Conservancy withdraws offer

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Cumberland Times-News, Elaine Blaisdell, February 24, 3011

 

CUMBERLAND — After months of discussion, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy has withdrawn its proposal to purchase 3,850 acres surrounding lakes Koon and Gordon for $4 million. In accordance with the conservancy taking action, the public vote that was scheduled for March 1 has been canceled, according to Mayor Brian Grim.

“Our decision to withdraw the proposal to purchase the 3,850 acres was due to mix of opinions of Cumberland residents for and against the sale. At this time it’s best not to pursue the conversation,” said Greg Socha, associate vice president for special projects and forest conservation, who said the decision was made Friday. The conservancy wants to make sure that all parties involved in its proposed land deals are interested. “I got the general sense the public was not willing to see this happen.”

“We have enjoyed working with you (the city) on this project as well as the chance to meet many members of your community along the way,” said Michael Knoop, WPC land protection specialist, in a letter written to the city.

Grim announced the withdrawal of the proposal during Tuesday’s public work session and praised the conservancy’s dedication to the proposed sale.

“I can say without equivocation that the conservancy has been a professional entity with a truly amazing staff of foresters and professionals,” said a statement read by Grim during the meeting. “Working with the conservancy to bring about this potential sale and draw up an agreement that took into consideration the dozens of requests from myself, council and city attorneys was no small task, and the conservancy undertook that process with absolute dedication to fulfilling the needs and wishes of the city of Cumberland, the people with whom they spoke in Cumberland and the ultimate responsibility of maintaining the magnificent forested lands within our watershed.”

During a public hearing held Feb. 15, members of the public vehemently voiced their opposition of the sale, some saying city officials would be guilty of malfeasance if it was approved. Others threatened to seek an injunction through the court system to stop the sale.

“Don’t sell this land. You are making a huge mistake if you do,” said resident Mary Miltenberger, during the last public meeting. “Selling this land will leave the city open for big, big problems in the future. If you would vote to sell this land, you will be charged with malfeasance of office.”

Resident Herb Broll also voiced his opinion against the sale during the last meeting.

“I strongly object the sale of the land. If you go forward with this proposed sale, I will file an injunction to stop this sale,” said Broll. “Anyone interested in filing this injunction may contact me.”

The conservancy would still be willing to purchase the land should opinions change, said Socha.

“Our mission is conservation and we feel that area will continue to be a very special place. We are confident that Evitts Creek (water company) and the city will conserve the land well. We have the highest regards for the city and know they have the best interset of the community and its resources at heart,” said Socha.

“At this point, entertaining the proposal for the land sale brought to light a lot of issues common to preserving the land and it also brought forward a lot of ideas in talking to foresters and lawyers,” said Grim in a telephone interview. “Since receiving the letter, I have communicated with the conservancy and indicated an interest in continuing to explore opportunities to ensure that the Evitts Creek watershed lands are forever protected, forever conserved and kept healthy, as the health of the forest and ecosystem is integral to the health and purity of our water supply,” said Grim in the statement provided during the meeting.

During Tuesday’s work session, resident Ken Winters noted that the property at lakes Koon and Gordon had been mismanaged. Councilman David Kauffman clarified that property was not mismanaged but instead unmanaged and that the city will be looking at what needs to be done with the land and how to manage the land.


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