday, when archery season begins.
"You are assuming that my colleagues talk to me on the issue," he joked. "But I do not know of Pat Mack, at any public meeting, being given any authority to make a hunting ban."
In November 2011, the planning department was given authority to issue permits for events on the land, but Shoch said, as far as he knows, that authority does not extend to individuals.
Shoch said an authority must be established to properly oversee the planning and running of the AOAA.
"We need to look at how many people are on the board, because if it is just three to five people, they could be hand picked as the people the majority commissioners want. I do believe there should be representation from the municipalities that are going to be impacted by the AOAA," the commissioner said.
At the end of the meeting, Shoch said he was happy Thursday's meeting was held in a civil manner and hopes to hold such meetings on a quarterly basis. He said other county officials are welcomed to attend and speak at future meetings.
"I would love to see some of my colleagues here to speak as well, as long as everyone does it with the right intentions," Shoch said.