Time to act together to protect public interest with AOAA park
To the editor: The term is called an "impact fee." An impact fee is the cost of doing business in host municipalities, or municipalities that may be negatively impacted by an activity, and the community does not have the financial resources to remedy the ongoing impact. Hence the terminology "impact fee." Communities throughout Pennsylvania charge these impact fees for a variety of reasons, including hosting municipal waste landfills, drilling for Marcellus shale gas and hosting off-highway vehicle parks such as the Anthracite Outdoor Adventure Area (AOAA.) The reason is that such activities can have a very detrimental impact on the municipality and their services.
Commissioner Clausi clearly does not understand that the creation of the AOAA places a financial hardship on the taxpayers of the City of Shamokin, and therefore entitles these communities to some type of relief. Sunday's article in The News-Item clearly stated that Clausi envisions a five-member authority, one with a strong track record in the private business sector. Perhaps like the type of private group that is running the Rabbittransit system so well now. Commissioners Clausi and Bridy need to start running the county like a government for the people and not just for private concerns.
To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, it is "the government of the people, by the people, for the people." So far, Commissioner Clausi has privatized Mountain View Manor and the county transportation system for profit interests.
Now he and Commissioner Bridy are railroadìng through the AOAA park without any representation of the local people or taxpayers. Commissioner Clausi's mantra has been, "I am for the taxpayer." Currently, the AOAA is being set up for private concerns and Commissioner Bridy's comment that a subcommittee be set up is lip service to the affected municipalities.
Obviously, Commissioners Clausi and Bridy are out of touch with reality regarding their comments in Sunday's news article and holding the city accountable for losses. In fact, the county has already been awarded $1.5 million toward the park, but not a dime has made it down to any municipalities in the Lower Anthracite Region. As far as losses on the park, one need only go as far as to read News-Item articles from the past several years to verify that the City of Shamokin has already been paying out of its own pockets for the AOAA.
Specifically, the Shamokin police have reported numerous incidents of ATV riders causing problems and nuisances on the streets of the city. As recently as this summer, the city has had an ATV'er ram one of our police vehicles and cause damage to the vehicle, not to mention associated life and safety issues for our citizens. Further, there are noise pollution issues along with the tracking of mud and dirt around town especially the Fifth Ward. Many of these issues impact our elderly citizens and others, so l take particular umbrage to Mr. Mack's comments in the newspaper that the city sees dollar signs. Shame on you. As planning director, you should know better and have a greater understanding of the impacts that this park will have on all the municipalities of the Lower Anthracite. The problem is that many of these negative aspects of the park have been surpassed by the private steering committee and county planning department.
In fact, the largest and most active environmental groups in the county have been purposely excluded from being on the steering committee. Rather, it is Commissioner Clausi's handpicked business concerns. Businesses should be on the steering committee and the authority, but there should also be voting representation by the impacted municipalities. When Burnside runs out of water for its residents, or Coal Township or Shamokin has to clean up mud on their streets, or traffic is backed up in Mount Carmel Township on Route 54, who will these municipalities be able to turn to?
Who do we want at the table? An authority made of private business concerns whose main motivation is profit? Or a mixed group of regional stakeholders, including municipal officials and planners who will be thoughtful on how these things impact all of the citizens of the Lower Anthracite Region?
We know private concerns are already making money, such as the Jeep Jamboree, which was held this past summer. How about the municipalities? The private businesses are already generating revenue for themselves, but what about the municipal impact? We know from newspaper articles that certain restaurants in the area have already hosted events. Meanwhile, the city and Coal Township expend taxpayer dollars every year responding to incidents associated with the AOAA park. What happens when the park goes fully operational? Who bears all these burdens then? The municipalities of the Lower Anthracite Region will suffer the burden.
The county initially obtained letters of support from all the affected municipalities for the AOAA, and then we never heard from them again. Now that we inquire about an impact fee, the first thing Commissioner Clausi announces is that we should share the financial burden. The municipalities have already been shouldering the financial burden. Commissioner Clausi's position is we should continue to shoulder the burden, not have a vote and allow private industry to make all the decisions for us. I don't believe that this approach is in the best interest of the taxpayers or other stakeholders in the region.
Funds are already flowing from the commonwealth and private concerns for the park, but none of these revenues have been shared with the impacted municipalities, including the $1.5 million already awarded by the county from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. I strongly encourage that all the impacted municipalities consider requesting a voting seat on the board and become active in the process to assure you are not bypassed. Ultimately, it will be the taxpayers of the Lower Anthracite Region who may wind up bearing the financial burden for the park if we do not act together in a responsible and thoughtful manner.
George S. Rozinskie Jr.
City of Shamokin