Public comments concerning management of Governor Dick Park took center stage on Thursday for a second consecutive meeting of the Lebanon County Commissioners.
Three community members offered comments and made requests of the commissioners as a follow-up to an Aug. 16 workshop session where park board directors responded to questions first posed by the Friends of Governor Dick group at a workshop session in April.
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Ryan Fretz, president of the Friends of Governor Dick, said his group outlined their concerns in April but that park board directors ignored those concerns at the recent meeting.
“The park’s board gave a lengthy presentation that did very little to refute the original points that we made,” said Fretz. “At this moment, I am not going to list out every point that the park board failed to address in their two-hour rebuttal to our presentation nor am I going to refute every statement they made that I believe is incorrect.”
Fretz said there is agreement between the park board and his group about the problems that exist that are detrimental to the well-being of the Governor Dick Park forest. (The county commissioners serve as park trustees while the park is managed by a separate board that is under the commissioners’ purview.)
“Where we disagree, however, is on the results of the forest stewardship plan,” said Fretz. “Their plans look good on paper or in presentation, but we contend that its consequences have been a disaster, detrimental to the forest and not to its benefit.”
Fretz asked for a third-party review of the park’s current stewardship plan.
“And it be conducted by an agency that specializes in forest stewardship and, importantly, has no stake in the financial proceeds of forest harvests that take place on park lands,” said Fretz. “The park board contends that reviews conducted by DCNR (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) and USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) are sufficient in this regard, but we contend that merely meeting the standards of successful commercial forestry is not enough.”
Fretz and another member suggested individuals who could conduct a review of the stewardship plan, but commissioners Jo Ellen Litz and Mike Kuhn referenced the possibility of utilizing the service of Penn State Extension instead – especially after a workshop session on Wednesday with those very officials to discuss extension services offered to the community.
As part of a potential plan review, Fretz also requested another workshop session with the commissioners so his group could have a forestry expert address the park’s forest stewardship plan.
Litz said the plan is to be renewed in two years and suggested waiting until a new one is written. She also questioned who would pay for it, but added she is not opposed to a forestry plan review.
Referring back to a comment he had made a few minutes earlier, Fretz mentioned a proposal to “mow down” about 40 acres of young trees at the park to allow more light to reach the forest floor, adding that the project is set to occur within the next two years.
Another Friends’ request focused on a review of the board of directors, who Fretz said are unresponsive to the community’s wishes. He asked if the commissioners would be willing to change the board’s composition to “better represent the community and park users as a whole.”
Fretz’s last request was in the form of a question as he asked the commissioners if they would be willing to place a moratorium on forest harvesting until a review of the forest stewardship plan is completed. Chairman Robert Phillips replied that he was not “in a position to answer that question right now but would be willing to think it over.”
Local resident Susan Wheeler said she knows a Pennsylvania-based ecologist that does forest restoration plans and who has rock climbed at the park in the past, meaning she is familiar with Governor Dick. Wheeler said that her credentials would be reviewed and that the park board, particularly Dr. Douglas Becker, would be involved with the ecologist in a review of the stewardship plan. (Becker is an assistant professor of biology at Lebanon Valley College and a Gov. Dick Park board director.)
“My response to your comment to you is that I believe that it would be more appropriate for things to go directly to the board and possibly copy us,” said Phillips. “I don’t want to get that we’re going to be the direct connection to everything Gov. Dick. I mean, that’s not what the process is or the structure is.”
Wheeler’s response was that the park board has a long history of being uncooperative with the public, to which Phillips responded, “We hear that.”
“We’re given three minutes and we’ve done alternate plans before that went nowhere. In fact, they just disappear, so that’s why we’re using you, I guess as a starting point, and we fully intend to talk to them and a lot of people to get on board with this whole process,” said Wheeler. “We don’t intend to exclude them, but we have to cover all of our bases to get it done.”
Mount Gretna resident Mike Sherman started his comments by saying he has “an extensive background” in environmental protection, is the vice chair of the Mount Gretna Water and Sewer Authority and has worked 33 years for the Department of Environmental Protection. He shared an informational item with the commissioners and Mount Gretna Heights residents’ concerns about herbicide use in proximity to their well.
Sherman highlighted carbon credits that can be obtained that would financially benefit the county. He said the county could sell carbon credits that range from $18 to $30 per carbon offset, adding that the price fluctuates based on market conditions.
He highlighted a program called CORE Credit, adding it’s being used in other parts of the nation and is set to come to the northeast in the future.
“That’s a great opportunity somewhere down the road when the data, that program, becomes available to our area so that you can reduce timber harvesting on portions of your property and enroll it in a carbon program,” said Sherman. “And it is a great story because of the financial benefits you can get from it.”
Sherman also asked the commissioners if they would conduct a water analysis of the Gretna Heights well because one of the harvest sites is in proximity to the community’s water supply.
He said Heights residents have a “great concern” about the use of Oust XP herbicide, adding that a forestry expert told him that the compound has issues in “certain situations” and that those conditions exist at Governor Dick Park.
“One of which is to do timber harvests on slopes,” said Sherman. “It (Oust XP) doesn’t bind well with soils and can move down slopes during rain, so you should consider a setback area of the slope of that water supply well.”
Litz asked if that was a 50-foot setback, but Sherman said it’s at least 100 with his expert recommending it be even further back, citing that 300 or 400 feet would provide an even greater buffer zone. Litz responded that she believes that is a reasonable request, but Phillips said that’s a request that needs to go to the park board for their consideration.
Sherman said he’d see they get that information with Phillips responding that he would let the board know that they should respond to Sherman after he supplies them with that data.
In other county business, the commissioners voted to:
- Sign an agreement with the state for the handling of supervision funds to initiate the reimbursement process with the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole and the Department of Revenue to the county.
- Approve a Juvenile Grant-In-Aid in the amount of $193,314 for fiscal year 2023-24.
- Enter into an agreement with the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency to receive $25,337 to mitigate a COVID-19 response in county confinement facilities for inmates, staff and visitors at prisons and other detention/confinement facilities.
- Submit an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development through the county’s community development program to receive $750,000 to administer the HOME Investment Partnerships program for first-time homebuyers.
- Amend provider contracts for the county’s Mental Health/Intellectual Disabilities/Early Intervention department for fiscal year 2022-2023 in the amount of $55,826 for 12 service providers and $145,955 for three providers for fiscal year 2023-2024.
- Approve the department’s Human Services Plan for fiscal year 2023-24.
- Extend its current contract with Maximus to provide direct and indirect cost analysis for the county controller office. The agreement locks in the same price for the next two years at a cost of $13,250 per year.
- Proclaim September as Hunger Action Month.
- Sign an agreement with North Londonderry Township at no cost to the county to erect a Department of Emergency Services’ public safety radio tower at a site with other existing communications towers. This tower is the first of several new ones to be installed by DES across the county.
- Give signatory powers to James Donmoyer, executive director for the Lebanon County Commission on Drug and Alcohol Abuse, with LCCDA program providers.
- Authorize contracts with Services Access & Management Inc., Pottsville, to provide interim fiscal services for Children and Youth Services and the county’s Area Agency on Aging from Aug. 21 through Feb. 29, 2024, due to staffing shortages. The contracts are in the amount of $5,000 per month per department – except for August which is a pro-rated amount of $2,000.
- Provide a hotel tax grant fund application for Motorama Productions Inc. of Hanover in the amount of $6,000 for Dragfest, an indoor drag racing car, truck and bike show at the Lebanon Valley Expo Center on Jan. 6-7.
- Renew the county’s sheriff’s department’s contract with Permitium, an online weapons permit application service provider, from Aug. 25 through Aug. 24, 2024. Permitium charges applicants a $5 user fee plus credit card fees. Walk-in applicants to the sheriff’s office pay a $20 application fee. The split between walk-in versus online applicants is 70 and 30 percent, respectively.
- Provide real estate tax exemptions to four fully disabled veterans.
- Accept the minutes of its Aug. 17 meeting, Aug. 16 workshop session and the treasurer’s report.
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