July 2, 2008

Marietta Man Angry Over Riverfront

By James Buescher



One year ago, Marietta's green initiatives were the talk of local governments around the state. Now, it seems the borough's environmental efforts are being ignored, the victim of gross mismanagement and neglect.

Marietta resident Stacey VonStein criticized the borough's lack of accountability when it comes to the Susquehanna riverfront and a portion of the Northwest River Trail.

People are going down there and ripping down signs, and people are going down to dump and drive ATVs, which are tearing up the environment, VonStein said Tuesday. The borough is not taking care of the land, and despite all of our efforts Marietta's attempts to go green are falling away.

Last June, elected officials declared the borough's portion of the Northwest River Trail a natural area, a designation similar to that of Speedwell Forge Park north of Brickerville or the Theodore A. Parker III Natural Area south of Quarryville.

The entire Northwest River Trail runs about 14 miles from Columbia River Park in Columbia Borough north to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's boat launch in Conoy Township.

The smallest piece is the 600 feet of trail in Marietta Borough, which could benefit from hikers and outdoor enthusiasts accessing the trail from Decatur Street and, possibly, patronizing area businesses.

Borough officials obtained an $80,000 matching grant from the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources to fund trail engineering fees and environmental permits.

Last September, volunteers working over two broiling-hot weekends pulled tires, trash and litter weighing almost 9 tons out of the Susquehanna River and from areas along the Northwest River Trail. They also found oil tanks, hot water heaters, refrigerators, entertainment centers and even a riding tractor.

The build-up to the September cleanup effort inspired a pioneering green movement in town, leading to talk of updating the borough building with energy-saving tankless water heaters and giving the borough maintenance shed a green roof as well as helping Marietta to make focused, sustainable efforts to reduce carbon emissions and to end the borough's dependence on coal and oil.

Making Marietta go too green too fast, however, seemed to backfire with voters, who tossed out most incumbent members of council in the November elections.

Under the new leadership of council President Miriam Fletcher, there has been little talk of green initiatives and, according to VonStein, the trash is once again piling up on the trail and on the river shore.

VonStein said he and other Marietta residents took their concerns to state Sen. Michael Fulmer, who then set up a meeting with members of Marietta's government and representatives of the DCNR.

Beth Williams, Fulmer's legislative assistant, said Friday that residents had come forward and the senator acted as a facilitator.

I don't know if conflict' is the right word, but I'm under the impression the issue has been worked out, she said. We want to bring what we can to the table. The river shore is too important a resource for this not to be worked out.

Attempts to contact borough and neighboring East Donegal Township officials on this issue proved fruitless.

Calls to East Donegal were referred to Susquehanna Regional Police Department, which did not return phone calls.

Calls to find out if trash is a problem in nearby Chiques Rock County Park were directed to the Lancaster County Department of Parks and Recreation, which did not call back.

DCNR promised to look into the allegations, but did not call back. The department referred questions to the state's Department of Environmental Protection, where information specialist Charles Young said, If dumping is occurring there, then it is something the DEP is concerned with, but he directed questions back to the county parks department.

VonStein said government neglect is causing the environment around Marietta to suffer, which is driving away those who might be using the trail to help revitalize Marietta's downtown.

You've got to take care of what you have. We worked so, so hard to clean up that rivershore and trail, and what was it for, he said.

Nobody in our present borough government wants to be accountable, and we have no leadership. Marietta's local government has stopped working, and now we're all paying the price, he said.

Council will meet at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Borough Hall, 111 E. Market St.

Originally published by James Buescher, Correspondent.

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