July 31, 2008

Opponents Urge State to Rethink Plan

By Mike Joseph, The Centre Daily Times, State College, Pa.

Jul. 31--PATTON TOWNSHIP -- More than 130 Centre County residents turned out Wednesday for a public meeting on "community alternatives to the Rockview land transfer," and one of the residents, state Sen. Jake Corman, said the big crowd didn't surprise him because his mail's been heavy.

The people took up all 90 seats, sat on the floor, leaned against walls, stood before a hallway TV set to watch live C-NET coverage and lavished applause on six panelists opposed to the idea of transferring more than 1,000 acres of Rockview state prison land to Penn State before the completion of planning on how best to use the land.

"Plan first and divest second," declared Bill Brusse, president of the Spring Creek chapter of Trout Unlimited, echoing similar calls from fellow panelists, including ClearWater Conservancy President Jeff Sturniolo, "Trout Streams of Pennsylvania" author Dwight Landis, Gary Thornbloom, of the Sierra Club, and Rick Spencer, of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs.

Another panelist, retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist Ed Perry, called for the 1,800 acres of Rockview land north of Interstate 99 to become something "like a Central Park in New York" between the growing areas of State College and Bellefonte.

Speaking from the audience, State College resident Ronn Brourman said such a big open space would be an invaluable asset in drawing people to the community work force, and he added: "Penn State does a lot of good things, but protecting natural resources is not one of them."

Ted Trostle, a former Trout Unlimited president, said from the audience: "Somebody's got to step forward with a plan that's viable. ... If you want to stop this, you'd better have a really super plan to get 26 senators on your side."

After two hours of back-and-forth between panelists and audience members in the Patton Township Municipal Building, moderator Bob Leonard, a retired Penn State theater arts professor, concluded that:

-- Most in the audience do not favor pending legislation in the state Senate that would transfer 1,124 acres of Rockview land to Penn State for use by its College of Agricultural Sciences and another 400 acres along Spring Creek to Benner Township.

-- Audience sentiment does favor mounting a statewide campaign to put "as much pressure as possible on the legislature to reconsider this bill" (Senate Bill 740, sponsored by Corman, R-Benner Township, and amended with the Penn State measure by state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven).

-- The state Game Commission or perhaps a "citizen-funded conservancy" that would collectively own the land could be advanced as a viable organization to substitute for Penn State and Benner Township ownership.

One audience member suggested that if the people could get as concerned over the future of the Spring Creek Canyon as they were over the after-midnight legislative pay raise three years ago, then they would be able to get lawmakers' attention.

Corman attended the meeting as an audience member, but questions inevitably swerved to him. His Senate Bill 740 is under the control of Senate Rules Committee Chairman Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware, Corman said, and "right now I've told him just to sit on it." The crowd applauded loudly.

In an interview after the meeting, Corman said he plans as before to have an informational public meeting on his legislation in Centre County, probably in mid-September.

And what about his legislation after that?

"If I don't feel that we're ready, we won't go," he said.

Asked whether he favored or did not favor the call to plan first and divest second, Corman said: "It's a fair comment."

Opponents of the legislation worry that, among other things, runoff from the agricultural uses Penn State plans for its upland acres could harm Spring Creek in the canyon below.

Penn State counters that it would be a good land steward because the legislation would enact strict environmental protections that are not in place now. Benner Township Supervisor John Elnitski calls university ownership "a viable way to take care of this land."

The deeded protections in the legislation require Penn State to grant a perpetual conservation easement to Clear- Water Conservancy and the state Department of Environmental Protection within two years of the land transfer.

Mike Joseph can be reached at 235-3910.


C-NET will rebroadcast Wednesday's forum at the following times: 1 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday; and 10 a.m. Monday.


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