Two AOAA claims filed by Shamokin outdoorsman headed to court
WILLIAMSPORT - Two of the four claims of a lawsuit filed against Northumberland County Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Stephen Bridy and the county by an outdoor enthusiast who alleged his rights had been violated during the creation of the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA) have been permitted to move forward by a federal magistrate.
David Kaleta's claim alleging county officials violated the Sunshine Act when they denied his request to access the AOAA in September 2012 and a claim they also violated his First Amendment rights will go to trial, according to a decision made by U.S. Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson Wednesday.
Carlson said Kaleta's request the county pay his attorney fees and costs relating to the Sunshine Act violation claim is also valid.
In a 50-page report and recommendation, Carlson said these two claims should be brought to trial due to a disagreement between the two parties over the facts in the case.
A bulk of the document detailed the escalating tension between Kaleta, who desired to use the property that eventually became the AOAA for a variety of non-vehicular activities, and the county.
According to the document, Kaleta was asked by Barry Yorwarth, now an AOAA authority member, to become involved with the creation of the AOAA in its earliest stages of development.
"Kaleta, who was also involved in separate plans involving county property, responded that the county was difficult to deal with and that the idea was unlikely to go anywhere," said Carlson in his report.
Kaleta was president of the now defunct Habitat for Wildlife, which helped rehabilitate the Alaska site, now part of the AOAA.
As the AOAA project materialized, Kaleta's projects were brought to a halt. Kaleta became publicly critical about the AOAA, which caused the escalating conflict between him and the commissioners.
In the lawsuit, Kaleta said commissioners Clausi and Bridy violated the Sunshine Act by holding a private meeting with Northumberland County Planning Director Pat Mack. In this meeting, said Kaleta's claim, the commissioners told Mack to send a letter in September 2012 to Kaleta forbidding him from accessing the property as a way of retaliating against him speaking out against the AOAA.
Clausi maintains he never held a private meeting with Bridy and Mack and looks forward to a day in court.
"I'm glad we're going to court and we're going to settle this," Clausi said Friday.
In testimony contained within the documents, Mack said he decided to speak with Clausi regarding Kaleta, which resulted in the letter.
A request for an injunction related to the claim of violating the Sunshine Act was dismissed because the point had become moot.
Carlson said once the AOAA Authority had been formed, the county no longer held control of the property which rendered an injunction against the county's rule forbidding Kaleta from accessing the land irrelevant.
Another claim that Kaleta's First Amendment rights had been violated because of restrictions on the use of the AOAA lands was dismissed.
"There is insufficient factual or legal support for this claim," said Carlson.
Kaleta directed questions about the issue to his lawyer, who could not be reached for comment Friday.