Jab – January 7, 2020 – CRCOG Regional Parks Planning

Millbrook Marsh Nature Center boardwalks need costly repairs

The Steering Committee for the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Regional Comprehensive Plan met on January 7.

This ad hoc Centre Region Council of Governments committee was formed a year or so ago to steer a team of consultants hired, at taxpayer expense, to conduct an inventory of Centre Region parks and recreational facilities, and make some recommendations for programming going forward.

The impetus for hiring the consultants was mostly municipal disgruntlement with the ham-fisted 20-year process of designing and debt-funding three regional parks (Oak Hall Regional Park, Hess Field and Whitehall Road Regional Park) without any community-wide understanding of the existing parks and recreation facilities and programs, and without any community-wide vision for future parks and recreation operations.

Whitehall Road Regional Park planning increased the pressure, as legislators wrestled with the possible loss of the Toll Brothers-subsidized sewage treatment system and the impact that could have had on the overall Phase 1 budget.

Despite horrible mismanagement of funds and construction by the Centre Region Parks & Recreation Authority and Centre Region Parks and Recreation Agency for the first phases of the first two regional parks (Oak Hall and Hess), the CRCOG municipalities a few weeks ago ratified a 2020 COG budget that hands over millions more in taxpayer-backed loans for those same incompetent staff and appointed municipal representatives to move forward this year with Whitehall Road Regional Park construction, along with a multi-million dollar expansion of the Millbrook Marsh Nature Centre facilities.

At today’s meeting, CR-COG Executive Director Jim Steff – probably inadvertently – provided a scathing indictment of CRPR facilities and financial management, reinforcing points made by Bailiwick News during last fall’s budget discussions to the effect that regional taxpayers are unable to properly maintain and operate the infrastructure we’ve already built, and so should stop expanding that infrastructure.

Steff informed the steering committee that a recent safety assessment by Centre Region Code Administration Director Walt Schneider at Millbrook Marsh Nature Center found that the boardwalks used by visitors to cross the wetlands are unsafe, and will likely need to be closed in the relatively near future while the management team (Centre Region Parks and Recreation Agency, Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority, Centre Region Council of Governments, Penn State, and the Pa. Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) figure out what needs to be done to shore up the boardwalk, and how to pay for the repairs.

The cost is likely to be “very high,” according to Steff.

Millbrook Marsh is arguably the crown jewel of the regional parks portfolio, giving visitors direct experience with wetlands ecosystems crucial to sound watershed management in our groundwater-based community.

Yet over the last 20 years, while CRPR paid staff and appointed authority members have been preoccupied with panhandling local and state taxpayers for three new regional parks, the same people allowed the existing Millbrook Marsh boardwalk foundations to crumble, apparently without monitoring their stability or planning for their proper, timely upkeep.

Bailiwick News takes the editorial position that Centre Region Council of Governments should be deliberately dismantled as soon as possible, based on its lack of accountability and abundance of double-dipping bureaucracy.

Given the news about the Millbrook Marsh boardwalks’ condition, it would probably be good if the dismantling started with the Centre Region Parks and Recreation Agency and Centre Region Parks and Recreation Authority, devolving park maintenance and management back to individual municipalities and their residents.

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